As I reflect on an extremely painful and exhausting year, I find myself in a place full of hope. And yes, that surprises me.
Part of the hope stems from the many conversations I never expected to have. Some have been with business leaders who are committed to approaching issues of race and inequity with humility, determination and grace. (Look at thisepisode of the year under reviewLeadership Next, my podcast withFortuneCEO Alan Murray, for more.) Some have been with mid-career executives on theFortuneConnect Platform – now our largest community of executives – which represents the cohort that will be responsible for leading and implementing the radical reinvention of work and society going forward. They give me life. (SaferFortuneLog in here.)
For much of the year, I also leaned into conferences and other private meetings to share what I’m learning from my 2020 reports and to find out what decision-makers have in mind. When it comes to race and iniquity, so many leaders are – miraculously – on the same page, but don’t always know what’s to come. I have done my best to represent you all. Looking back, I have come to see that my answers can be condensed into a single prompt: it’s up to each of us to notice who is not in the room and ask why.
In the “why” is the work.
The act of noticing is powerful. This is the first step towards inclusion and sets you on the path to understanding, coming together, and breaking down the types of barriers that have their roots far beyond your workplace. It takes twenty years to become a starting employee, anda lot of things go wrongfor them along the way: unequal access toHealth care,education, clean upwaterandfood leads to uneven life outcomes. Living in communities that offer littlesecurity promise or civic life, leads to deep despair. Not a trivial pipeline problem.
The ‘room’ then becomes a metaphor for where history, power, and commerce operate: advocating for inclusion in the workforce means noticing who is not on your board. administration, your executive suite, your high potential pool, store shelves, professional service value chain, clientele, teams and professional member groups. Take a look at your LinkedIn connections. Your social feeds. Look around you in the neighborhood where you live. Where you worship. Postal codes where your head office is located (almost empty). Who is not there? Why?
Pull the threads, and stories begin to emerge that will help you better understand how outside forces – like a historic lack of access to financial markets – created the seemingly intractable gaps in wealth and agency that plague so many. of people in the United States and beyond. New questions will emerge about how these strengths have evolved within your business. Which family has been wiped out by COVID-19? Why was our new remote working accommodation not the pre-pandemic standard for employees with disabilities? How is it that working women have lost so much weight in the past nine months? Why do so few employees of color go beyond their first leadership assignment? What specific benefits and services bring the amazing people we frantically try to hire for a better diversity reportreallyneed to thrive in their work?
Once you see the exclusion, you can’t forget it. And it’s a good thing.
Are we ready to ask why and take action on what we learn?
Currently, that seems rather unlikely.Global inequalityis on the rise at a time when people are literallystabbing in the streetsduring political rallies. And yet, most of us are just trying to go through this thing called life.
I get it.
So my best advice is to get as much of your gazing and listening as possible to you. One soul at a time.
To help you, I am moved to repeat this simple advice fromDavid Kyuman Kim, professor of religious studies, philosopher and specialist in radical love and inclusive democracy. He is currently the founding director of the Center for Values, Ethics, & Culture at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. His advice: open your mind, then listen. When you pay real attention to others, they find the courage to talk about their lives. Simplicity masks power.
“We have a responsibility to draw our attention to colleagues, community members and to ask a simple question: ‘How are you? He said. “And then listen, really listen, like you don’t already know the answer.
Not knowing. What’s the worst that can happen?