What We Can Learn from Black Panther’s Success: Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging in Your Workplace

Since Iron Man in 2008, moviegoers have poured into theaters to watch more than a dozen films in the superhero franchise known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster, Black Panther, is about T’Challa, prince of the fictional nation of Wakanda, who must return home to assume the throne from his deceased father and take over responsibility as Wakanda’s chief warrior and protector (aka the Black Panther). Black Panther broke box office records as the largest February opening of all time and the largest President’s Day weekend opening of all time. According to Box Office Mojo, Black Panther also scored one of the best second weekends ever with an estimated $108 million in ticket sales.

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Black Panther is more than just another superhero film for other reasons, however: It features a largely black cast, has a black character as the central protagonist, and was helmed by a black director. It has also inspired a social media campaign (#theblackpantherchallenge), with support from celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Octavia Spencer, to raise money to take as many children (primarily of color) as possible to see the movie. Heralded as a “cultural moment,” Black Panther is providing millions of black superhero/comic fans a chance to see themselves reflected on the big screen–ultimately giving them a greater sense of “belonging” in the Marvel family.

This sense of “belonging” is also a key factor in the workplace for companies seeking to create a diverse and inclusive culture, according to a recent LinkedIn survey. In its report on 2018 Global Recruiting Trends, LinkedIn describes workplace diversity (a phrase popularized by corporate America in the 1980s) as a three-pronged concept that includes diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

LinkedIn’s report distinguishes the three concepts as follows: “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like no one is watching.” According to LinkedIn’s survey, companies are cognizant of the difference between the three, as 51% of hiring managers surveyed are “very or extremely” focused on diversity, 52% on inclusion and 57% on belonging.

There are several ways you can seek to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging (abbreviated “DIBs” by LinkedIn’s Pat Wadors) in your organization:

Understand your workforce’s experiences. In a recent interview, SurveyMonkey’s Chief People Officer Becky Canteri explains that her organization rolled out a new “belonging and inclusion” survey, which asks employees questions about furthering their career or if they feel comfortable expressing their opinions at work in an effort to gauge if employees want to stay at SurveyMonkey. According to Canteri, “It’s all part of an ongoing dialogue with our employees to understand the experience that they are having here and how we can continue to improve the experience over time.”

Secure buy-in from key stakeholders. As highlighted in LinkedIn’s report, fostering DIBs will go much farther if management–from the CEO to key line managers–are “sold” on the value of diversity. Although Obama-era rules on pay, hiring, and protections have been rolled back by President Trump and a Republican Congress, there is a business case to be made for DIBs. Much like Black Panther’s record-breaking ticket sales, DIBs can help  companies make money and achieve organizational goals. Additionally, when employees have a sense of “belonging,” they are more likely to seek to resolve issues internally and less inclined to leave the organization when conflict arises, saving the company money on litigating external claims and turnover costs.

Make a mindset shift … not a strategy. In the health and fitness world, diets are criticized as temporary fixes, while “lifestyle changes” are lauded as the gateway to a permanent path to a “healthier you.” There is a similar notion at play with DIBs: The companies leading the DIBs charge, according to LinkedIn’s report, have diversity as a mindset, rather than an isolated strategy, and weave it into everything the organizations do. From job descriptions and personnel policies to informal coaching sessions and written performance evaluations, DIBs should be embedded in those documents and conversations so that people are always thinking about how they can be more inclusive and encourage others to be their best selves at work.

Create a community. LinkedIn’s report also emphasizes that empowering employees to tell their stories boosts engagement and touches diverse workers in an authentic way. At FordHarrison, Diversity & Inclusion Partner Dawn Siler-Nixon is promoting “community” in March for Women’s History Month by encouraging firm employees to share anecdotes of women trailblazers that have touched their lives. Storytelling can also be done vis-à-vis grassroots groups known as employee resource groups. LinkedIn’s case study on Walgreens reveals that such groups (referred to internally at Walgreens as “business resource groups” or “BRGs”) are one of the keys to the company’s diversity success. Walgreens’ BRGs consist of nine networks of employees committed to diversity recruiting, employee development, Walgreens brand enhancement, and internal/external community engagement. Each BRG is sponsored by a senior executive, conducts monthly member meetings, and is responsible for annual strategic plans and operating budgets.

Of course, as exemplified by Black Panther, the epitome of diversity success is really about moving past lip service and allowing people to see themselves represented. Whether it be on the big screen or in the C-suite, people get engaged and excited when they can visualize themselves being given opportunities and imagine themselves succeeding. See you at the movies!

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