Just over two years ago, I participated in a protest outside the US embassy in the name of George Floyd and the countless number of other Black victims of police brutality. The sense of social injustice was intense, accentuated by a video lasting 8 minutes and 46 seconds. We could no longer ignore the ever presence of prejudice and discrimination in society. More than that, the ugly determination of supremacist sentiments and desire for subjugation of “the other” could no longer be ignored by those of us who believe in fairness and justice.
I started looking for answers to the questions of “Why?” and “What can be done?”. As an Adjunct Professor of Management and Organisational Behaviour” and an Executive Trainer of Governance and Ethics, I scanned the bookshelves for literature on diversity and inclusion that might serve up the answers I craved. I found good books on the social diversity and inclusion (and exclusion) of minorities. On the business shelves, however, although I found D&I books relating to gender and LGBTQ+ inclusion in the workplace, I found precious little on the subject as it related to ethnic minorities and racism. To find my answers, I had to research academic papers and articles. By September 2020, my pile of notes had grown to a hight that I knew had to be ordered and shared. My research, and applied knowledge of governance and organisational culture continued and was eventually aided by the invaluable advice and perspective of Dr. Doyin Atewologun.
My book: Unlocking the Potential of Diversity in Organisations: The governance of inclusion in a racialised world, is now published by Springer. It is not quite what I expected when I started writing. In essence it is the equivalent of two books in length, and – alas – (at €90 for the hardback) twice the price. But my conclusion is that the challenge of true D&I is one that requires an extensive and developed governance strategy (parts 3 & 4 of the book) based on a real understanding of the nature of the problem; prejudice and discrimination, inclusion and exclusion – where do these behaviours come from and how can we alter them. This is no box-ticking compliance programme.
I think it fair to feel some sense of accomplishment, but it is strongly tempered by a sense that it remains a task unfinished. It is only a first step. Personally, I have to try and make this book work – For you it can only be as valuable as you make it as you consider and apply its arguments and principles. Hence, I invite you to read my introduction to the book, below. If I can persuade you to at least think on these musings, then we have already taken one small step forward, because “We need this debate.”
In my foreword, I explain my reasons for writing this book. That is as it may be, but the topic that we will explore, the questions we will try to answer, and the solutions we are going to suggest are not for my benefit – they are to serve you, the reader. If you have picked up this book, it is because you recognise there is an issue that requires resolution. You acknowledge that there is prejudice, bias and discrimination in society, your organisation, and your personal life. You may be a company director or executive, a manager, an academic, a student, a member of a community discriminated against, or a relative, friend or colleague of one. Still, you have not yet found the answer as to how to help turn things around. You have listened to the good intentions expressed by political, civil and business leaders, yet understood that words are not enough, that training and policy documents alone do not change behaviours.
Too many management executives struggle to understand the nature of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (“D&I”) debate, both in terms of its impact and intractability. Indeed, the very notions of equity (generally concerned with fairness of outcome), as opposed to equality (the provision of a level playing field), can lead to a confusing distraction. If we add the notion of belonging, then many individuals less schooled in social sciences and psychology begin, themselves, to be on the outside of the debate: excluded by jargon and specialist terminology. That is why I have decided to use the term Diversity and Inclusion as the reference term in this book. The proverbial nut we are trying to crack is D&I; equality is part of the solution, whilst equity and belonging form part of the desired outcomes.
This book seeks to explain why majorities dismiss exclusion as the fault of the excluded, and how prejudice and bias can lead to self-defeating defensive behaviours by those who feel their impact, in turn aggravating racial divisions at work and within society. Using a mixture of applied academic theory, practical examples, and experience from the real world, we will explore the issue of D&I from four angles.
Part one: Why diversity and inclusion matters. We have to understand what discrimination looks like, and what the consequences of exclusion are. How do we define, even discover, what systematic or institutional discrimination is? Why, when the evidence shows that reasons for investing in diversity and inclusion are significant, both from a moral and economic perspective, is this path so often rejected by the community we live in?.
Part two: The forces of exclusion and isolation. Having established the dysfunctional impact of socially-led prejudice and bias in part one, we will examine the drivers of our individual, destructive behaviours. The natural instincts that drive us apart are strong, as the trail of failed D&I programmes throughout decades can testify to. We shall try to understand why our traditional risk management approaches struggle against the emotive fears and hopes that trigger discrimination and exclusion.
Part three: The imperative conditions of change. We will discover the three essential implementation conditions necessary for sustainable culture change within an organisation. The path that leads to continuous learning and improvement is paved with the power of leadership, an organisational culture of trust, and a living dialogue within the firm.
Part four: The organisation of the cultural transformation process redefines the mission and scope of governance. From the positioning of the D&I function and ensuring a dynamic social capital within the firm to the measurement of cultural change, governance frameworks need careful engineering. We explore the best practice standards of the governance of D&I and review brief case studies of how two major corporations (Microsoft and EY USA) have approached D&I to learn from their examples. Finally, we will review established industry standards of best practice and evaluate their impact on the design of D&I programmes.
The task of addressing all of these aspects is enormous. Some may describe this work as a book of two halves, or two books in one binder. The first deals with the drivers and outcomes of inter-relationship dynamics. The second addresses the needs of the business practitioner looking for answers and solutions. The organisation seeking to find the appropriate response to the D&I challenge needs to understand both these elements to succeed.
This book was inspired by the #BLM movement of 2020. Consequently, the more significant part of my research references the plight of Black communities in the face of discrimination. This emphasis is not to undervalue the challenges facing Asian, ethnic, religious or other communities that form part of the “outgroup” to any dominant society. The principles discussed and presented here are relevant to the inclusion of any minority facing the prejudice of an “ingroup”. The topic is not exclusively one of Black inclusion in White society. Still, in our racialised world, it is one that appears most prevalent in the face of political correctness and social taboos.
At the end of our story, we shall hopefully understand how the time for being a bystander in the D&I debate is over, how the changing expectations of tomorrow’s consumers are writing a message on the wall, telling of the necessity for change we ignore at our peril. This book is a contribution to the critical conversation on how to make those changes within organisations.