Does Your Reality Match Your Rhetoric?

By Charlene Wheeless, Senior Advisor of Equity and Justice, APCO Worldwide

As someone who has engaged with corporate America for more than 30 years, and as a Black citizen of the United States, I was impressed with the way many companies responded to the clarion call for racial and social justice last year. Commitments to do better were made; racial equity task forces formed; the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion industry blew up for consultants – many of whom have more business than they could have ever imagined in such a short period.

Corporate foundations started rethinking their strategies and where they want to channel their investments. CEOs went public with their outrage and demanded that enough was enough. In my lifetime, I never thought I would see such broad support for the tearing down of structural racism and bias in our nation’s policies and laws. It has indeed been remarkable to witness.

When I speak to employees from companies whose leaders took a firm stand last summer, I also hear that a strange thing is happening inside those companies – nothing. It will take time before we see significant changes regarding racial justice in the workplace, but one thing is for sure: if we don’t start, we won’t get there. I hear about company plans to hire more diverse candidates and provide training to current employees. No doubt, there are charts, graphs, succession and recruitment plans developed. Corporate America is very good at solving problems.

Leaders also need to make sure they are solving the right problem. Ask yourself three crucial questions:

  • Am I showing the same level of concern internally that I have expressed externally? In other words, is my house in order?
  • Do I recognize that the problem is much bigger and more profound than diversity and inclusion and talent management? If the answer is yes, why am I using decades-old strategies that haven’t worked in the past and expect them to deliver results now?
  • What am I doing to address systemic bias, injustice, and racial inequality in my company? Am I dismantling biased systems and creating new ones that favor everyone?

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