The death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota reverberated around the nation and beyond, raising awareness of many forms of discrimination. Among those eager to do something constructive have been leaders of the nation’s business community.
These leaders have been motivated by not only a personal sense of justice but also the special responsibility they hold as executives of companies and leaders of institutions where various forms of subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, discrimination are often still widespread.
But what’s a leader to do? You can’t just order an end to racism or an increase in diversity by executive decree; it doesn’t work that way. Gone, too, are the days when a CEO could delegate the issue to the company’s HR department, directing it to “take care of the matter.”
It doesn’t work that way either, nor does the idea of conducting an employee survey to rate the degree of equality in the business provide an acceptable basis for action.
Build Support from Within
Business leaders need to acknowledge that social justice issues, although difficult, need to be addressed and that companies need to play a role in that effort. These are not one-and-done conversations. They need to go far beyond a companywide supportive e-mail. Leaders need to start and continue essential conversations about diversity, leading to progress and positive change.
In particular, CEOs need a strategy that secures “buy-in” from most of the organization’s employees—a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down one. For many companies, that involves implementing an idea that originated with their current employees and that percolated upward as it gained support. A committee of employees can then be formed to roll out the resulting initiatives.
Crowdsourcing ideas on specific diversity initiatives and harvesting input from hundreds or even thousands of employees can also unify employees behind the actions a company can take.
Use ‘Budgeting’ as the Blueprint
It may sound unusual to compare a diversity conversation to a budgeting conversation. However, there are similarities in how leaders start the right conversations. Both are intended to drive meaningful action that accounts for the different viewpoints held throughout an organization.
Prioritizing diversity needs to begin with the leadership team. There needs to be a real commitment to quickly put diversity initiatives in place and identify the top 10–20 things the committee thinks it can achieve in a relatively short time. Narrow that down to two or three things, and then crowdsource those ideas throughout the organization to solicit opinions, refine topics, and formulate action plans. If you start with too many ideas, it will be harder to identify the ones that can quickly be put into place.
Move from Rhetoric to Action
Here are a few ideas that can jump-start conversations on diversity to make a positive impact.
- Giving. Ask about ways your organization can support racial equality causes. These could include payroll donations, donation matching, mentoring, scholarships, etc.
- Development. How can the organization increase awareness and applications from minority candidates for current and future job postings?
These questions are simple to ask but require a real commitment to follow through. CEOs should pose these questions to their staff, and within 48 hours, consider all the suggestions that come in. Pay attention to those ideas that received the most support and those whose help will be essential to begin a movement. While it is not a solution to the larger issue of inequality, it can be a concrete first step for organizations to move from rhetoric to action.
Hayes Drumwright is the founder of POPin, an anonymous crowdsourcing platform.