Re-Envisioning Your Organization: A Framework for Creating an Anti-Racist & Equitable Business
As recent as February 2020, Stanford Business School reported that only 3% of the Fortune 100 had a Black CEO, and even worse, less than 1% of CEOs among the Fortune 500 were Black in 2019, as reported by The Center for Talent and Innovation.
But here we are, waving goodbye to syrup and rice mascots Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. And Hulu has retired that one episode when the Golden Girls donned mud masks. And realtors will now swap 'master' for 'primary' when describing the main bedrooms of homes. Symbolic gestures are superficial, and though they create buzz and temporarily lift the reputations of companies, they do not effect anti-racist change in society.
More meaningful than symbolic changes, individuals and organizations have pledged millions of dollars in funding for historically Black institutions of higher learning. Others have committed to maintaining quotas governing purchasing from Black owned vendors and suppliers. Still, companies are missing a significant piece of what Black citizens, workers, and protesters are calling for: systemic change.
Systemic change will happen when racist policies are replaced with anti-racist policies. Entire organizations will need to re-imagine what they will be to their customers, their workers, and society by upholding a moral imperative to cast out vestiges of structures that maintain racial inequity.
I offer a framework that is introspective at its core, rather than outwardly symbolic; and reliant upon the will of company leadership and the workforce to dismantle systems that uphold racial hierarchy and white supremacy. The outcome of this introspective process will be a new vision for the organization, with an intentional, action-oriented plan to attain it.
There are four steps to moving toward an anti-racist, equitable business. Getting beyond symbolic, external gestures, these four steps provide acknowledgement of the issue of racism, facilitate a re-envisioning of a new system, facilitates creation of a clear road map toward the new vision, and prioritizes measurement and communication about the successes on that journey.
Organizations that are willing to allocate resources to create a more just, equitable, fair, and anti-racist business can tailor this framework to their needs, but should not skip any steps.
An organization must have a reckoning with fact that racism is real and it functions within all systems of society, including the business and the workplace.
Through this reckoning, organizations will engage in honest, sometimes uncomfortable, yet productive conversations that set the tone about how racism will be tackled within the organization. Through this process, leadership will articulate that conversations about race are de-politicized and welcomed, that empathy is an asset to the business, and that company property will be a safe space; essential to building a community where all feel welcome to show up as their full selves.
Anti-racism scholar Ibram X. Kendi has said that kindness and education are not enough to combat racism. I'd add that good intentions have never been enough to combat it either. Leverage information to increase awareness and refine intentions that will inspire the organization to create its new vision.
Creating a vision of a truly anti-racist organization will help direct the actions that an organization pursues. The vision will be aspirational, and may represent a radical shift to previous cultural and operational norms. Because the idea is to reset the equilibrium of every function, structure, and process within the organization to provide equity, some may deem the vision as less practical. But if that practicality represents vestiges of a structure that favored comfort and ease over radical change that brings equal footing for all, then the process is working. The resulting vision will be the guiding force for all subsequent actions.
Link the vision to direct action that can effect change. Use business knowledge, diversity and equity best practices, and case studies to understand which actions will produce desired outcomes. Actions may encompass restructuring the organization, drafting and implementing policy, recalibrating career pathways and compensation, and any other tasks that are required to incur the desired effects illustrated in the new vision.
The final, yet perpetually ongoing step in the process centers on measuring outcomes and communicating them inside and outside of the organization. The two goals for this step are to create transparency and track progress toward the vision.
Celebrating wins and acknowledging shortcomings should both serve to propel the work, and recommit the organization to its targets.
The Work Doesn't End Here.
This process is iterative. As new challenges approach, and new injustice is uncovered, the organization will have to reinsert itself into the process. As it becomes a habit, it will also become culture. This organizational culture, a bi-product of a strong system of reflection and anti-racist action will become a hallmark of the organization; attractive to prospective new hires, and helping to position the organization as a leader of equity and justice within its respective business sector, and the business world at-large.