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.

A true friend dies leaving me a fairy tale


K. Venugopal was my greatest friend, a brilliant writer and a senior journalist with Deccan Chronicle. He passed away in Chennai, India, yesterday morning at the young age of 42. We studied journalism together and took different paths.

Each time I got ready for my holiday to India from the U.S., I would ask him: “Venu, what can I bring for you?” This July, as usual, he said: “Books.” And, this time, he wanted books on fairy tales by Jack Zipes. Fairy tales? I wondered why but knew he wanted to sharpen his writing skills every moment and wanted to learn more.

It was shocking for me this morning as the call came from India. I doubt whether anyone I’ve seen in any part of the world could write so brilliantly as Venu did. His vocabulary, his knowledge, his curiosity.  Venu knew of lands and cultures more than people who visited them and no native writer could beat his expressive, unique style. He didn’t need to be in Europe or in America to write better than a native writer.

He read more than anyone else and was a consummate journalist. I remember the days we spend at the British Library in Trivandrum, our common love for poetry. The works of Stephen Spender.

During the early nineties, I introduced him to an editor from Pioneer. Within weeks, Venu had his first story published in The Illustrated Weekly while most of us were struggling to get an internship!

I will miss him, one day we will see each other- once more. The last time I met him was at Mascot in Trivandrum in July this year. He seemed to be in a hurry. I gave him the books from Zipes, and his eyes gleamed as he saw them- that curiosity for knowledge, the thirst to study more made Venu the best  journalist among his generation.

Venu’s untimely death is a loss to Indian journalism. While others scratched the surface, Venu gave readers a deep meaning of subjects through his stories. I will miss him deeply. So will Indian journalism.

It’s that time in India when his body would’ve arrived from Chennai. My heart aches but I know he died in the close presence of friends. We will all be there for him and his family. Forever.

To close, here’s a favorite line from Stephen Spender for my dear friend, Venu:

From afar, we watch the best of us –
Whose adored desire was to die for the world.

The Shapes of Death by Stephen Spender.