Dear C-suite Member,
Like many of your peers around the globe, I know you are grappling with how best to heed the call to action in today’s social climate while confronting the reality that corporate norms and traditions have had a disparate impact on your Black and brown employees. The new reality is that the business of doing business now rests squarely on the shoulders of equity and inclusivity, or as I like to say, “strategic networking.” The culturally comfortable networking you’ve done (with no ill intent) has historically excluded Black and brown, as well as female employees (e.g., golf outings and impromptu happy hours). It is now incumbent on you to find more equitable ways to engage diverse employees in your organization.
I know this sounds like a daunting task. I envision you sitting with your colleagues pondering the obstacles this call to action unearths – lack of a roadmap and resource constraints key among them. This task, however, is no different from any other challenge you have overcome in your organization. Do you recall way back when, in 2020, a global pandemic was thrust upon you? You had no roadmap to guide you and your resources were dispersed (in some cases, around the globe). Do you remember what happened? Well, if you’re reading this letter, that means you survived and likewise, you will survive implementing strategic networking into your organization. The first step is to make a commitment to meet the moment. I will assume that in reading this letter, you are already there. Next, lead with authenticity, not answers – you don’t have to know everything, just be willing to learn. Once you’ve accomplished those first two steps, then comes the hard work of walking the talk. Here are a few suggestions to start you on the journey.
Insufficient exposure to senior leaders is one of the primary barriers preventing Black and brown employees from advancing in their careers (1). Creating opportunities for diverse employees to engage with you can be as informal as holding quarterly “Breakfast/Lunch with Leadership” sessions. It’s as easy as inviting 15-20 Black and brown employees at all levels of the organization and with whom you have no or limited engagement. This informal setting allows you to get to know each other, with enough participants to avoid the awkwardness of a one-to-one meeting, but remain intimate. More importantly, it leverages innate commonalities between you and your diverse employees – availability during the workday and eating. Taken a step further, if you cascade this down to middle management, this could result in the ability to host monthly, or even weekly “Breakfast/Lunch with Leadership” sessions and reach all of the Black and brown employees in the organization, closing the gap between middle management and Black and brown employees (2).
Mentorship is another great way to bridge the commonality divide with diverse employees. However, I propose inverting the model by employing a reverse diverse mentoring initiative (3). Simply put, Give yourselves the opportunity to become the protégés, each mentored by your junior level, diverse employee. This will allow you the opportunity to learn from and be held accountable for the causes and concerns that are most important to Black and brown employees and impact their job performance. Be careful with this model though. Seek volunteer mentors only and be open to listening, as some of the information disclosed to you may be difficult to hear.
Lastly, commit to, and require the other senior leaders in your organization to sponsor at least one Black or brown employee. Unlike mentoring, which focuses on teaching employees the tricks of the trade, sponsors actively participate in their advancement (4). Ensure each Black and brown employee has a sponsor in senior leadership who knows their career aspirations, is in a position to help, and commits to their advancement.
Bridging the commonality divide is critical, but fortunately not a burden on your time. It’s as simple as strategically networking with all of the talent that exists within your organization, not just those with whom you share common interests, backgrounds and experiences. The business case for diversity is well known (5) but rarely implemented, resulting in rate-limiting efforts to maximize profitability, productivity, innovation, reputation, customer and employee satisfaction—all because of barriers created by an over-reliance on superficial traits. Successful organizations of the future will be those able to tap into their diverse talent by finding ways to bridge the commonality divide. Don’t miss your opportunity to lead the charge.
Samantha’s Socials: LinkedIn