TLDR; your diversity program is probably doing more harm than good, and your Black employees may not be in a position to be honest with you about it, assuming they are informed at all. If your organization is truly concerned about Black lives, this could help.
We've recently been thinking about the ineffectiveness of most corporate diversity programs, but the recent riots and outpouring of support from non-Black people concerned with "Black issues" now prompts us to get these thoughts out there while people are searching for solutions. Our aim is to change the way people, especially in business and government, think about diversity.
We’re sure we all understand that police brutality is a part of a larger system. It is important for us to name that system. That system is called racism/white supremacy. Most people do not have a functional definition of white supremacy so they don't see the direct connection. For the purposes of this work, we adopt Dr. Frances Cress Welsing's definition:
“Racism (white supremacy) is the local and global power system and dynamic, structure, maintained by persons who classify themselves as white, whether consciously or subconsciously determined; which consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action, and emotional response, as conducted, simultaneously in all areas of people activity (economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war)."
Some additional assumptions we make about white supremacy:
- It pervades every institution in the United States, making it impossible for an individual to not be racist or an active co-conspirator enabling racism without deliberate thought and action.
- It does not function without non-white accomplices.
- It is logical for white people to embrace white supremacy under a limited conception of self-interest, upon which a Western capitalist system is based, thus making appeals to morality extremely difficult as morality is entirely subjective and socially constructed. All social constructs developed within a white supremacist system support and justify white supremacy.
- Forced integration and quotas are not, and have never been a successful tool to effectively combat white supremacy, thus rendering most diversity programs ineffective at best, and most likely counterproductive.
Given this knowledge, the reader can imagine the gargantuan task of dismantling white supremacy and why it is so hard to convince even well-meaning white people to become allies in this effort because it is in their self interest to maintain the status quo. It truly takes bravery and selflessness to shoulder this burden, and traditional corporate environments typically do not reward such behavior.
This proposal is geared towards the tiny fraction of organizations that are truly serious about valuing Black lives and being open minded enough to re-evaluate their assumptions about "diversity."
Our theory is that the vast majority of diversity programs and initiatives are founded on fundamentally racist assumptions that are actually counterproductive to the goal of enabling agency and self-determination for descendants of enslaved Africans, so-called African Americans. The result of these racist assumptions is a system of dependency that turns white managers and their non-white surrogates into gatekeepers to African Americans' success, only supporting those that accept the dominant white power structure (at least superficially).
The fundamentally racist assumption is that it is desirable and/or beneficial for African Americans to work for organizations that are owned/dominated/controlled by non-Black people, which often places them in hostile and psychologically damaging environments. Furthermore, this results in a brain drain from Black-owned/controlled organizations and adds little value to corporations themselves.
The foundational concepts we will use to disrupt diversity programs as currently implemented are:
- Non-racist organizations don’t need diversity programs. In other words, if your organization needs or already has a diversity initiative, it is functionally racist.
- A racist organization is incapable of reforming itself without outside help and realigned incentives.
- A racist organization cannot effectively manage a diversity program internally without a neutral third party whose compensation is not tied to "customer satisfaction."
- Non-white people who work for white-dominated organizations are in no position to fix/help/manage any of the points above due to the nature of the employee/employer relationship.
Program - Disrupting Diversity
Given the assumptions and statements above, we should get rid of the terms diversity and inclusion all together and, instead, focus primarily on equity. Diversity of thought is what's important to the bottom line. Race, gender, and other identity categories only come into play insofar as people from different backgrounds can offer different perspectives and approaches to problem solving and productivity. A diversity program can help create a sense of belonging for African Americans in spaces where they are the numerical minority, but this doesn't really help to create systemic change to sustainably benefit that community. You can help African Americans without hiring them into an organization where they are not truly wanted or valued (if they were, you would not need a program to manage it).
Instead, the focus should be on improving outcomes for the African American community through programs that give African American individuals and organizations agency and contribute to self-determination. In short, an equity program would strengthen African American institutional and productive capacity.
This is not to say that you shouldn't hire African Americans, but that you should not hire them solely because of their race, and employment alone is not the best way to help combat the system of white supremacy or the African American community as a whole. So, how do we do this?
Whenever evaluating potential solutions targeted at African Americans, it helps to begin with the basic question, "Will this increase or decrease African American dependency on white dominated systems, organizations, and/or institutions?” And since corporations are economic organizations, we should look at economic outcomes to measure success.
A major corporation that is dominated by white people hiring a Black person creates a state of dependency for that individual. Her livelihood now depends on her acceptability to the non-Black people below, around, and above her in the corporate hierarchy; therefore she cannot contribute to her full potential or take risks that other employees may be able to take.
On the other hand, investing in or donating to a Black for-profit enterprise increases their chances or success and ability to scale, and hire other Black people as Black-owned businesses are 85% more likely to hire Black employees.
Our proposal is for equity programs that prioritize independent African American participation in:
- Cap tables
- Board rooms
- Supplier/vendor lists
- Corporate philanthropy
- Think tanks
These all can be used promote economic agency rather than complete dependency, although dependency can be perpetuated even with these if not managed correctly.
The fundamental problem in the African American community is that the resources needed to repair itself have been systemically looted over centuries. First through slavery (which includes sharecropping as a form of slavery), then the inability to participate in state and federal land grant and loan programs, redlining, predatory loans, mass incarceration, etc. A diversity program that does not directly provide a positive economic outcome by helping build and maintain wealth within the African American community is like treating symptoms without addressing the underlying disease.
The Disrupting Diversity program involves a three-stage process:
- Equity audit - we look at the existing ownership and management structure within the company to identify key African American decision-makers and stakeholders (including major shareholders and board directors), vendor contracts with Black-owned businesses, philanthropic initiatives that directly impact the African American community, and venture capital initiatives (if any) that have funded Black-owned businesses.
- Equity Strategy - we look across the entire business to identify partnership and development opportunities that could involve African American businesses, organizations, investors, and individuals.
- Management - for this program to truly work, the Equity Program should be independently managed by a third party with full budget authority, a long-term contract, and minimal oversight outside of meeting quantitative and qualitative goals and staying within legal and ethical boundaries. The Equity Program Managers will implement the strategy developed in phase 2 above and report annual progress to the sponsor company/organization with quantitative and qualitative measures, such as:
- African American income (by industry) and wealth (total and per capita)
- African American labor participation rate (total and from Black-owned businesses)
- Ownership of financial and real assets (total and per capita)
- Total AUM controlled by Black-owned investment management firms
- Gini coefficient within the African American community
- Number of Black-owned businesses total and with 50+ employees
- Annual revenue and income of all Black-owned businesses
- Total donations made by Black-owned businesses.
- Sources and uses of funds to Black enterprises and non-profit organizations
- Career satisfaction
- Quality of work environment
Finally, the specific details and beneficiaries of an equity program should not be made available to the public, or even to most employees within the organization that aren't directly involved, and instead, treated more like a skunkworks project that reports directly to the CEO and/or COO. PR announcements, if any, should only be made once measurable success is achieved and not simply to announce programs and partnerships.