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raceAhead: Grit Is The New MBA

January 18, 2018, 7:47 PM UTC

Fortune’s future-of-work cover package hits the web today, which includes my latest story, Grit Is The New MBA, about how smart employers are ditching referrals, fine-tuning interviewing and recognizing real potential in “non-traditional” talent. It was beautifully edited by my colleague Matt Heimer and joins Geoff Colvin’s take on how to prepare for the next hiring boom.

We throw the word “grit” around quite a bit, so it was also an opportunity to reclaim and reframe the word:

Grit isn’t a panacea. Unless carefully considered, the search for grit can become a check-the-box diversity exercise of its own: Without thoughtful efforts to find strong candidates and create environments that support them, it’s doomed to disappoint. (It can also fuel ugly stereotypes in which success for the downtrodden depends on charity from white saviors.) That’s why Fortune recommends a reframing: Think of grit less as an antidote to a hard-knock life and more as an ongoing quest to master life complexity—an experience all of us share. When recognition of that complexity shapes hiring, it opens transformative opportunities to people from groups underrepresented in top professions: ethnic minorities, stay-at-home parents, working-class kids, veterans. And in a world locked in a tight global battle for talent, it helps companies find people who are resilient and creative in the face of obstacles.

I spoke to a wide variety of experts, employers, advocates, and working professionals, all gritty in their own, unique ways. Better still, all are committed to identifying, amplifying and utilizing the grit they see in others. As we all should be.

As always, not every quote made it on the page, so expect lots of grit talk and good advice in raceAhead next week.

We end on a particularly emotional note: Embracing the potential of others involves truly listening to them while sharing your own unique journey. As Jopwell’s Porter Braswell notes, “none of this is rocket science.” And yet, authentic leadership can be so hard. That’s why the work matters.

Please share it with colleagues and let me know what you think.

On Point

An end to commercial bail in New York City?Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, New York City’s chief financial officer, is set to release a report recommending bail bond companies — the companies who post bail on a defendant’s behalf, often with very high fees attached — no longer be used in the city. In addition to costing the city money, the practice further puts poor people into deeper financial trouble. “Bail is not supposed to be punitive, and there are alternatives that the judicial system should be looking at,” he told The New York Times. Fun fact: Bail bond schemes are illegal in most other countries.New York Times

Trends in HR we’d all like to see
Sarah Morgan, a twenty-year HR veteran, has an interesting blog that's always worth your time. In this installment, she tackles things that she wishes were HR trends. (While you're there, check out her real Top 5 HR Trends for 2018.) Top of her list is a call to end cultural insensitivity, using Pepsi, Dove and Papa John’s and their public marketing fails as easy examples. “Executives carefully chose imagery and words without regard for negative cultural references and flat-out appropriation,” a practice which occurs within internal conversations as well. She tackles pay inequity, and then she comes for white supremacy. Sarah Morgan is not having any of it, folks. “[T]he work associated with these issues is hard, heavy, thankless and uncomfortable. Most organizations aren’t ready for this work. Most HR people aren’t ready for this work.”
The Buzz on HR

Opinion: Expect Trump’s remarks to tighten alliances between China and African nations
Ismail Einashe, a British-Somali freelance journalist reporting from West Africa, tells NPR that the president’s recent remarks on immigration may have a lasting impact on development in Africa. “The danger for the U.S. is that Trump's insulting words make China an even more enticing partner for African nations,” he explains. The president’s continued framing of Africa as a continent of disease, poverty and unsavory behavior reflects a racist view that is deeply insulting. “The Chinese, however, seem to recognize the potential of the fastest-growing continent on the planet.” Einashe is from a “shithole country,” he says, so he knows the sting. This is the moment African nations lost faith in America, he says.

The Woke Leader

The economic impact of racism
Umair Haque, a writer and Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab, moves beyond “shithole country” commentary into the relationship between unresolved racism and society’s ills. If a toxic belief, like white supremacy and racism is the norm, he argues, then public goods like health care, education, finance and transportation which should be available to all, are instead substandard. “[I]t is precisely why Americans today don’t have decent [public goods] — they are victims of the hidden but inescapable costs of their very own racism.” Decent safety nets are impossible, as are necessary innovations to our constitutional government. America now has a “failing, predatory social contract,” which can only be addressed by tackling our racist history. Let’s get to work.
E And Co on Medium

Early Ang Lee is a master class in culture shock
Speaking of early works of great artists, I had incorrectly believed that Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s first solo film was Eat Drink Man Woman. (He’d been an assistant director on Spike Lee’s student film, Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads.) Instead, it was the truly wonderful Pushing Hands. Released in 1992, it is a quietly funny and touching look at culture shock and intergenerational conflict as a Chinese grandfather comes to the U.S. to live with his executive son, his white daughter-in-law and young grandson. The grandfather is a renowned Tai-Chi master, hence the name, and the movie moves as slowly as a tense family dinner, which is part of its great charm. Here is Lee talking about his own culture shock, upon moving to the U.S. “I grew up pretty peacefully, in that Eastern way. You easily solve problems, believe in harmony. Reduce conflicts,” he said. Studying theater and film was jarring. “Exert your opinion and then clash,” he says. Good news: It's available on Amazon.
Pushing Hands

How the Kellogg Foundation woke up to race
Last year marked the addition of a racial equity track at SOCAP17, the annual conference for social capital market players and leaders. It was sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, who has made racial equity grant-making and investing a core part of their overall strategy. In preparation for SOCAP18, take a look back at plenary remarks from AJ Jones II, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's chief of staff as he talks about the foundation’s sometimes difficult journey to make sure equity and diversity were key, measurable outcomes of their work, and how they worked to make sure everyone at the foundation understood that “the issue of racial equity is your issue.” Great tips for inspirational leaders, not to mention, event coordinators.


Social justice isn't a political issue. It's a human issue. It's a story of empathy. When we are able to identify that we are all not perfect and have compassion for someone else, we can move forward as a society
Jay Z