Hamlin Grange is president and chief executive of DiversiPro Inc., a diversity and inclusion consulting firm.
Many organizations that signed on to the BlackNorth Initiative are not living up to their commitments to social justice by taking concrete action toward inclusion, diversity and anti-racism. Their failure to deliver, while not entirely surprising, raises many questions: Where do the commitments sit in terms of the hierarchy of importance for a company? Do they really want to hire more racialized employees? Are they committed to disrupting and transforming their organizational culture?
Meaningful answers to these questions may be found by reflecting on the interplay between politics, economics and morality in the making of policy decisions. Over the centuries, most of the smart money has been bet on the primacy of economics.
Almost 70 years ago, Dr. Eric Williams, the first and longest-serving prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, argued in his doctoral thesis – published as Capitalism and Slavery – that the British Empire ended slavery not because it was the right thing to do, but because the system was failing economically, and enough capital had been amassed from slave labour to drive the rise of capitalism and the industrial revolution. So economic change was in the air. Other factors – abolitionism and slave revolts, for example – certainly contributed significantly, but did not drive emancipation. The underlying thrust of his argument is an axiomatic truth: Money talks.
Another axiomatic truth is that people in power do not voluntarily relinquish power. People in power positions seek to perpetuate their power. So, a key question is: Are the corporate signatories of the BlackNorth Initiative taking rational steps toward sustainable implementation of inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism (IDEA) principles and practices in the organizations they lead?
Are hastily added new Black employees, Black board members and directors reliable indicators of sustainable long-term change? I argue they are not.
A more meaningful key performance indicator is the extent to which the leaders are preparing themselves to manage their economic success in the new IDEA workplace brought on by the current social justice movement that was ignited by the murder of George Floyd.
Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace is more than merely hiring more of “those people.” The reality is this is not only a human resources solution. Organizations must take a more holistic approach, by examining other internal areas including the culture of the workplace, their relationships with external stakeholders and whether their services or programs are meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse environment.
Taking effective steps toward IDEA implementation is a more reliable indicator of commitment than hastily devised initiatives and token hires designed to make questions from the media – and racialized employees – easier to answer. What, then, are these steps? In my experience, after working with organizations and their leaders for more than two decades as a diversity and inclusion strategist, those who recognize that a significant part of the change is internal, acknowledge with humility their responsibility to acquire the necessary intercultural competencies required to lead an organization and manage people from diverse backgrounds. They are prepared to take rational, necessary and often “uncomfortable” steps toward creating an IDEA environment.
But this requires leaders who are culturally adaptive. Among other things, they must be keenly aware of their personal cultural worldview and how it influences the decisions they make; they must also understand and appreciate the cultural worldviews of other people; and they must be prepared to listen with empathy, compassion and without judgment.
From the outset, the BlackNorth Initiative was seen as the answer to a perplexing problem. But unless signatories to the pledge can be held accountable, it may turn out that it is not the solution so many people thought it could be.
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