raceAhead: Why Black Execs Leave

August 11, 2016, 1:51 PM UTC

Recruiting talent, particularly young, African American professionals, has become a top priority for many large companies. So much so, that I worry that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are going to be being overrun every spring with earnest white executives bearing goodwill and signing bonuses. (Actually, that sounds pretty good.)

But that’s not solving the diversity problem for many. “It’s not that we have trouble finding great people who want to come here,” a C-suite executive of a major financial firm told me recently. “It’s getting them to stay. And I’m really frustrated.”

Dr. Lawrence James, Jr., a Chicago-based clinical psychologist-turned-leadership-consultant, is not surprised. “Retention is one of the biggest issues we see,” he says. African American employees, he says, face significantly different issues navigating the workplace. And companies tend to do a poor job identifying and developing their young, black talent. “We don’t ‘walk and talk’ the same as majority culture talent,” he says. “We’re navigating bias, we find networking difficult –where a lot of bonding takes place – and we’re struggling with being authentic when we’re constantly reminded that we’re not as worthy.”

He recently published a white paper based on his research:

“Successful African-American executives indicated that relationship building was more complex for them and required special effort to connect with their majority culture peers. This was particularly evident when discussing activities outside of work hours such as business dinners with colleagues, attending corporate events, and the like. Many African-American executives eschew these events, preferring to spend these off hours at home with their families or other close connections where they can take off their mask and recharge for the next day.”

James started life as a clinical psychologist, with a largely black client base. “They were mostly young, individual contributors, some first time leaders,” he recalls. But they were in real anguish, specifically about work. He ticks through a list of what he heard. “My boss is a jerk. I’m being passed over for promotions. People are saying racist things and I can’t say anything back,” he says. “I was seeing it across industries, too. These people were sharp, but they were stuck.” And now, he says, they were depressed. He switched gears to focus on organizational psychology, partly to avoid his own burnout, but also to work on the system.“We’re not going to solve the bigger issues we’re facing as a country if we don’t tackle racial bias at work. Because it’s real.”

Read his report, if you get a chance. But the bottom line is that James believes that companies need to think differently about how they develop black talent, factoring in the pressures they feel and the barriers they face. “The paradigm for coaching African American executives is wrong,” he says flatly.

“As a black man, I want to show up at work with integrity,” he says. “Let’s not pretend race isn’t a factor.”

On Point

Diversity efforts won’t work unless employees feel welcomeIn this heartfelt piece, Pat Waders, the senior vice president of global talent at LinkedIn, adds “belonging” to the catchphrase “diversity and inclusion.” Because we are genetically wired towards connection and belonging, diversity efforts won’t work unless a company is prepared to make sure everyone feels that they are welcome, fit in, and can influence the culture.HBR

Inside the podcasting genius of 2 Dope Queens
Podcasting and other on-demand radio formats have traditionally been made by and for white men, a direct reflection of the largely white newsrooms that first embraced the form. But times are changing, in the best possible way. This must read profile of comedian-commentators Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams and their podcast 2 Dope Queens, helps explain how the newfound diversity in podcasting is entertaining the masses while changing the culture.
The Ringer

The founder and CEO of Dev/color on being black in tech
Dev/color, an organization for black software engineers, was one of the first non-profit start-ups accepted into the Y Combinator accelerator program, and the first black-owned enterprise. Makinde Adeagbo, the founder, dishes on what it’s like to be black in tech (it’s weird but not that bad), and how to get a mentor (don’t ask directly.)
People of Color In Tech

Media in Cuba is becoming more open
Although it’s too early to declare victory, this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review makes the compelling case that small changes, like better internet access, WiFi hotspots and the adoption of social media, are creating a freer media landscape that will improve the information Cubans receive.
NBC News

Most of CBS’s new fall shows have white male leads
CBS Entertainment President Glenn Geller was under the gun at a recent press event, forced to explain why the network’s on-camera diversity stats were so dismal. “In terms of leads, we’re definitely less diverse this year than last, but in our ensemble diversity, we’re more diverse than last year. I think that’s our commitment to diversity, it’s ongoing.”

The Woke Leader

We tend to think we’re more expert than we are and that’s a problem
David Dunning is the psychologist/researcher who helped identify the phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a form of bias that occurs when someone doesn’t know that they are uninformed. In this op-ed piece, he attempts to explain Donald Trump’s popularity via this bias – but don’t let that put you off. He explains how people who have real gaps in knowledge but don’t see it, also don't see the effect it has on their lives, behavior and yes, political judgment.

The many black gymnasts who paved the way for Simone Biles
The grace, beauty and utter domination of American gymnast Simone Biles has made this year’s Olympics a particular thrill. But, as this important story shows, she stands on the shoulders of many black gymnasts who competed in obscurity or were sidelined by politics and bias.

Fixing the racial wealth gap
Demos, a public policy organization, uses a new tool called The Racial Wealth Audit that purports to assess and quantify how changes in public policy might affect the wealth gap that exists between white and black and Latino households. One example: If policy changes eliminated disparity in homeownership, the wealth gap would shrink by 31% for black households and 28% for Latino households.


If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for you.
—Nellie Biles

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