I challenge white corporate leaders to think differently.
On May 14, I will moderate a panel at InsideCounsel’s SuperConference titled, “Beyond Diversity: Creating Corporate Culture.” The panel will include multiple legal leaders — Maria Green, Martin Montes, and David Rawlinson — who have kindly agreed to share their thoughts on creating inclusive cultures.
We are not going to spend much time, if any, on “why” diversity is important for a corporation. Ten years ago, my panelists were all explaining the “business case for diversity.” Globalization, increasing buying power among a broader customer base — blah blah blah. Translation for white executives: “So, even if you are feeling forced to hire more non-white colleagues, or doing so seems hard for you, here is why you should do it anyway.” I cringe every time.
Inclusive corporate cultures are created by people who enthusiastically enjoy bonding with other humans who happen to have different skin tones, and often different viewpoints. Using that prism as a starting point, I hope my panel spends most of its time discussing “how” we get there, not the “why” we should get there.
Here is where we are in 2014. I am still taking search assignments from general counsel and human resources folks who want minority candidates who will fit seamlessly into their existing corporate cultures. These are not racist clients, and I absolutely appreciate the opportunity to bring diverse talent to the corporate table. But “diversity initiatives” often feel like a word I find uncomfortable — assimilation.
Instead of assimilation, we should be striving for what I call exceptional integration. This is two-way integration: the kind that gives voice to multiple viewpoints and cultural upbringings. Our goal really should be the kind of integration that will make us all better people and, by extension, improve the corporate cultures where we work.
The sad truth is that, as a nation, we still suck at integration. When I walk out the front door of my mixed neighborhood, south loop townhome in Chicago, I look across the street at an elementary school that is 100 percent black and I shake my head. I play in a monthly poker game in a northern Chicago suburb, and almost 100 percent of the 40 players look like me. You get my point. Until our social patterns change, successful integration in corporate settings is not a given.
It has been 50 years since my mom participated in the March on Washington with Dr. King. We do live in a better society now. Outright bigotry has been marginalized. And I believe the broad acceptance by white America of a non-white President is monumentally significant. But “diversity” is still a polite word for corporate initiatives that are falling short of the real dream: true cultural integration. Until white executives fully embrace that end game, and for the right reasons, I will keep convening panels and leading more discussions. Please attend our session and share your thoughts.