Organization skills

How to Start an Anti-Racist Organization

Happy Friday.

I had the chance to interview James D. White during the last Summit of the ideal place to work for allthe meeting of the leaders who created Great Place To Work certificate status. You can read more about Fortune’s survey and annual report List of Top 100 Companies to Work For Here.

White is a lifer who started in local sales at Coca-Cola and ended up being asked by the Jamba Juice board to turn the company around in 2008 as president and CEO. He is currently Chairman of the Board of Honest Corporation, the retail company. founded by actress Jessica Alba.

White, along with her daughter, Krista, entered the inclusion conversation with a bang and a new book titled Anti-Racism Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World. It was originally conceived as a distillation of his thirty years of transforming organizations, serving on the board and coaching other CEOs. But, like many black executives, his last two years have been spent answering a flood of requests for advice from worried senior leaders after the murder of George Floyd.

Many books promise an action plan, but this one delivers. (He also transformed Jamba Juice, with an explicit inclusion strategy he details in the book. He left the top spot in 2016.)

And there’s a barn burner from an opening paragraph:

This book is explicitly anti-racist, pro-black, pro-LGBTQIA, and feminist. This book is based on the principle that Black Lives Matter, that LGBTQIA rights are human rights, that people of all abilities deserve respect and access, and that people of all genders have the right to sovereignty. on their body and their identity. This book recognizes that capitalism is built on the foundation of systemic racism. And that to have a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment, we must recognize a historic present of the injustices faced by marginalized people.

I asked White why they chose such a bold start. It was his daughter’s idea and his words, largely unpublished. “She thought it was important for people to know that this book is not apolitical…and that made me think a bit,” he said. When he shared it with his team, the response was not unexpected. “The comment was, ‘James, you’re a traditional businessman. Are you interested if you ever work again? So let that sink in,’ he told the crowd. “And I said, ‘I really don’t.'”

The plan has seven steps, which you can explore on your own, but I’ll outline it for you here:

  • Listen and learn from colleagues across the organization
  • Mobilize senior executives to the cause
  • Culture Audit
  • Document what is already done to foster diversity and inclusion
  • Establish benchmarks to measure progress
  • Build “learning-by-doing teams” to lead the effort
  • Development and communication of an action plan

It sounds simple on paper, but it’s more complicated in practice.

First, you have to start at the top. “I mean, the first premise of the book is the CEO – she actually has to lead this job. It’s the job of the culture, so it can’t be delegated,” he says. “It’s about systems and processes. Every process that affects a human being, we have to assess and make sure we’re not biasing those systems. And that takes great discipline and hard work over time.

Much of this work takes place in the middle of an organization, and that’s where the book shines.

“Some people describe it as the moving middle, the frozen middle, the still middle, whatever it is in your organization,” White says. “We have to bring the right set of tools, the right set of investments, to make sure that this leadership set really gets this job done. It is not optional work at this level. If you’re leading people in an organization, it’s not optional.

But it is also a story of people.

The co-authors interviewed more than two dozen black executives — names you’re likely familiar with, including Walgreens’ Roz Brewer and Adtalem’s Lisa Wardell — who shared some of the many micro- and not-so-microaggressions they’ve had to deal with. face as they go. in an aberrant status. “We really wanted to understand what it was like to step into their shoes and try to drive the kind of transformations that all of these great leaders have driven within their respective companies,” he said. “It was a combination of humility and inspiration.”

But White also shared one of his own, a story he had never told anyone before the reckoning of 2020 forced him to rethink his own narrative.

His first job out of college was with Coca-Cola, an auspicious start to business life. But his sales territory, in the southeastern region of Missouri, included a town in Arkansas that was the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. It became clear that he wouldn’t be safe to make business calls, so they “recut” the community out of his hands. “So if you can imagine a young man, the first member of my family in business, I’m excited to work for one of America’s great corporations, and I have to sit down with my boss and carve out some territory for myself. for this reason,” he said.

It wasn’t much better elsewhere, not really.

“[I]f I step back and look at most of my sales territory, most of it would have been cities at sunsethe said, describing many American communities that have applied racist restrictions by law, force and violence. “And I remember one specific instance where I was calling a supermarket, and I was selling Minute Maid orange juice at the time. I introduce myself and the manager says, ‘James, we heard you were in town. We’re just letting you know you’re not here after dark. And it was actually someone trying to be helpful.

These stories are a business case for diversity that is not discussed enough.

Right now, there are executives in your organization from all sorts of marginalized and underrepresented identities with stories to tell about how the world Actually works. The risk White has taken as a “traditional businessman” is that reporting them will trigger an unproductive reaction designed to preserve a collective self-image that we are all good people.

But we can be good people and help create a better world. Empathy is key and the central theme of the plan, says White.

“I think empathy will have to be a basic ability to move forward,” a skill that can be cultivated by anyone. “You have to commit to listening more than talking. You need to find ways to create experiences that would allow you to put yourself in another person’s shoes for at least a brief moment. It’s a lot of work, but it’s possible. »

I wish you an empathetic weekend.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
[email protected]

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla.

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Farewell words

Every time you come to town, or walk into a gas station, or a store, people are staring at you. You can feel them staring at you, feel them staring at you. No one ever said anything (racist) to me in Vienna, but I really felt what they felt for me.

Victoria Vaughna 17-year-old biracial girl visiting her white grandparents in Vienna, Illinois, an “ancient” city at sunset.