White Men Can’t Lead
Unspeakable Truths, Representation and The Work
This country is going through an identity crisis. It’s been going on for a while, this latest one since, er probably 2016. Everything is based around structures and traditions that don’t create a fair world for everyone. For us to emerge and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic and grow, we’ve got to do some serious soul-searching, have very honest conversations and accept the faults. It’s going to be hard work, and it’s going to be tough. You’re going to find it uncomfortable, so accept that.
You see, for starters, there’s an unspeakable truth to face, the thing everyone is too scared to say out loud… that this conversation about race is one that can’t be led, dominated and owned by white men. Sorry guys, this is not your latest pet project. I have seen too many diversity and inclusion teams led by the very people who have always been in charge of everything. I’m tired of it. It’s time to pass the mic, listen, and accept that this is how this conversation has to happen to drive change. Without that, we can’t move on and move forwards.
To all you organisations out there, from companies, to charities, to local councils and the government, it’s great that you all want to support and post black squares and messages saying ‘Black Lives Matter’. The thing is, it’s a totally empty gesture when your entire leadership team, and most of your workforce, is white. In fact, it’s hypocritical and you’re not helping at all. If you really want to do something about it, stop seeking publicity for yourself off the back of a grassroots movement, stop diverting attention from that movement, and sit down and take a good look at your organisation and figure out what you are going to do. This is not the time to use the movement as your marketing tool.
There is a target to have at least one director from an ethnic minority by 2021 for the largest listed companies in the UK. Over a third are going to miss this target according to the government-sponsored Parker Review. Whether you’re a listed company or not, how about taking a look at your diversity statistics and publishing them? That is a great first step in acknowledging if you have a problem. A way more significant gesture than posting a Black Lives Matter social media post and telling people how terrible you feel about it all. While you’re at it, how about accompanying that data with a photo of your leadership team?
It is a well-known, but generally unspoken, truth that people usually recruit and promote people like themselves. Unless we say these things out loud, we will never address the problems. So, what are you going to do about it? What steps have you taken to look at unconscious bias in your recruitment processes? Every single person has unconscious biases, let’s acknowledge that. What are you doing about succession planning, mentoring, developing people’s careers in your organisation? Do you know how people in your teams feel? Have you asked them? Have you had this conversation with your leadership team? Have you looked at your retention rates for people of colour? You may have recruited some, but how long did they stay? That will tell you a lot about your company culture and what you need to do.
Ethnic and cultural diversity in leadership teams leads to 36% more profitability in companies, just like gender-diverse leadership teams lead to 21% greater profits. Teams with greater diversity make faster decisions, with half the number of meetings. And, guess what? Faster decisions lead to higher profits. Are you here to make money or not? If you don’t do something about addressing this, you are affecting your bottom-line profitability. Have a think about that, and now have a chat with your leadership team about what specific actions you are going to take to do something about it.
Let’s talk about decisions. How do you decide how to do things in your company? Do you include everyone? Is it always in the ‘stage’ of a meeting? Does everyone get to have their say? Or do the same people dominate the conversations? Is everyone represented in those conversations? Who are you missing? Time to be brutally honest about this; if you’re not including everyone in your decision-making, what, specifically are you going to do to address it? How about stepping back and letting someone different lead the conversation?
Now what about your wider organisation. What happens if there is racist ‘banter’? Do people let it go? Does anyone feel like they can challenge that behaviour? What do you do if someone reports a concern? Do you have a policy or a process to follow? How do people feel, have you asked anyone about it to see how you’re doing? You might have employee survey responses, I bet you’ll get more honest feedback by looking at Glassdoor and Twitter. While we’re on that subject, how is social media handled in your company? What support do you offer?
There are some specific actions to consider here. Do most people get their mates to work at your place? What’s your employer brand and reputation? What do the photos on your website show, and how about your social media? By the year 2025, millennials will be 75% of the global workforce. That 75% of the workforce make their decisions about who to work for with different things in their minds. 47% of them look for diversity and inclusion when they are sizing up who to work for. So if you don’t do something about this, in five years’ time, 75% of the workforce might not want anything to do with your place!
The main thing about all of this is, you have to do something about it. This is the work. Write that list of things you need to work on. If you need help, ask for it. Look around your organisation, or get some external help. This is not the latest trend, this is life. Figure out how you are going to do something about it. And I know it’s difficult to accept, but just pass that mic, shine the light on someone different who can lead this with vision and hope. This is that time, face the truth.
Stop making this about you.
Listen to the ‘White Men Can’t Lead’ podcast episode:
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