Meaningful diversity requires meaningful action by companies and their leaders

Hamlin Grange is President and CEO of DiversiPro, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm.Donna Santos Photography/Handout

Hamlin Grange is President and CEO of DiversiPro Inc., a diversity and inclusion consulting firm.

Many organizations that have joined the BlackNorth Initiative are failing to deliver on their commitments to social justice by taking concrete steps toward inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism. Their inability to deliver, while not entirely surprising, raises many questions: where do commitments lie in terms of a hierarchy of importance to a business? Do they really want to hire more racialized employees? Are they determined to disrupt and transform their organizational culture?

Meaningful answers to these questions can be found by reflecting on the interplay between politics, economics, and morality in political decision-making. Over the centuries, most smart money has relied 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 dissertation – 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 through slave labor to drive the rise capitalism and the industrial revolution. Economic change was therefore in the air. Other factors – abolitionism and slave revolts, for example – certainly contributed significantly, but did not lead to emancipation. The 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 positions of power seek to perpetuate their power. So a key question is: are companies that are signatories to the BlackNorth Initiative taking sound steps toward the sustainable implementation of the principles and practices of inclusion, diversity, equity, and anti-racism ( IDEA) in the organizations they lead?

Are hastily added new black employees, black board members, and administrators reliable indicators of long-term sustainable change? I submit that they are not.

A more meaningful KPI is how well leaders are preparing to manage their economic success in the new IDEA workplace brought about by the current social justice movement that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd.

Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace is about more than just hiring more “those people”. The reality is that this is not just an HR solution. Organizations need to take a more holistic approach, looking at other internal areas including workplace culture, their relationships with external stakeholders, and whether their services or programs meet the needs of an increasingly diverse environment. .

Taking effective steps toward implementing IDEA is a more reliable indicator of engagement than hastily designed initiatives and token hires designed to make it easier to answer questions from the media — and racialized employees. So what are these steps? In my experience, having worked with organizations and their leaders for over two decades as a diversity and inclusion strategist, those who recognize that a significant part of change is internal, humbly recognize their responsibility to acquire the cross-cultural skills needed to lead an organization and manage people from diverse backgrounds. They are willing to take rational, necessary, and often “uncomfortable” steps to create an IDEA environment.

But that requires leaders who adapt culturally. Among other things, they need to be fully 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 willing to listen with empathy, compassion and without judgment.

From the outset, the BlackNorth Initiative was seen as the answer to a complex problem. But unless the signatories of the pledge can be held accountable, it may not be the solution so many thought it might be.

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