It has been noted that there has been a deafening silence of thought leaders on the topic of Black Lives Matter. Never one to walk away from a challenge, my initial response was pondering how to change hearts and minds, which – for me – is at the root of the problem. We consultants deal with actions individuals can take in the service of a better individual, workplace, society and world. By following the proffered advice and taking those actions, hopefully, the hearts and minds will change.
I have had the benefit of being born and raised in a diverse environment, and count people of all backgrounds as friends, colleagues, boyfriends and – now – clients. As a child, I was puzzled by the song in the soundtrack of South Pacific, with the lyrics “you’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made . . . you have to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight to hate all the people your relatives hate . . .”. Sadly, it is these impactful lessons learned long ago that have been held up to society in the Black Lives Matter mirror and those that need to change to ensure “liberty and justice for all.”
What do we as leadership consultants think about Black Lives Matter, given we preach changing workplace conduct? The following are five actions I offer that leaders can take and have proven successful: some are from a national diversity task force I had the privilege of leading in my final corporate post, while others proved successful while working with diverse employee populations as a consultant. I welcome many more concrete suggestions. Some actions were “not invented here,” rather borrowed from others. Where I remembered who or what, it is noted. Key to all of this is that organizational leaders must “Lead by Example,” Meaning Do it Yourselves!
Join a nonprofit board with a mission that sings to your soul, and on which you are a minority representative.
I read this in a now-lost magazine article when leading the nation-wide task force on diversity. The aim of this seemingly simple suggestion is to have all leaders experience what it is like to be in the minority in a working group, and to feel unheard and under-appreciated. It proved to be a very powerful experience, replacing words about how it feels to be in the minority, with the experience.
What are the how-to’s for joining a nonprofit board and for selecting the right one? There are several national organizations that offer good advice, notably the Foundation Group, and if you are local to the Los Angeles area, LA’s Center for Nonprofit Management. Similar organizations can be found in many cities and counties.
In an article entitled “How to Get on a Nonprofit Board,” published by HuffPost in 2013, Contributor and L4NP’s CEO Greg Vermeulum listed key factors: volunteer for a nonprofit – working side-by-side with staff to provide the agency’s services, or serving on a committee; fundraise; offer to take meeting notes; fit your skills to the board’s needs – do you have financial wherewithal, are you an HR executive? etc.; and, show your passion for the mission. Vermeulum also recommended seeking out volunteerpath.com, a free service that matches an individual’s skills with nonprofits.
In a related HuffPost blog, Vermeulum listed ten factors to ask before joining a nonprofit board, some of which follow: Is there a strategic plan in place? What are the fundraising requirements? How many board members are there and what are the roles and responsibilities? Is there board of director liability insurance? How frequently does the board meet? Of course, the single biggest factor in finding the “right” nonprofit, is the passion one feels for the mission, and in this exercise, an organization on which the leader would be in the minority.
Incentivize hiring managers to include a diversity of qualified candidates in all hiring panels.
If hiring supervisors take the time and make the effort, they can find qualified candidates representing several races, genders, religions, ages, etc. If this criterion is included as a goal, for which supervisors will be rated on employee evaluations, and will be considered an integral part of merit increases or bonuses, supervisors will make the effort. This requirement was part of the national Diversity Task Force I led. As a result, the Company hired a then start-up LA-based agency “Diversity Search Partners,” for its first two retained searches. The idea initially met with some resistance for fear we would not find “qualified diverse candidates.” That concern was relieved by the results.
Include the ability to lead a diverse organization as a key component of job expectations (performance reviews and salary increases) for all supervisors and managers.
As with the requirement of presenting qualified and diverse candidates in all hiring panels, a quantitative and qualitative set of criteria should be established for all supervisors and managers. Quantitatively, each supervisor or manager could be tasked with leading a specific number of diverse teams (two or three) to solve a specific workplace challenge, or to recommend a new policy, process or program to further the goal of an integrated and diverse workforce. Qualitatively, the diverse team members can be asked to complete confidential (where desired) evaluation forms on the leadership capabilities of the supervisor or manager who led the team. Where assistance is needed, the organization can hire trained facilitators, individual executive coaches, strategic planners or team builders to assist, where needed.
Engage a trained facilitator to aid in a discussion about race.
In the 90’s President Bill Clinton suggested that diverse groups have dialogues about race. While many scoffed that such dialogues could lead to change, the idea seemed reasonable to me then and still does today. Clinton’s “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s
Initiative on Race” was a 15-month initiative to transform the United States into a country that embraced diversity and lived in harmony. Key to this racial reconciliation was assembling people from diverse backgrounds and encouraging dialogue throughout the nation, with the intention to lessen racial and ethnic divisions. Ultimately, Clinton pledged the initiative would help to “find, develop, and recommend…concrete solutions to our problems— solutions that will involve all of us in government, business, communities, and as individual citizens.”
How does an organization implement these dialogues? Hiring a trained facilitator, experienced with enabling diversity and inclusion sessions is a key to success. The aim is to gather a diverse group of employees to discuss openly and candidly their fears, concerns, hopes and dreams about race, gender, age, ability, ethnicity and other disenfranchised groups with one another in an effort to break down barriers and to understand that we all have far more in common than that which divides us. All sessions would conclude with commitments to one another and a mechanism for ensuring the commitments are met. (I developed a document called “commitment contracts,” through which participants indicate what they have learned; what they will do differently based upon what they learned; and how they will hold themselves accountable.)
Recognizing that this process could engender fear in the workplace – fear of exposure, fear of retaliation, fear of how to move forward in a collegial manner once the session is or sessions are over, experienced facilitators would assist in setting groundrules, moving the dialogue along in an upbeat, positive manner while being mindful of those whose vulnerabilities have been exposed. (Among others, groundrules would include: one at a time; listen to one another; ask related questions; seek to understand; use “I” statements/avoid “you” statements; suspend judgement; and, hold one another harmless.) Before diving into the heavy lifting of the dialogues or series of dialogues, facilitators have, in their respective “bags of tricks,” warm up experiential exercises that depict stereotypes in a safe way that sets the stage for the more intense conversations. In short, trained facilitators ensure that the process goes well.
Listen, listen, and try something new and learn.
Agree to try one or two new things a month that advance the cause of a better workplace, organization and society in furtherance of diversity and inclusion. These could be any of the following ten, or others: a) implement a suggestion recommended from one of the diverse teams (in item #3); b) invite an employee from a different demographic to lunch; c) host a morning coffee with a group of diverse employees, asking open-ended questions to gather greater knowledge; d) give feedback to the groups and/or individuals about what, if any, actions will be taken and why; e) invite a junior member of the team to attend a meeting, and then discuss with her or him after the meeting the significance of what transpired; f) ask for a volunteer who would like a monthly ½ hour meeting to discuss her or his career and what steps to take to achieve career goals; g) seek out an employee that belongs to an outside group and volunteer to attend the meeting and to listen, or to be a speaker; h) walk through the department and engage in brief informal conversations with staff members you don’t yet know; i) make a point of giving positive feedback to any employee that has done something right; and, j) thank an employee for having done something kind.
There are doubtless many more actions leaders can take to broaden their knowledge of others (to see things through their eyes) and to enlarge their circle of acquaintances and colleagues, who in time might just become friends and trusted advisors. Through the actions found in this article, the “fear of others,” that many were taught when young will change over time, along – hopefully – with their hearts and minds!