raceAhead: May 16, 2016

May 16, 2016, 11:15 AM UTC

Talking about race, particularly in the workplace, can be tough.

“Well, you just have to be prepared to be awkward,” says W. Kamau Bell, who knows a few things about awkward.

The Berkeley-based comedian is the host of a new CNN travel show called The United Shades of America, which explores issues of race and culture through his unique socio-political lens. (His “meeting” with the president of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is a must-see.)

But in moving from stand up to bigger media gigs, Bell has become a significant corporate player and leader in his own right. “I definitely didn’t see that coming.” So when we talked by phone for my recent feature, Leading While Black, he ended by offering advice to Fortune readers who wanted to advocate for changes, big or small, around racial diversity within their organizations: don’t let the human stuff stop you.

“It’s hard work to champion the diversity side of things, to highlight the inequity around you,” he said, no matter the shade you are. “You have to stretch the boundary of what’s expected.” And those conversations can feel awkward, at least at first. “Embrace it.”

So, we’re embracing it. RaceAhead, Fortune’s newest newsletter, focuses on the experience of black, brown, Asian, and Native American people in corporate America. At its heart, this newsletter will be a daily quest to aggregate and share data, stories, and news to help leaders make better, more informed decisions about racial diversity in their organizations and in the world.

Diversity means better business. “It’s impossible to overstate how important this conversation is,” says Bernard Tyson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, a health care organization with some $60 million in revenue. Tyson has been unusually candid for a CEO, and he continues to share his own insights on his LinkedIn profile. “People talk about a business case for racial diversity. In the 21st century, diversity is the business case. Our objective is to get the best out of everyone. And to do that we need to speak truth to power.”

We’ll hear directly from researchers who are discovering and sharing surprising insights into how racial bias is playing out in an increasingly global workforce, while cementing the case that diversity means good business.

I’ll be sharing conversations with educators, artists, cultural icons and other creative thinkers -like W. Kamau Bell – who by the nature of their work can inspire us to think more deeply about race, bias, and history.

For news, look to the “On Point” section. For deeper ways to think about race, culture and leadership, look to the section called “The Woke Leader.”

I’ll try to get Beyonce on the line, but I can’t promise that.

I can promise to highlight the work of the leaders at every level who are working hard to reap the real world benefits of diverse teams and leadership.

In fact, I believe that the greatest potential for raceAhead is to introduce allies to each other, in an extended network of weak ties who are talented, prepared, and committed to an equitable society that also delivers shareholder value.

Diverse workplaces generate better ideas, happier customers, and more revenue. But, as Brunswick Group Partner David Sutphen has made so clear to me, inclusive workplaces, when carefully tended, can offer deeper benefits that come with becoming comfortable with ‘the other.’ “A generous orientation can be cultivated,” he says. “When people feel safe to be their full selves at work, they are happier in every aspect of their lives.”


On Point

Hire smarter.
Journalist and author Jeff Chu highlights entrepreneurs who are successfully bringing autistic adults into the workforce, all while making a business case for inclusion and shattering stereotypes. Though not explicitly about race, the story explores smart new hiring practices and talent strategies that could inspire meaningful change for everyone. Some 50,000 individuals with autism enter adulthood every year.

Package delivered.
Amazon responded to complaints that minority communities were being excluded from their free, same-day delivery service by pledging to eliminate gaps in a statement obtained by the Congressional Black Caucus. The Caucus had called for an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, and an analysis by Bloomberg found racial disparities in several of the 27 cities where the service is offered.

There’s no place like home for Jamal or Tanisha.
A Harvard Business School study found that racial bias in Airbnb booking practices is widespread. NPR’s Hidden Brain explored the issue; check out #AirbnbWhileBlack on Twitter for more stories and discussion.

Head White Man In Charge.
What was Brazil’s new interim President Michel Temer’s first great act? Selecting an all white, all male cabinet to run one of the world’s most diverse countries. Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was recently suspended and is facing impeachment for allegedly mishandling the federal budget.

Mizzou swings low.
Enrollment at the University of Missouri-Columbia could be the lowest in nearly a decade. Last fall, the university drew national attention as students protested racial incidents and forced the resignation of top leadership. “As we’ve been talking to prospective students and parents, we’ve been told that the vents of last fall have played a role in their decision-making process,” a spokesperson said.
St. Louis Post Dispatch

Your network at work.
Grade A for brilliant hires: James (Jim) Shelton III, the former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, then Chief Impact Officer at ed tech company 2U, is now joining the philanthropic foundation started by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. He’ll be leading their education efforts.

The Woke Leader

Advocate at your own risk.
Not only does the promotion of diversity not help executives get ahead - at least according to their performance evaluations - it actually penalizes people of color and women who advocate for people who look like them, says professors David Hekman and Stefanie Johnson.
University of Colorado Boulder

Criminal justice reforms are falling short.
PBS Newshour spent some quality time with Bryan Stevenson, who earned his spot on Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list for his advocacy for more equity in the criminal justice system. In addition to calling for reforms in prison overcrowding and violence, Stevenson gives a don’t miss history lesson in race, power, and justice.

Last week, Twitter erupted in gleeful protest of the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood films. In an impressive show of creativity, blockbuster movie posters were photoshopped to remove white male stars and replaced with Asian American actor John Cho. In a separate report, ThinkProgress parsed the dismal stats for Asian and Latino actors in major films, and explains why it matters.
Think Progress

We need to talk.
On a recent Essence Live video, cultural commentators Tracy G, Abiola Abrams, Kazeem Famuyide, and Michael Arcenaux took on the difficult topic homophobia in the black community with real sensitivity and grace.


What does it mean to be in solidarity? To be an ally? It means I’m standing with you because I care about you in abstraction. I care about your well being, including the threats to your humanity.
-- David Kyuman Kim, Chair, Department of Religious Studies Program in American Studies, Connecticut College

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