The Importance of Pursuing Diversity and Inclusion

December 14, 2020

On Sept. 15, 2020, I published a blog entitled “Meaningful Action Comes When Leaders Learn, Listen, and Reflect.” It was a personal statement about the unrest and uneasiness resulting from George Floyd’s murder. I concluded with the following:

“To be clear, I'm still learning, I want to keep learning, and I know that I don't have all the answers. But I do have a responsibility to speak to my audience with clarity and compassion about what's happening in our world. Ultimately, in the face of all the changes we're seeing across the planet, it is important to remain resilient and take other people's circumstances and feelings into account. Because if there's anything we all need right now, it's a heaping dose of empathy and combined with the willingness to listen to people outside of our circles of influence and comfort zones. I welcome the opportunity to speak with you about these issues, please reach out so we can begin a dialogue about what we can do to make a difference.”

Not long after that, one of my clients, Marcus Technologies, decided to address diversity awareness. This month’s blog post will chronicle their journey as told by their CEO and VP of Administration. I wanted to bring this to my readers because they believe it has helped bring the company together while they operate apart due to COVID-19.

Depending on your personal beliefs, you may take exception to what you read below. My experiences do not align with some of their statements, but I defend their right to state them. That has long been the principle my friends and I operated under when we had different opinions.

I present their story below in italics. I’ll return after that to provide some closing commentary about my experiences.

Diversity and Inclusion at Marcus Technologies

Today’s political climate has brought many brutal hardships to the forefront that we had easily ignored in the past:

·       Black men and women are being murdered by police for non-violent crimes.

·       Police brutality is taking place during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

·       White women are using their privilege to call the police on people of color.

·       People are starkly divided in this country.

Marcus Technologies decided we couldn’t watch from behind the scenes any longer. We owed it to our employees to lend a listening ear and do everything we can to continually improve.

We decided to hire a diversity and inclusion coach to guide us through our journey. We selected Dr. Kazique Prince because of his vast experience in public service. As a previous member of Mayor Steve Adler’s Diversity Team, Dr. Prince has most recently been selected as a member of the newly formed Central Texas Collective for Racial Equity.

After everyone completed an “Intercultural Development Inventory®” assessment, each team member met with Dr. Prince individually to create custom personal growth roadmaps. We then came together as a team to discuss our collective reactions, questions, and commitments. At Dr. Prince’s suggestion, one of the framework texts for these conversations was the book White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. We decided upon five key takeaways from that initial exercise.

1. We Should Challenge – Not Protect – Racism

We must talk about it. Why? We do our friends a disservice by ignoring or hiding behind racism. We need to call out racist moments, comments, and assumptions – no matter how subtle or unintentional they may be.

2. We Have Been Thoroughly Socialized into a Racist Culture

In fact, as Americans, we were born into it. We don’t need to spend energy denying that fact. Why? Denying our racist culture doesn’t help anyone. Accept that you were born into it, and then you can change the way you think and act. You can change what you accept, deny, and fight against when it comes to these entrenched systems.

3: Interrupting Racism Takes Courage

It requires intentional actions. Why? It’s easy to pretend that we are all treated the same. It’s easy to tell everyone how hard you worked to get where you are in life. It takes courage to discuss why white people have held back people of color in the system. It’s easy to say, “I’m not racist.” It takes courage to say, “I want to learn how to be better.”

4. We Should Never Think We’ve Finished Learning

Why? Because if we say that the solution is simply saying, “Just be nice,” we’re telling everyone we’ve reached the pinnacle of our growth. Combatting racism is not simple. Just being nice is not enough. We must keep learning, teaching, and opening our hearts and minds to the hardships, journeys, and different experiences other people have.

5. Be Open to People Talking About Your Racism

You can’t be afraid to be called out for doing or saying something that could be considered racist. Why? When you cry about it, reject your own racism, and belittle it, you are basically saying “I know everything. I have walked in your shoes. I am superior to you.”

This will never work. You must be open to criticism. Understand that it’s probably harder for someone to tell you you’re racist than it is to hear it. Open your heart and mind to it. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Ask questions, be curious. Don’t accept that you are the supreme human being.

Discussing these issues with our entire company was extremely powerful. We were able to talk about our experiences openly and listen to the experiences of others. It brought us closer in ways we didn’t think were possible. Being asked hard questions that made us reflect on our individual lives and upbringings provoked us to deeper thought about who we wanted to be as a company. Talking about things we had always considered taboo felt liberating.

We are not finished in our journey at Marcus Technologies, nor do we feel we ever will be. The first step is always the hardest, but we hope to keep climbing those stairs for as long as we can. In the next stages, we will dig into movies, books, and mastermind sessions before coming back as a team to have more healthy discussions about the subject. It’s not time to stop talking about the system that this country built around racism where white people control our institutions at disproportionate rates.

Addressing Racism in the Workplace Requires Increasing Our Decency

Racism exists. Period.

I know this saying to be true: “Hurt people hurt people”. There is no denying that there are hurt people and bad people out in the world. That being said, I believe there are more good people than bad, and based on my experience, I don’t believe our country is racist.

I lived in New York for the first 30 years of my life, with the final dozen in an inclusive environment filled with diverse people of different races, faiths, and sexual orientations. I served as a teacher in New York for many years, some of which were spent working in a reform school for juvenile delinquents. Specifically, these kids had been incarcerated three times, and they came from all five boroughs on New York City: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island.

For many of them, this was their last chance because if they continued with a life of crime, the next stop would be incarceration with adult criminals.  When some went AWOL – as there were no bars, barbed wire, or fences keeping them in – I would visit their home with other staff members to bring them back. We showed them that we cared about them and modeled ways they could change their life.

It was the hardest job I ever had and the most rewarding. And that includes running multiple companies and traveling extensively throughout our country my entire life. The point of sharing my personal experiences is there are a significant number of people in the U.S. who show respect and love to people of color and do significant things to help them.

I believe that we must call out racism, and it must involve civil dialogue. I disagree with how racism is currently addressed, especially by politicians and pundits on both sides. I believe the race card gets dropped inappropriately in too many conversations as an attempt to bully and silence. We will never solve racism by shutting down diverse opinions.

In a Fortune article published on Dec. 3, 2020, Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard for the last 10+ years, said that “inclusion” is a fancy word for human decency. He further stated:

I think decency is the bedrock of defining what makes us humans. Decency doesn’t mean being nice to everybody. It means being fair to everybody.

When I was young, your IQ is what made you supposedly stand out. And then when I got to business school, people began talking about EQ. You know, you couldn’t choose your boss or colleagues, but how you conducted yourself with equanimity showed that you had the emotional quotient to be successful.

And I say you need DQ—your decency quotient—when you come to work every day. Because you have to bring your heart and your mind to work. You have to care about the people who work with you, for you, above you, around you. That’s where inclusion comes in. If I can make it a part of my business, then I can bring the whole company to the party.”

I want our world to return to a more civil time and with a more civil tone where we can discuss difficult issues without calling each other labels or names. This can happen when we embrace Anjay Banga’s concept of “DQ.” We desperately need to adopt the mantra of, “I strongly disagree with what you are saying, but I strongly defend your right to say it.” If we do this, I believe we can begin to have a more productive dialogue. We can eliminate racism, one person at a time.

If you would like to talk more about how you can embrace thoughtful inclusion and start civil conversations about race that can strengthen your business culture, contact me for a free consultation.