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Your Social Network Isn’t Diverse Enough

December 19, 2019, 9:10 PM UTC

This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

It’s post-impeachment day. RaceAhead will continue the fight for diversity and inclusion.

Today’s guest opinion piece is authored by Ruchika Tulshyan, founder of an inclusion strategy practice. Read more about raceAhead’s call for essay submissions here.

If we know diversity and inclusion are good for business (and we do), why have diversity numbers, especially in leadership roles, barely moved?

At the start of the year, only 24 Fortune 500 CEOs (less than 5%) were female, only three were Black, and three were LGBTQ. Numbers of women of color in senior management, especially, remain dismally low: While women hold 24% of C-Suite positions, less than 5% are women of color according to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace 2019” report.

And that lack of diversity, for many Americans, pervades many aspects of life outside of the office. A 2013 survey by research non-profit Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that three-quarters (75%) of white Americans said their social network was almost entirely white. By contrast, 65% of Black Americans reported their network was comprised entirely of Black people, and 46% of Hispanic Americans said their network was entirely Hispanic.

A recent study by PRRI still found that 21% of Americans reported “never or seldom” interacting with someone of a different race or ethnicity. And even among those who did frequently interact with someone of a different racial or ethnic background, 74% said those interactions happened at the workplace, compared with 46% saying those interactions were in friendship groups. An Atlantic article on the same study notes that while not all Americans live deeply segregated lives, many have just a “cursory” interaction with someone different than them.

In fact, while the U.S. is becoming much more diverse as a country, many Americans still have neighbors of the same race, according to Washington Post analysis of U.S. Census data, a lasting legacy of race-based segregation in neighborhoods and schools in the U.S.

So even if they attend a racially-diverse school or live in a multi-ethnic city, many people’s views are still likely to largely be shaped by those who look like them. As a result, they can lack the cultural competency to work with peers of different backgrounds, or even rely on stereotypes and unconscious biases.

In a recent Deloitte survey, 64% of 3,000 employees polled reported experiencing bias at work. Yet, the overwhelmingly white and male leadership ranks—the ones who usually make funding and other decisions about corporate diversity initiatives—don’t see many of the problems that underrepresented employees face, according to a BCG report. For instance, these leaders often believe recruiting is one of the biggest obstacles to diversity in the workplace, says BCG. But employees from diverse backgrounds say challenges to workplace diversity span the “entire employee life cycle,” including retention, advancement, and leadership commitment.

Creating a truly diverse and inclusive work environment requires managers and leaders to develop personal awareness and understanding of unconscious bias and structural bias, by interacting with people different than them. At its core, workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion is linked deeply with understanding, engaging with, and collaborating with different people.

To move the needle on workplace diversity and inclusion, more business leaders need to actively cultivate greater relationships with people different from them.

These are some ways to start:

  • Seek out diversity intentionally. Business leaders should choose diversity in the businesses they frequent (like buying from women- and minority-owned vendors), the neighborhoods they visit and live in (and not just seeking racially-homogenous neighborhoods), and in their social circle (develop a racially and culturally-diverse social network).
  • Seek out diversity professionally. To create a diverse and inclusive workplace, managers must cultivate professional networks that are also diverse. Advertise job listings with identity-based networks. For example, don’t just list job openings on the company website, reach out to groups that focus on underrepresented groups—and there are many—like Black Girls Code or Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. And take time to attend events that are focused on serving minority groups. Seek recommendations on which networks are community-serving and led by community leaders from a diverse group of people. Cultivating these networks means management can draw upon them to more effectively diversify the workplace.
  • Develop insight from a diverse slate of resources. To understand diversity, business leaders must prioritize looking for points of view that are different from their own. Seek out lesser-known films, festivals, cultural events, and media focused on diversity and inclusion. If a coworker is sharing an experience or opinion that is unfamiliar don’t shut it down. Listen without interruption or defensiveness, and thank them sincerely for sharing, especially if they are revealing something about their identity or heritage. Cultural awareness and sensitivity can’t be developed from reading, seeing, and hearing familiar perspectives—seek out information from diverse sources.

In my own work helping companies to develop strategies that foster diversity and inclusion, I’ve seen progress when white, male leaders regularly educate themselves and attend corporate events focused on advancing women or people of color. They learn to empathize with the barriers to diversity in the workplace: One male leader I spoke to said reading White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo urged him to engage in challenging but meaningful conversations about racial equality at work.

A lack of diversity in one’s personal life can have unintended consequences on creating lasting diversity and inclusion in workplaces. But intentional action to diversify who we engage with outside of the office can lead to real change within them.

Ruchika Tulshyan is the founder of Candour.

Tamara El-Waylly curated and wrote the blurbs in this edition of raceAhead.

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On Point

More than 80,000 people in New Jersey can vote again Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill that restores voting rights to people on probation or parole, which will go into effect in March 2020. "I am proud that we are giving New Jersey one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, allowing more people to fully participate in our society, in our economy," Murphy said at a public signing. Including New Jersey, a total of 18 states (and the District of Columbia) allow returning citizens to vote. Maine and Vermont are the only states to have never placed any restrictions, says non-profit The Sentencing Project. While we're discussing the state, New Jersey also recently passed a bill which will let unauthorized immigrants get driver's licenses, reports Vox, becoming the 15th state to do so.

Young Canadians aren’t interested in playing hockey Largely because of the racism (think blackface, racial slurs) people of color experience when out on the ice. For Akim Aliu, a Nigerian-Ukranian player, the first time he heard racial slurs at a hockey rink started when he was around 12 or 13. He’d go on to face much more. But the NHL is finally taking some steps to address it, starting with annual mandatory training on diversity and inclusion. “This is an opportunity, and a moment, for positive change and this evolution should be expedited,” says NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “And even while change is taking effect, we still must acknowledge things that were wrong in the past.” But it is not the first time the NHL has attempted to implement changes to address “its homogeneous culture,” says the New York Times
New York Times

Shiori Ito wins $30,000 in damages The Japanese journalist who, by going public with her account of alleged rape by a well-known reporter while she was a Reuters intern, became the #MeToo movement's "public face" in Japan, says NPR. "Ito's case ignited a firestorm in Japan, where only 4% of rape victims go to the police. And she was harshly criticized—including by women who she said politely told her she should be ashamed for revealing what happened," says NPR's Abigail Leonard. And now the man she accused has been court-ordered to pay $30,000 in damages, "for her physical and psychological pain."

On Background

Why should businesses care if employees don't feel they belong? Well, besides the fact that a sense of belonging is a necessary element of successful diversity and inclusion initiatives? For starters, it lowers commitment and engagement. In fact, "high belonging," says Harvard Business Review, is associated with a 56% uptick in job performance, a 50% decrease in turnover risk, and about 75% less sick days. And that means about $52 million in annual savings for a company of 10,000 people. Read more for why it's so necessary (for people and for businesses), and how to ensure it happens in the workplace.
Harvard Business Review

How much does the U.S. prison system really cost? While officially the total cost of the 2.3 million people in jail is $80 billion, that “leaves out myriad hidden costs” reports the New York Times. And those are costs that fall heavily on the prisoners, and their families (particularly the women in them). In response to the Marshall Project’s request for people to note their expenses, families said they spent money to "New York Times. And those are costs that fall heavily on the prisoners, and their families (particularly the women in them). In response to the Marshall Project's request for people to note their expenses, families said they spent money to "feed, clothe and stay connected to someone behind bars, paying for health care, personal hygiene items and phone calls and other forms of communication." And those costs go up especially during the holidays as families try to keep in touch. 
New York Times

Record number of dengue fever cases in Nepal Since May, over 14,000 Nepalis have been diagnosed with this viral infection, which is spread by mosquitoes, according to The Guardian. And, of Nepal’s 77 districts, 67 have experienced dengue outbreaks. The increased outbreaks are being linked to effects of climate change, like longer-lasting monsoons and higher temperatures. And many lower-income countries aren’t able to handle the consequences. As Meghnath Dhimal, chief research officer at the Nepal Health Research Council, says: “The role of climate change in poor countries where the health system is not robust is very big.” Latin America has also been experiencing a record number of dengue cases (3 million cases this year, says NPR), largely due to a combination of climate conditions (rain levels) and the spread of the Zika virus.
The Guardian


"I have a group of African American guys and gals, by the way, that follow me around and they think I pay them, and I don't... They're great people, just great."

—Donald Trump, at a campaign rally on Dec. 18, 2019, in Battle Creek, Mich.