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.
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.