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The podcast everyone in business should be listening to during the coronavirus pandemic

March 25, 2020, 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.

I lead today with some breaking, personal news.

Starting next week, I’ll be joining Fortune CEO Alan Murray on our newest podcast, Leadership Next. You can find the podcast here.

The podcast was launched pre-pandemic, but Alan’s original concept is more on point than ever. 

“I launched this podcast because I’m convinced something big is happening in the world of business,” he recently told the CEO Daily audience. “The rules of the game have changed. I’ve covered the intersection of business and society for four decades, but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve started hearing the best leaders talk more earnestly about how to increase their positive impact on society.”

Alan has already recorded some great interviews—with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson, and Regeneron’s president and chief science officer George Yancopoulos on fighting COVID-19. But now, as we watch governments around the world address the pandemic with varying degrees of efficacy and success, the need for business to step up is clear.

I’d argue it always was. Please stay tuned.

As always, I want to hear from you. How are you faring? What do you need to hear, read, learn?

To inclusion and beyond,

Ellen McGirt

On Point

Maurice Berger, ground-breaking curator who made it his mission to call out white supremacy in the art world, dies of coronavirus He was by all accounts a fearless ally, a historian and essayist who sounded the call for inclusion long before it was popular. “I’m very interested in writing about the things that would normally not be written about—like the issues of race people have not been comfortable with,” Berger said in a 2018 documentary, as reported by ARTnews. His most famous essay, "Are Art Museums Racist?” was published in a 1990 issue of art world stalwart Art in America. His takeaway: Yes. “Sad to say, with regard to race, art museums have for the most part behaved like many other businesses in this country—they have sought to preserve the narrow interests of their upper-class patrons and clientele.” He was 63.

What does it mean to be Black in the age of pandemic? Anthropologist Philip L. McKenzie, a regular columnist for MediaVillage, offers some “Lessons from Club Quarantine.” The heart of the matter is compassion, empathy, and love. “[M]uch-needed solace has come not just from the comfort of family, friends, and other loved ones, but also from artists and creatives,” he writes. “Black culture, in particular, has answered the call and carried the weight of creating incredible moments in the age of coronavirus.” He focuses on the online sensation that is DJ D-Nice's "Club Quarantine" Instagram Live dance party, where famous Black folks mingled virtually with the locked-down world. He warns that there may not be any big marketing “takeaways” from the success of the event. “Culture is more than a tool of brand commerce; it is a necessary salve in trying times,” says McKenzie. “We don't look to brand messaging in uncertain times; we look to each other.”

The racial divide in speech recognition is a problem As the world begins a crash course in work-from-home and other assistive technologies, it’s going to become clearer and clearer where those tools fall short—for some. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the speech recognition systems from the giants of tech—Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM, and Microsoft—were close to twice as likely to misidentify words spoken by Black speakers than white ones. The survey is unusually comprehensive and worth reading in full. Prepare to feel very frustrated. “I don’t understand why there is not more due diligence from these companies before these technologies are released,” Ravi Shroff, a professor of statistics at New York University who explores bias and discrimination in tech told the New York Times. “I don’t understand why we keep seeing these problems.” Mysterious.
New York Times

On Background

Everything old is new again The Tenement Museum is a beloved NYC institution and a must-visit once we’re all going outside again. While the history it preserves—it quite literally tells the story of voluntary immigration in the U.S. — is vital, the public health context it provides is equally illuminating. In our new series, The Coronavirus Economy, Morris Vogel, public health historian and president of the Tenement Museum, explains the many ways the new coronavirus isn’t actually that novel at all. “Public health has a real race and class and gender overlay,” he says ticking through some historical examples, including the mosquito-borne Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793. Even then, certain Americas considered the country to be exceptional, with diseases brought in or spread by the filthy “other.” “The key takeaway from the 1793 yellow fever epidemic for our moment is the degree to which political parties used it to build support,” he says. “And there is a terrific risk today of blame replacing effective action, of political leaders heightening xenophobia by reassuring at least some Americans that some other group (even a group that lives among us as fellow citizens) is the cause of our problems.”

Let’s all learn to swim Jazmine Hughes, a story editor for the New York Times Magazine, is a 28-year-old Black woman and a bright light in journalism. She can also swim! In this beautiful essay, she effortlessly weaves her late in life journey to be able to authentically identify as a swimmer into a bigger story of finding her emotional land legs. People in her family can swim, where did she go wrong? “I was the water’s groupie, shyly hanging on its outskirts, waiting for the gumption—or invitation—to go in,” she writes. It is with the same tenderness that she describes the liminal space (there’s that word again!) between the time she identified as straight, to the moment she accepted herself as queer—or as she jokes, a Kinsey 5. “My months of learning how to swim followed a two-year period of learning how to date women, which I was better at,” she says, despite the haunting presence of “an omnipresent and homophobic God.” A resplendent must-read.
New York Times

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


“It was literally two weeks before they were going to make the partnership decision. Everything was fine. I go in, I sit down, and they have this facilitator who turns to me at one point and says, ‘Julie, you’re a senior woman in the world. Have you ever experienced any of these things, unconscious biases?’ I opened my mouth to speak…  and I started sobbing. Big loud sobs, and I could not get myself under control. I got up, went back to my office, and shut the door. Maybe half an hour later, the first woman corporate partner, a good friend of mine, came in. And she said, ‘Okay, the men have met. They asked me to come see if you’re okay.’”

—Julie Sweet, now Accenture CEO, on attending a session on unconscious bias when she worked at white-shoe law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore in 1999, in a Fortune Q&A.