raceAhead: Business Takes On Racism

September 11, 2018, 9:43 PM UTC

We’ve spent the last two and a half years (!!) together imagining an inclusive workforce in which every person of every background can thrive and grow; where employees better reflect their customers; and where diverse teams can develop new products and services that leave the world better than they found it.

Janet Stovall is an inclusion expert and corporate speechwriter at UPS, and she represents a wonderful part of this collective hivemind. For one thing, she understands that if big business masters inclusion, it will make a better world.

She begins her short TED Talk with a funny but important early success, her quest to integrate Davidson College, in Davidson, North Carolina. It was 1984, she was a junior, and was sick of getting used to the indignities of living in a predominantly white space:

Now, Davidson is a little-bitty town, Southern town, split by railroad tracks, with white Davidson on one side, black Davidson on the other side, and, as black students living on the white side of the tracks, we got used to being stopped in downtown and asked for ID, until the police memorized our faces. But fortunately, that didn’t take too long, because out of 1,200 students, only 52 of us were black. There was one black professor and one black assistant dean. Things weren’t a lot better on campus.

Stovall is a single-minded type of person, so she wrote a report that blossomed into a controversial manifesto called Project ’87. Her demand was simple: By 1987, the school should enroll 100 black students, hire 10 black professors, create five Black Studies classes and hire one black dean, or face public wrath. “Real problems, real numbers, real consequences,” she likes to say.

Spoiler alert: It worked, eventually. And it stuck.

Stovall’s call to action for business is a familiar one to the raceAhead crowd, which makes it perfect for sharing with others on the fence about committing to diversity initiatives. But it’s also a validation of the work you all do. Business can dismantle racism, she says. For one, we have a large and attentive audience. “There are 162 million people in the US workforce alone — people of all races, united in the spirit of wanting a paycheck and having to show up to get it,” she says.

Now, I’m aware that diversity is bigger than race, and racism is bigger than America. But racial discrimination is the most prominent form, and Lord knows America is the absolute best at it. So what if, though, what if we worked in diverse and inclusive environments that we had something to do something with? And since we spend one-third of our lives at work, what if we did that with people who didn’t look like us? I think the world would be a totally different place outside of work. That can happen if business gets single-minded about racism. But the question is: How is that supposed to happen?

Problems, numbers, consequences, yes, I’ll have some more of that, please. But what she’s too humble to say outright, is that a big part of the answer will come from the sweat equity invested by committed people who are not afraid to use their single-minded, persistent, outdoor voice when necessary. I bet she writes good speeches, too.


On Point

Saying goodbye to the Twin TowersI will never be rid of the sad ritual that September 11 has become. Where were you when...? What do you think they’d be doing today if…? There have always been as many New Yorks as there are people who have lived there, and this beautiful essay by Colson Whitehead encapsulates the unique pain of watching your personal New York transform. “You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building,” he writes. You never really say a proper good-bye to the parts of the city that made you, and especially to the ones that you never expected too. #NeverForgetNew York Times

Accenture is number one on Thomson Reuters Diversity Index
They’ve earned it, too. There are 52 new entrants to the list of top 100 most diverse and inclusive organizations globally as ranked by the Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Index. The list uses an array of datasets to assign a score across four categories, diversity, inclusion, people development, and news controversy. “Creating the workforce of the future means building diverse teams which attract the best and brightest from around the world,” says Patsy Doerr global head of corporate responsibility and inclusion at Thomson Reuters. “The D&I Index helps investors and analysts identify the companies that are getting this right, helping them to make investment decisions that align with their values and the bottom line.” More on the methodology here.  
Thomson Reuters

Serena’s rules
The conversations continue on. Here are two I didn't get to yesterday, that bear consideration. Martina Navratilova acknowledges the double standard that applies to women in tennis and in life, but prefers that everyone follows the rules. “Just because the guys might be able to get away with it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable,” she writes. That’s harder than it sounds, suggests Zelina Maxwell. She explores the unspoken rules of conduct in the workplace, and how they operate for black women in predominantly white, male spaces. “I’ve been told to smile more because my resting face looks angry; I’ve been called “hostile” by colleagues even though for the life of me I can’t remember raising my voice in the office,” she writes. “Black women are often seen as ‘abusive’ when we are simply stating an opinion, pointing something out, or advocating for equal treatment.”
Teen Vogue

Come to Fortune's<em> </em>Global Forum and make the world a better place
This year’s theme is “Creating Growth that Works for Everyone,” and it will be bringing together the CEOs from some of the world’s largest companies in a three day conversation on the future – tackling topics from investing with China, to how to feed a rapidly growing world and how to lead in an age of global disruption. It’s an unusual event, small and highly interactive, so it’s a great way to get into the conversation. You can find a complete program overview here, a participant list here.If you want to attend, we still have a few spots open, and we need you in the mix. October 15-17 in Toronto, Canada. Apply below.


The Woke Leader

The tech divide hits college
Three professor/researchers have published a new paper that shows how lack of access to reliable, basic tech disadvantages low-income college students. “Laptops and cell phones might seem ubiquitous on college campuses, but Amy Gonzales, @teresa_lynch, and I find that low-income students and students of color rely on older, problem-prone devices and that those tech problems are associated with lower GPAs,” tweeted Jessica McCrory Calarco. The problem is compounded by a inadequate access to the internet at home, and a lack of resources to find fixes. As a result, students rely heavily on libraries and computer labs to download work, finish assignments and collaborate with others. Click through for some policy suggestions that might help. Ungated version here.
Sage Journals

How Kaepernick helps Nike evolve
While we dutifully note the small but heartfelt Nike boycotts, experts at MIT Sloan have been exploring how Nike’s new Kaepernick-themed campaign is the logical extension of their brand message. For one, it’s a signal on civil rights at a particularly divisive time. But more importantly, it’s an authentically good fit.  Nike is promoting the ideal that you should “be who you want to be,’” says Sharmila Chatterjee, a senior lecturer in marketing at MIT Sloan. “If Nike wants to support that cause, i.e., ‘stand by your convictions’ cause, there’s a brand fit and authenticity here.” The move, says Chatterjee, increases Nike’s credibility. “There’s a match here, it just so happens that in this case the actions of the celebrity or the spokesperson, is emotionally charged.” Nobody said it was going to be easy.
MIT Sloan

What would the world be like if we had always known who Edmonia Lewis was?
The New York Times is working overtime to set one record straight: The overrepresentation of white men in their obituary pages since 1851. This installment of their Overlooked series adds sculptor Edmonia Lewis to the permanent record. Lewis, who was of West Indian and Chippewa heritage, was one of the first black sculptors to achieve international fame. “It was risky enough for a free woman of color to pursue such a career,” writes Penelope Green, “but to claim marble as her medium was to tilt at the Victorian conventions of the time, which decreed gentler aesthetic forms for the second sex, like poetry or painting.” A true international celebrity, she even inspired condemnation from writer Henry James. She was part of a group of expat artists living in Rome when he wrote, “One of the sisterhood was a Negress whose colour, picturesquely contrasting with that of her plastic material, was the pleading agent of her fame.” Ye olde sick burn.
New York Times


As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them. I got my knowledge of them, as I got whatever knowledge I have of the hearts and minds of human beings, through imagination working on observation. Like any other novelist. All this rule needs is a good definition of “know.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

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