The 3 C's That Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Can Teach Us Today To Advance Workplace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

What can Martin Luther King Jr. teach us today — even in the face of resistance? Entrepreneurs can use what I call the "three C's" — guiding principles Dr. King lived by which can assist us in our work toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

learn more about Nika White

By Nika White • Jan 16, 2023

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

It's been more than 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. passed away. At the young age of 39, he managed to change the entire course of American history, from his influence as a pastor to his on-the-ground presence as a civil rights activist. Dr. King made the United States a more inclusive and equitable place not just for Black Americans but for all Americans. However, Dr. King's success wouldn't have been possible without courage, consistency and community.

These are the three C's that we as entrepreneurs can use as guiding principles in our work toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). What can Dr. King teach us about courage, consistency and community – even in the face of resistance? Times have changed but the lessons live on. Here's how the three C's can help you progress DEI in your workplace.

1. Choose courage over comfort

The 1960s were a difficult time for people of color. Forced segregation, domestic servitude and limitations on what people of color were able to accomplish were solidly in place. Despite the pain and trauma this period caused so many people, those in power found plenty of reasons to leave the system in place.

Comfort can be paralyzing. Comfort can preserve the status quo so that a particular situation remains unchanged. Traditions and practices continue simply because "we're used to them" or "it's how things have always been." It takes courage to see the other side, challenge the status quo and say, "We want change." Dr. King demonstrated to us what it means to choose courage over comfort.

Dr. King once said, "We are not makers of history. We are made by history." The history of enslavement, segregation and the demoralization of Black people in America inspired a new dawn of leaders who were ready to tell a different story — a story of freedom, resiliency and courage.

Nowadays, some of us in the business world can be risk-averse when it comes to creating change. We don't want to "switch it up" because having an all-white leadership team or having no women or minorities in the executive suite is how "things have always been." How courageous would it be to implement Dr. King's approach of choosing to speak up, having courageous conversations and pushing the envelope even when the larger group is resistant?

As leaders, how can we start conversations with those least affected by pay gaps, missed advancement opportunities, and racial inequality? What can we do today to be courageous in DEI? These are the questions that can help guide your progress in DEI.

Related: Here's How to Have the Most Powerful DEI Conversations

2. Consistency is key

As a DEI consultant who's been doing this work for decades, I've noticed a desire in people to have instant gratification with their DEI efforts. They invite me to speak or host a workshop in their workplace and they expect an instant change in their employees and culture.

If the instant gratification isn't there, people jump ship quickly on their DEI efforts. It can feel frustrating to not get fast results in days or weeks. However, DEI is a journey, not a destination, and continuing to move forward is the key to getting lasting results.

Dr. King once said, "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." When it comes to DEI, the work becomes more rewarding as you move forward. As you remain consistent, patient and committed, you will notice a slow but steady change in individuals, cultures and workplaces.

While organizational change can take years, consistency is something you can commit to now to ensure incremental change happens sooner. Dr. King knew that, and despite years of defeats on a personal, professional and societal level, he remained committed and consistent with his pursuit of advancing civil rights.

Dr. King said, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle." Being consistent with your DEI efforts will pay dividends. But giving up too soon or losing steam can negatively affect your business' DEI progress.

Related: 3 Important Leadership Lessons From Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

3. Build energy with community

Dr. King knew how to speak to the Black population and get them on board with civil rights. But what about the white folks or those less affected by civil rights advancements? How was he able to advance his agenda to give Black people civil liberties while getting white folks on board?

It would have been impossible to advance civil rights in the 1960s without the allyship and comradery of people from all walks of life. Dr. King knew connecting across lines of race and gender to unite folks under a common mission was the key to advancing civil liberties.

We can learn a lot from Dr. King about how reaching across gender, race, age and class can help make the workplace more inclusive, diverse and equitable. Dr. King taught us that finding allies and utilizing each person's influence and skillset for the betterment of the movement is an effective way to drive change.

If you want to advance DEI in the workplace, bravely reach across and get a privileged executive team member to join you, then invite people across different departments, and be sure to include those most impacted.

The more diverse, wide-reaching, and inclusive your community is, the more likely you are to be able to advance DEI at all levels of the organization, just like Dr. King did in the civil rights movement.

Related: How Brands Can Go From Performative Allyship to Actual Allies

Dr. King gave us the tools, now we have to use them

Dr. King gave us the three C's before he passed: courage, consistency and community. They are proven and effective tools for advancing DEI in society and the workplace. Now is the time to implement them and carry your DEI efforts further than they've ever gone before. There will always be resistance to change. We saw it in the 1960s and we see it now in the 2020s. However, change only comes when a brave group of people can build alliances, get organized and consistently work toward their DEI goals.

Nika White

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

President & CEO

Dr. Nika White is a national authority and fearless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change
Growing a Business

3 Ways to Grow a Multi-Million Dollar Drop Shipping Business

Begin with these drop shipping basics and everything will soon fall into place.

Money & Finance

How NFTs Work — and How They Could Prove Profitable for Your Business

NFTs seem to be all the rage these days, but can they actually work for most businesses?

Thought Leaders

5 Small Daily Habits Self-Made Millionaires Use to Grow Their Wealth

We've all seen what self-made millionaires look like on TV, but it's a lot more subtle than that. Brian Tracy researched what small daily habits these successful entrepreneurs adopted on their journey from rags to riches.

Business News

Massive Fire At Top Egg Farm Leaves Estimated 100,000 Hens Dead. What Does This Mean For Egg Prices?

Hillandale Farms in Bozrah, Connecticut went up in flames on Saturday in an incident that is still under investigation.