Senior Client Partner, ESG and DE&I Strategist
Widening the Focus on Race
Andrés Tapia is Korn Ferry’s global diversity and inclusion strategist.
Since George Floyd was murdered, we’ve all experienced a massive awakening—and reckoning—about the role of race in America. Various sectors of corporate America have taken positive steps including CEOs committing to diversify their senior leadership ranks, supply chain managers deliberately seeking out vendors owned by Black businesspeople, and organizations making massive financial commitments to historically Black colleges.
Much like a lens zoomed to its maximum setting, we’ve been completely, and justifiably, fixated on the very real plight of one underrepresented group. Over these past five months, many eyes have been opened up about the particular traumas of being Black in America and how African Americans suffer disproportionate levels of inequality and injustice.
While still maintaining the focus on deep discrimination against Black people, now it’s time to open up the aperture some and see that other groups are suffering too. Each group’s story of injustice, marginalization, and inequity is different in key ways, and similar in others. As we widen the field of vision, it becomes clear that the discrimination toward Latino families that has led to family separations, the treatment of Asian Americans as being foreign, and the decimation of indigenous people is also rooted in a devaluing of people who are not White. This legacy has led to vast inequities for these groups throughout society, including their systemic underrepresentation in the nation’s upper echelons of business and public life.
To be clear, expanding the focus to other groups can, if done incorrectly, alienate Black employees. We cannot lose sight that as soon as we start talking about opening up the aperture, we could have Black employees legitimately say, “Wait, now that we have your attention we’re going to lose it to other groups.” That worry is grounded in US history. The 1960s Civil Rights movement, which started as a focus on Black Americans, within a few years morphed into a focus on women. In the more than 50 years since then, White American women, in particular, have made significantly more strides on narrowing the gap in equality at work and corporate leadership than Black women and men have.
Still, in the spirit of opening up the aperture, let’s take the US Latino population as an example. It’s the largest racial or ethnic group in the United States, totaling 58 million, or 18% of the population. Yet US Latinos hold barely 2% of the board seats among the publicly traded companies listed in the Russell 3000 Index. There are only 16 Latino CEOs within the Fortune 500, slightly more than 3%, and even lower representation among other C-suite roles.
There’s a need to address this type of underrepresentation, for moral and, if that’s not enough, economic reasons. After all, US Latino consumers alone, by some estimates, are responsible for more than $2 trillion of the country’s $19 trillion-plus economy and are driving growth in many consumer categories.
Make no mistake—this work is hard. CEOs consistently underestimate the length of time, amount of money, and amount of their own personal effort that it will take to get minorities more represented in leadership roles.
From a talent and leadership standpoint, however, there are steps that can be taken. The same strategies that can help develop and promote Black talent work with other groups too. Dive deep into layers of the organization where more diversity exists and make a point to find hidden talent. Deliberately identify high-potential Asians, Latinos, Indigenous, and mixed-race people. Create opportunities for them to move across functions and lines of business. Find mentors and sponsors for members of these groups. Most importantly, for those with limited experience with people of color, seek ways to get over your own discomfort with them by simply finding more ways to get to know them and their stories better.
There are plenty of ways to keep talking about race and keep the plight of Black talent in focus. First, talk about intersectionality. It’s a little simplistic, for instance, to talk about a monolithic Black experience when Black men and Black women are often viewed and treated very differently. There are Afro-Latinos who also suffer from racism. Talk to, and learn about, each group’s unique experiences and challenges. Another way to widen the focus is to look at other ways in which skin color is used to discriminate against groups of people. While racism is about discrimination against another racial group, colorism is discrimination on the basis of skin tone within a racial/ethnic group that afflicts all communities of color.
We must stay the course on continuing to address the depths of inequities of the Black experience within the corporate world. And at the same time, we can also make room to help bring along other groups as well.