After George Floyd's murder, companies and organizations released statements of solidarity for Black Lives Matter. Some rushed to improve or create diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI] and racial justice programs. Taking a reactive stance now to avoid squandering the momentum of this moment can inhibit the reflection and understanding necessary to address how our society got here. They also can perpetuate the harms such programs seek to alleviate and prevent effective change. We will share valuable lessons developed through training, grounded in experience with employees at a Fortune 500 company, building community, and the capacity for uncomfortable conversations.
In 2017, McKinsey reported that corporations spend $8 billion a year on diversity training. But in a report released just six days before Floyd's murder, McKinsey noted that most companies "have made little progress, are stalled or even slipping backward." Civil rights attorney Barbara Phillips argues that the civil rights movement "demanded justice and an end to white supremacy and what we got was 'diversity.'
Faced with a challenge, human beings tend to want to act quickly--in other words, to react. When fearful, our amygdala takes over. People default to a fight, flight, freeze, or fold response; we make snap judgments. When encoded with the association that "blackness" equals danger, all too often, our hastiness results in harming a person of color. We use default solutions, even if those "solutions" haven't solved a thing. In particular, people too often expect a magic formula, as if undoing racism is easy and quick. We denounce dialogue. "Talk is cheap," we say. But advances in social psychology demonstrate that pausing to think can help us make better decisions and interrupt harmful behavior.
Instead of ad-hoc workshops on unconscious bias that are disconnected from the long-term and implemented just to check a box, comprehensive DEI strategies focused on dismantling racism must be intentional, methodical, systematic, and long-term. It means doing things differently and avoiding the tyranny of the urgent. It starts with listening to the very people who brought the issue of racial justice to our attention and listening to each other. Urgency must be balanced with depth. We must replace "cheap talk" with purposeful dialogue.
In a partnership between a corporation, a community-based nonprofit, and a healing and equity firm, we created an innovative, inclusive, and immersive educational experience. We brought employees out of their secluded workplace into Oakland. We spent several days at the remarkable East Oakland Youth Development Center, which develops youth and young adults' social and leadership capacities in preparation for employment, higher education, and leadership. Some initially skeptical employees concluded by its end that it was the most transformative experience they'd had in their employment.
What made this a transformative experience?
Too often, we miss the simple opportunities to make a difference, like supporting local Black-owned businesses or mentoring or volunteering at your youth local community center. In short, we reminded the participants of the power of human possibility and a beloved community's potential.
1. You can't get new results by doing the same old things. Healing, empathy, relationship building—these are the ingredients that drive lasting, equitable, structural change.
2. To be effective, we must get comfortable with being uncomfortable and push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. We must connect as human beings, each deserving of dignity and respect, in our workplaces and with the communities we all should be serving. Then together, we can create the practices and policies that will transform inequitable systems long-term.
3. Companies and organizations must create meaningful connections with neighborhoods deteriorating in neglect, poverty, and discrimination. These communities are sources of deep wisdom and infinite gifts, but they are often dismissed and blamed for the inequitable circumstances confining them. They deserve significant investment. They should be considered equal partners who lead in determining what is best for their communities. Instead, they are often treated as charity recipients who are not consulted about decisions that affect their lives, which ultimately fails to dismantle inequitable systems.
How will companies and organizations spend the next $8 billion to stand in true solidarity with Black communities? This moment and this movement demand bold, visionary, transformative change. It requires us to do things differently than we have before. Statements will not be enough this time. To achieve liberation and justice, we must first deliberate together.