Stakeholder Capitalism

Here’s how one business leader is tackling injustice: It starts with personal commitment

sign showing the names of black and african american people who have suffered injustice at the hands of the police at a Black Lives Matter protest

Being an ally is a process, not a qualification you can tick off Image: Photo by Katie Rodriguez on Unsplash

Alex Liu
Chairman Emeritus, Partner, Kearney
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Systemic Racism

  • Injustice isn’t a US problem; it’s a human problem. It requires personal commitment to change, rather than a pronouncement of change as needed.
  • Discrimination doesn’t have to affect you directly for you to have a voice – you can be an ally and an advocate for change.

It has been a bruising, visceral few weeks here in the US. The intolerance and evil created by human beings is heartbreaking and the resulting outrage has now gone global: crowds are taking to the streets and longstanding symbols of oppression are being toppled.

Regrettably, the problem is not confined to the US. So many other groups around the world are also oppressed – because of race, because of religion, or gender, or sexuality, or the many other labels and tropes by which some people choose to define others.

We know injustice isn’t a US problem; it’s a human problem.

A personal commitment to change

The issues we currently face are not new. To make progress, there needs to be a willingness to learn from one another, from other experiences, opinions and attitudes.

It’s not about a problem “over there” or about others changing their mindset. It starts with us – recognizing our own biases and blind spots and correcting how we behave. It’s a personal commitment to change, rather than a pronouncement of change as needed.

As a member of a non-dominant group, I’ve experienced my share of discrimination. I’ve had guns pulled on me. I’ve been stopped by the police for driving the wrong car in the wrong neighborhood. My father was a university professor but couldn’t teach white students due to segregation. So, it’s important to me personally, and it’s something I want to influence, inside my organization and beyond it.

As leaders, we have the opportunity to be powerful influencers of change. All people want to be safe, to be seen and to be supported – these are the three key areas that, together, make us feel part of a collective, part of something bigger.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, for a good proportion of us it was just about being seen and supported. Now, it’s also about being safe. But we must focus on ensuring that our whole workforce feels safe, both physically and emotionally.

The recent move for so many to remote working has enabled us to find an extra level of authenticity and transparency in our communications. Our screens have become literal windows into our personal worlds, and we are connecting more intimately as humans, not just employees, as a result.

Former barriers have fallen as we work more closely, and increasingly, with more empathy to each other’s’ individual circumstances. With the right guidance, we can continue this momentum to build a well-rounded, inclusive working culture. No longer just “suits” behaving in a prescribed way, but a collection of people with unique backgrounds, varied outlooks and their own set of external challenges, which are too often invisible.

Show up and show you care

One heartening aspect of recent events is the inclusive mobilization of the many. Many non-black people are taking to the streets to show their support. Discrimination doesn’t have to affect you directly for you to have a voice – you can be an ally and an advocate for change. But your support needs to be visual, vocal and present.

This is about real time interventions into daily behaviour. It’s about seeing it and fixing it, there and then. Silence is often interpreted as compliance, or at least apathy. Your support cannot be assumed. You have to show up and show you care.

When I became Managing Partner, I also became Kearney’s Chief Diversity Officer, because as a leader, it’s my job to promote these topics and work to find solutions. I have an instinctive interest and personal concern for inclusion, but I don’t have a big plan.

Being an ally isn’t a qualification you can just tick off. It’s a process.

By reading, learning, talking and exploring, I’m learning to be a good ally. It’s a conscious decision to stay informed about other people’s perspectives and taking the time to understand them, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them.

There are a number of programmes at Kearney – Pride, Black@Kearney and Women’s Network to name a few – but there’s still a long way to go on true equality and inclusion.

As part of my own journey right now, I am speaking with each Black@Kearney member to hear their stories and I have been moved by their understandably raw and inconsolable emotions of anger, outrage, despair and helplessness. However, these open and frank discussions are unearthing some bold ideas to accelerate the change we all want, and ideas from all of us, not just from some of us.

I am more conscious than ever that as a global community, we haven’t come as far as we know we need to. The recent pandemic has compounded other issues affecting our colleagues that need to be addressed. Loneliness and stress were a problem before the pandemic but have now intensified due to the added probability of human tragedy.

In response, companies can increase funding for counseling – as we recently did at Kearney. The joy gap at work is real, and we must do everything in our power to close it. So, we are also extending one-to-one outreach and building out our ally network to provide more support where it’s needed.

Ripple effect

Business leaders are familiar with the responsibility they carry. Their sphere of influence extends far. If leaders can nurture an inclusive environment within business, people will carry those behaviours and attitudes into their local communities and onto their next roles beyond the organization. The ripple effect is real and now, more than ever, is the time to summon that extra bit of humanity to support others who are in pain.

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