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The Morning After Your Company's Status Quo MLK Day Celebration

Yesterday was MLK day and the DEI champions are off to the races as this time of the year kicks off a series of holidays honoring the history and raising awareness of the experiences of many diverse groups. It’s the 2nd MLK Day celebration following the 2020 renewed energy for racial justice that elevated the lack of equity inside workplaces across industries and sectors, and for many Black people, their career experience is far from a dream.

Despite the virtual celebrations, social media posts, leader articles, and Black ERG events, many companies celebrate MLK Day without contributing to his example of challenging the status quo to change the conditions that perpetuate inequity.

The Ultimate Measure of an Organization.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although beloved today, Dr. King lived at a time where he was blocked, beaten, and ultimately his boldness and beliefs lead to his brutal assassination. Now, more than 50 years after his death his impact and legacy still live on.

As leaders, when we consider our impact on justice and equity in our organization and community, Dr. King’s legacy raises an important question for us - Do you want to be a champion of justice and equity or a contributor to it?

One of the biggest challenges with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in today’s workplace is we have too many champions and not enough contributors. It’s comfortable and currently very convenient to say you’re a champion of DEI and talk the talk. While diversity is at the top of the agenda in most executive meetings, many organizations still struggle to walk the talk and prioritize equity.

Although strung together and referenced as “DEI”, diversity, equity and inclusion are similar but different. Diversity simply means difference - visible and invisible differences. Inclusion means taking intentional steps to integrate and value difference. Equity means having outcomes that aren’t determined by difference. In short, diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act, and equity is in the stats.

The ultimate measure of an organization’s commitment to the work Dr. King committed his life to is in the stats:

  • What is the representation of Black leaders at your organization?

  • What is the retention rate of Black professionals at your company and how does it compare to overall attrition?

  • How do Black professionals describe the culture at your organization?

  • How often are you taking an assessment of employee sentiment on culture and analyzing the results intersectionally?

  • How are leaders held accountable to creating a culture where everyone can thrive?

  • What do your exit interviews reveal about why Black professionals leave your organization?

  • What is the rate of Black interview candidates that are hired for positions compared to other groups?

  • What is the retention plan for diverse candidates your organization invests to recruit?

It’s the morning after MLK Day, and the fight for racial equity continues and requires your contribution. Dr. King used his voice to disrupt and confront racism and inequity where the ideal conditions of free and just weren’t the experience for all. What we’re really celebrating isn’t just a day of service but a lifelong commitment to taking action, leveraging our privilege, and challenging systems, policies, and leaders for racial equity.

Contribute to Moving Forward

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Racial justice work seems unending and for some, it can feel like challenges from so long ago despite workplace discrimination being outlawed just 58 years ago. Regardless of the title you hold, the privilege you experience, or whether you’re decades or days into contributing to the work of racial equity in the workplace here are three ways to keep moving forward:

  1. Equip people leaders with the skills to lead, inclusively. Inclusive leadership isn’t a set-aside, check the box training to show you’re taking action on your DEI commitments. As the marketplace and workforce are more diverse than ever before, inclusion is a foundational capability for leadership at every level.

  2. Hold people leaders and team members accountable for the outcomes you want to see. If your organization has made a commitment to representation goals and they aren’t tied to performance management and incentive compensation, how serious are you about those goals? We measure and reward what matters in the workplace.

3. Invest in the Black professionals at your organization today. Match your retention efforts with your recruiting focus. How are you investing in the Black professionals that are already at your organization to advance their careers? Having a retention plan to advance Black professionals will have a domino effect impact on attracting and recruiting diverse talent.

In the days and months ahead, let’s commit to contributing to racial equity in our companies and communities. Now is the time, and you have a role to play in moving the mission of Dr. King forward!

For more information on DEI trends and tools to create an equitable workplace where everyone can thrive, visit and learn about our Advancing Black Professionals Program.

"We must walk on in the days ahead with an audacious faith in the future."
- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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1 Comment

This is a great guide for companies and people leaders!

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