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September 1, 2020

Juneteenth: Proof That Diversity Policies and Laws are Not Enough

By Tim Cooke

Laws and policies regarding diversity and inclusion are important, but they are not the end goal. Take for example the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863. What immediate effect did it have on those it intended to free? I wasn’t there so I may never know, but I can speculate that:

  1. Due to the inequality of access to information many of those proclaimed free were unaware.
  2. Those who did find out likely experienced an initial sense of elation.
  3. Most feelings of initial joy or hope were likely followed by disappointment and despair with the realization that just because something is declared or written, does not make it true or helpful for all people immediately.

This thought comes to mind because Junteenth or Freedom Day will be celebrated this week on June 19th. I must admit that I was naïve to the existence of this holiday and it didn’t make any sense to me at first because the date of June 19, 1865 doesn’t coincide with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Why would someone celebrate the end of slavery not just months after the policy was written, but YEARS after? The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was a solid start but the real work of any lasting change is how policies are tangibly played out in society and in culture.

  1. Take a quick scan of the “About Us” pages of most companies and you’ll see that homogeneity is the norm. If you’re a business leader, set aside this blog, pull up your own company “About Us” page and look at the faces. Now pull up your company’s non-discrimination policy and read it aloud. Take note of how you feel. Now try to imagine what a minority applicant or new-hire in your company might feel.
  2. Do the same, but for your company’s board of directors where not only is cultural and ethnic diversity often lacking, (watch this recording from Korn Ferry to learn more) and so is gender diversity (see Deanna Oppenheimer of BoardReady for guidance here).
  3. Now review your workforce diversity statistics. Don’t take the easy route out and just look at raw numbers. Drill down to examine diversity by department and diversity by seniority level. It is not acceptable to call yourself a diverse organization just because you might have a large number of minority employees in junior roles or in a single department.

The best and only true diversity policy is the one that is read on the faces of your employees at every level. True justice comes not through words carefully formed into policies or laws written on paper but through human flourishing and the most efficient and effective route to flourishing is through vocation and employment opportunities. If you read Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber or Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor you’ll learn of the perspective that work (vocation) in the Bible was never intended as punishment for the fall. God himself worked because He is a creative being and if we are made in His image we are to flourish through our work, our creation.

Back in 1863, no matter how “free” the law proclaimed someone to be, so long as they were enslaved and literally owned as property, they were not able to flourish as was originally intended through vocation. The same still holds true for us today when we create policies, or speak of diversity, inclusion and equality, but do not see it through to the front lines where it is most needed. As an entrepreneur, I’ve had several opportunities to work on impacting people’s lives through diversity and I count myself fortunate to have met Alexis Ruhumuriza, a refugee from Rwanda who is now a Co-Founder with me at Agape In Home Care where we both serve the elderly community through our staff of loving Caregivers.

We are far from perfect, but here are some practical ways Agape is trying to lead the way in our industry to be proactive about change. Our hope is that you will draw inspiration from this and join us on the journey of doing business differently in 2020 and forever.

  1. Top-Down Diversity – In 2018, I sensed that I’d be starting an organization to serve the community, but I didn’t know what it would be or who it would be with. What I did know was that I wanted to break out of the norm of finding another white male as a co-founder. I had to be patient but also bold. Patient because my community at that time did not include much diversity. Bold because the very moment I did see diversity in my proximity, I rushed in and introduced myself to Alexis.
  2. Shared Equity – When companies start up, founders have to have difficult conversations regarding who will own what percentage of the company. Regardless of the case that could be made for differing ownership percentages, if we are serious about equity (not just equality) then shared privilege and shared access must become a priority. Therefore we both agreed that 50/50 ownership between a black and white co-founder would signal to the community and to our staff that we take diversity seriously.
  3. Diverse Board – We are holding off on hiring our board of directors to ensure we do so only if we can follow principles of diversity. We have passed on hiring several white males for our board because we want to ensure that our leadership team is founded based on strong principles of diversity and equitable access to opportunity.
  4. Diverse Hiring – Agape seeks out minority communities and does not simply expect that diversity will find us. Too often, employers post to job boards and attend career and college fairs that attract mostly white candidates and then wonder why no minorities are applying. Other than one co-founder and a nurse consultant, Agape is 100% minority in all roles and we plan to continue to reach out to underrepresented communities to ensure our staff continues to not just maintain but increase in diversity.
  5. Hiring Requirements – Examine every one of your job descriptions with an eye for “nice to have” vs. “need to have”. Be very judicious with this exercise and look for any items in the need to have list that may exclude candidates who don’t have privilege or access. One specific ‘requirement’ to look for that often represents systemic racism is a four-year degree. Thanks to Pepper Pociask and Ginger Larson for this point.
  6. Social Justice – Hiring from vulnerable populations requires great care and responsibility. Refugees, immigrants, minorities and women are among the many who have been given what looks like a solid opportunity only to find out later that they have been exploited for lower pay or worse conditions than other demographics in the company. We go over and above to treat the historically oppressed with great care through liberal pay policies as well as education and advancement opportunities.
  7. Equitable Advancement – “It’s not just a job, it’s a journey” is a saying at Agape, and we want to partner with our employees to walk with them on their journey. We encourage our employees to pursue their dreams and passion to the maximum of their ability even if it is at another company or within a different industry. If an employee does want to pursue advancement within Agape, we won’t put any artificial caps on their potential. Therefore, we created a program to equip employees to grow through the ranks and eventually become an owner in the company managing their own branch of Agape. Ownership opportunities are most often limited to those of privilege and access and we will break that cycle.
  8. Senior Leadership Diversity – Top down diversity is the best way to convert common platitudes into genuine and tangible action. Are you thinking of founding a company? Do you know of any qualified candidates who are of a different ethnicity, culture, gender or background from you? Most of us have a very short list of diverse candidates and THAT is where the problem begins… and ends… with community. If we are not in community with each other, we cannot hope to build relationships with each other which is the only place meaningful conversation and transformation can take place. The lazy answer is to say, “Well, if I did know any {fill in the blank} people, I’d hire them.” That may have passed for an answer pre-2020 when we all relied on policies and laws and systems to bring about justice and equity, but post-2020 it’s all about personal responsibility. By now you should realize that current policies and laws are not working, or if they are, they’re not working fast enough. It’s your job to go out and FIND those who differ from you and build relationships with them so that you have a vast and thriving network of diversity from which to pull from the next time you have a great opportunity.
  9. Opportunity Program – Create an opportunity program for those who come from an underrepresented background. This could be as simple as a mentorship program that pairs more junior candidates with those with seniority and influence within the organization. It could be a rotational program that allows minority employees the opportunity to experience different departments within your company at the same time allowing them to build new relationships that they wouldn’t have otherwise built. Ultimately you could create a “fast track” program that would actively invest in minority candidates with the goal of creating a more balanced representation of diversity within your senior ranks.

And that’s just the beginning. There are many tangible things you can do as a current or future business leader to span the gap between the haves and have-nots. The great news is that taking action in this direction should be easy to justify. Equitable diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it will also likely benefit your bottom line. So, no matter whether you are thinking purely of the good of others or if you’re an adherent of Milton Friedman, you can rest assured that you’re doing the right thing.

Many thanks to Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates for sharing her wisdom and compassion.

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