As a society, we face a long climb ahead to tackle systemic racism, and we all need to do our individual work as well as influence what we can with action.
The area that I can influence most is in my family and my business practice, a leadership advisory firm. In our work, we regularly encounter opportunities to influence other organizations regarding this problem, but today I recognize that my own actions, as an advisor, colleague, and otherwise, have fallen short and require change. As a result, today I am making several new commitments:
1. I commit to stepping back from leadership on at least 1/3 of our firm’s projects so my colleagues of color can lead, and not only in cases involving diversity issues. I recognize that I have too often assumed I have the best approach to an issue; instead, I believe it’s the best thing for my business, for me personally, and for my colleagues and customers if non-white voices take the lead more frequently. Partly this is because of their life experience and insight that I want them to share more freely, and partly this is to change a dominant cultural narrative that assumes white male leadership. White male leadership leads to a limited but dominant model of collaborating, of management, of serving clients. I think we will do better as a firm in all these areas and more if I have less to say and more to listen to and learn from my colleagues and customers of color.
2. I also commit to proactively seeking feedback regarding my own behavior from my colleagues – not for them to absolve me of the racism I know I have harbored, but by offering apologies to them for instances I now recognize I did not handle well and asking them to add to my growing understanding of this issue and how dominant it is for people of a different background. I have blinders on this, and I want help to take them off: but the work is mine to do, not the responsibility of my colleagues of color.
3. Finally, for my customers, I commit that if you choose to work with us on this topic and help your company grow, you will be working with a firm that is vulnerable, growing, learning, and changing itself. The last thing anyone needs to become more inclusive and diverse is to hire a white guy with all the answers. Rather, as a white man, I can promise I will share with you my own personal journey, and look to draw you toward the realizations and concrete actions you need to reach for yourselves.
As James Baldwin wrote, “White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this…(racism) will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
There is much to do, and this is only a start. If you want to start with me, for whatever reason and in whatever way, I’d love to hear from you.