raceAhead: June 23, 2016

June 23, 2016, 12:53 PM UTC

The most recent cover story of the Harvard Business Review, which explores diversity programs in U.S. corporations, is going to be a fascinating resource for raceAhead readers. Some of the findings, however, might be a bit of a gut punch. I’ll get right to it: Most diversity initiatives don’t work.

“There’s no reason to lose hope, though,” Frank Dobbin, Harvard professor and researcher, says. “It’s just that companies tend to spend money on the wrong things.”

Frank Dobbin worked with Alexandra Kalev, from Tel Aviv University, and studied data from hundreds of firms over dozens of years. They found that the three most popular interventions deployed by companies – mandatory training, testing and grievance systems – fall far short of stated goals.

In fact, they can make things worse. “It always seemed crazy to me that people thought that you could put people in two hours of diversity training and change their behavior,” says Dobbin. Instead, they often feel angry, and treated as bigots. It’s an important clue, he says, to what does work. “You need to get managers – who are typically white – engaged in solving the specific diversity problem their company has,” he says. “All the successful programs have this in common.”

Above all, he says, embrace efforts that will get people talking. “It’s important to remember from the psychological research that the worst thing you can do is never talk about race or gender in the workplace.” It’s the human stuff that matters, like hiring diversity managers, who are there to address the culture that currently exists, and diversity task forces, which convene leaders from different departments to diagnose issues and share ideas. And where diversity training doesn’t help, leadership skills training does. “All of these things make it possible for people to become more comfortable talking about race,” he says.

Mentorship programs also can help because of the impact they have on the mentors. “Most mentors are white men,” he says, usually two rungs above their proteges. Paired with a person of color or a woman, they’re often meeting people they might not ordinarily get to know.

And suddenly they discover that their company is toxic for some people. “What are they talking about? They’re talking about the kinds of problems they’re having with their managers or co-workers,” he says. “Nobody told them it was was hard to be black at their company. Now it’s their job to know.”


On Point

The woman hired to hold Airbnb accountable
Speaking of diversity managers, Airbnb has hired a good one, at least, in the short term. Laura Murphy, the former head of the ACLU's DC office, has been tapped to lead a 90-day review inside the embattled company. In a strongly worded op-ed, she states plans to interview tech experts, housing advocates, and Airbnb community members for insights.

Tech companies take inclusion pledge before summit
In advance of a global entrepreneurship summit taking place this week at Stanford University, thirty tech companies, including Airbnb, Lyft, Box, Intel, Pinterest and Zynga, are vowing to do more to diversify their workforce and publicly disclose diversity data.

Democrats hold ‘60s style sit-in for gun control
Democrats in the House have been holding an overnight sit-in to demand a vote on gun control, and the drama may still be unfolding by the time you read this. Rep. John Lewis, 76, one of the the most prominent of the 1960s-era civil rights leaders still alive, has become the face of this effort. It reminded him, he says, of his early days protesting to end segregation.

McDonald’s reorganizes in China
McDonald’s is fielding bids for its China and Hong Kong stores, and local companies have played a surprisingly prominent role. “Given the difficulties Western chains have had recently with public perception, local players have become a serious competitive threat,” said one analyst.

Your network doing work
In a newly-created role, Lin-Hua Wu has jumped from Square to Dropbox, to run their 16-person communications team. The move has industry insiders wondering what’s next for Dropbox: Wu, handled Square’s IPO communications strategy.
PR Week


The Woke Leader

The truth about development work
An essay penned by a “Secret Aid Worker” is a sobering look at what happens when development agencies lose their ethical and programmatic focus, and instead rely on social media buzz, and other clicks and tricks to frame their success.“The international community is too focused on using gimmicks in outreach campaigns rather than considering who their audience is and what they want.”
The Guardian

When alligators ate pickaninnies
In a summer that’s been plagued by terrible accidents involving toddlers and dangerous animals in a zoo or entertainment setting, Domonique Foxworth remembers an earlier time when there was no public outcry, and no animals were euthanized. Just the opposite: In 1908, two black children were sent into the alligator enclosure at the New York Zoological Gardens to entertain patrons as they were chased by the animals. And it wasn’t the only time. This is a tough read.
The Undefeated

Although they have yet to set an air date, Oprahs’ OWN Network released the trailer for the upcoming series "Queen Sugar," based on the book by Natalie Baszile. And the crowd went wild. Ava DuVernay directs the series, continuing a collaboration with Oprah that began with her film, Selma. Oprah will also have a recurring role.
"Queen Sugar" trailer drops, everyone loses their minds


I'm interested in having people of color at the center of their own lives. We don't need to be saved by anyone. We do not have to have someone sweeping in on a white horse or someone saving the day or assisting us in our own narrative.
—Ava DuVernay