Back to our ghettos: Why leaders should change first.


Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi once told me: “At the end of the day, we all get back to our ghettos…the white ghettos, the brown ghettos, the black ghettos…” Gandhi was talking about how our rugged individualistic culture takes us back to our own isolated spaces, the ghettos we’ve built for ourselves.

Meanwhile, corporate America is investing billions in promoting Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) without understanding that a 400-year-old problem cannot be solved overnight.

The historical trauma of racism and systemic inequality cannot be wiped off with a magic eraser.

“The only way leaders are going to combat racism in their organizations is if they literally make combatting racism a lifestyle —as habitual as a morning cup of coffee,” says Andre’s Tapia, Senior Client Partner, Global DE&I Strategist at Korn Ferry.

Tapia makes a valid point. Few corporate leaders know where the inner city is, and very few have taken the time to understand people from different cultures. However, their companies have invested in anything from backpacks to painting walls to show feel-good corporate social responsibility initiatives.

The old saying: “People, Planet and Profits” could now add DE&I in the mix as it has outpaced sustainability as a key goal for corporations.

Yet, knowing about nan & curry doesn’t let you understand the underpinnings of the world’s largest democracy, India, and neither does eating falafel make you feel the richness of Middle Eastern culture.

“When leaders make combatting racism part of their lifestyle, they’ll never lose focus on creating an inclusive organization. It will define their philosophy on how to approach revenues, innovation, marketing, finance, developing talent, and everything else. It will shape the way they lead,” Tapias says.

How many leaders are doing that? How many are making concerted efforts to spend time and understand the experiences of their employees from people of color to LGBTQ employees?

The lingo of DE&I is alien to many corporate leaders in America but the DE&I checkbox has been in existence for several decades. After all, don’t we invest in political correctness every day?

Leaders must invest time in learning, understanding and building relationships with people of color and marginalized groups. Otherwise, companies will be investing in more DE&I consultants showing more PowerPoints about unconscious bias.

It’s time leaders understand their cultural identity first and start leading with empathy and humility. And, the time is now.

Disclaimer

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making decisions.

Forget the audience: Write for yourself


Every winter, I faithfully read William Zinsser’s “On writing well.” This classic book tells me not to think too hard of the mass audience. In fact, Zinsser says there is no such audience because every reader is different.

He encourages us to write for our enjoyment mastering the craft of writing and how you can use the craft to express who you are. Mastering the craft is a mechanical chore while expressing your attitude requires creativity.

But who can do both with melancholy? None other than E.B. White! Here’s an excerpt from his essay “Death of a pig.”

He came out of the house to die. When I went down, before going to bed, he lay stretched in the yard a few feet from the door. I knelt, saw that he was dead, and left him there: his face had a mild look, expressive neither of deep peace nor of deep suffering, although I think he suffered a good deal.” Death of a Pig. – E.B. White.

This winter, you may want to master another tool as you write for yourself. Don’t forget to read The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. “I treasure The Elements of Style for its sharp advice, but I treasure it even more for the audacity and self-confidence of its author,” White said of the great grammarian and his teacher at Cornell, William Strunk, Jr.