Introduction

This book addresses white leaders who truly want to create racial equity in their organizations. After twenty-nine years helping business, educational, and human service organizations accomplish this daunting, but rewarding, task, I have to sadly concede that the upper management ranks of most organizations are still disproportionally white. Seldom does the racial makeup of the upper levels of any organization mirror the racial composition of the organization.  Most people of color are relegated to  the lower levels in disproportionate numbers.

I don’t find this surprising, as our country continues to be very segregated in terms of housing, education, and religious worship. This impacts job-hunting in a very powerful way. In her 2012 book, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism, Professor Nancy DiTomaso reports that people she interviewed across the economic spectrum “used the help of family and friends to find 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes.”[1] She spells out the connection between segregation and lower employment on the part of black Americans:

“Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality: whites help other whites, especially when unemployment is high. Although people from every background may try to help their own, whites are more likely to hold the sorts of jobs that are protected from market competition, that pay a living wage and that have the potential to teach skills and allow for job training and advancement. So, just as opportunities are unequally distributed, they are also unequally redistributed.”[2]

A 2016 report published by Lou Adler, CEO of the consulting firm, Lou Adler Group supports Di Tomaso’s findings. His survey of more than 3,000 survey respondents indicated that 85 percent found jobs via networking. [3]

Unless something occurs to disrupt this virtually invisible process, we can expect the upper ranks of organizations (the highest-paying positions) to remain predominantly white.  This is where leadership comes into play. White leaders are positioned to implement comprehensive changes that will bring more people of color into the organization and alter policies and practices that keep people of color from advancing at the same rate that whites advance.  In other words, white leaders can make a very big difference, if they choose to do so. 

I have written this book to help such white leaders.  The book outlines how leaders can take their organizations through a multi-year change process that alters the culture by changing how the organization conducts everything from recruiting and hiring, evaluating job performance, to mentoring and promoting.  By altering how the organization does its business, leaders change the outcome.  Different processes lead to different outcomes.  In this case, the chosen outcome is extending job opportunity to people of color in ways that are as equal as they are for white employees.

Leaders cannot implement these changes in one burst.  They must phase change in gradually but consistently, while helping people in the organization understand the rationale for the changes. Too few leaders have taken their organizations through this process. There is no reservoir of information about how to successfully accomplish this essential task. This book provides a roadmap that outlines not only the sequence of actions to take, but also how to carefully manage the critical issues, such as resistance, that are bound to crop up.

I have been consulting on this subject for more than 30 years. After earning a graduate degree in organization development, I learned about the intricacies of racial dynamics and racism from my colleagues in a premier diversity firm, Elsie Y. Cross Associates, where I worked for eighteen years. Elsie Cross was a black woman and one of the founders of the field of diversity consulting. My colleagues of color (and my fellow white consultants) patiently mentored me through a long and, often, uncomfortable learning process. I am forever grateful to them for their patience and support. During my time as a consultant there, I worked on diversity and culture change contracts with Fortune 500 companies in the fields of finance, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and petroleum.

The strategies described in this book are not theoretical. They are examples of things that worked. Moreover, they have enabled leaders to avoid some of the many pitfalls involved in establishing racial equity. One of the things that helped the leaders was an understanding of the dynamics of difference, and the dynamics of in-group and out-group relations. The consultation our firm provided also enabled leaders to manage the resistance that inevitably arises when creating racial equity in an organization.

The Necessity for Coherent and Steady Leadership

Quality of leadership is the single most important factor in successful organizational culture change, because such change always requires the use of power.  Power is necessary due a host of beliefs on the part of many whites which block or impede racial equity.  In the next chapter I review those beliefs in the section entitled the Psychology of Human Difference.  The nature of these white beliefs is such that they are  unlikely to change in the near term.  They are rooted in the long-term experiences that many whites have of living in our society.  Even leaders cannot change those beliefs.

However, leaders do have the authority and power to require changes in behavior.  It is far easier to bring about changes in behavior than in beliefs and attitudes.  In order to achieve racial equity, leaders set new behavioral requirements that hold all employees to certain standards of behavior that apply equally across the organization.  These new standards of behavior are embedded in policies and practices.  Once these changes in policies and practices have been prescribed, create information systems that document the degree to which individuals and their managers adhere to the behaviors, policies and practices.  Following this step, the role of leaders is to monitor how well people and departments meet them.

Leaders also demonstrate the new behaviors. When leaders model the new behaviors and practices, they create credibility.  People see with their own eyes that their leaders are committed to using these behaviors in the way they conduct day-to-day business.  Of course, leaders will also have to traverse a learning curve as they incorporate the new ways of operating.  That experience will stand them in good stead when they coach managers and employees in how to adopt the new skills and practices.

One of the roles for leaders throughout the change process as organizations move to achieve racial equity is that of ambassador and coach.  The leader articulates and explains the new requirements.  The leader does this throughout the organization.  At the same time, leaders coach key subordinates so they too can adopt and incorporate the new behaviors into their operating style.  A leader is also like an orchestra conductor, who keeps the score.  In this case the score is the sequence of actions that are to take place as changes are implemented at different levels of the organization.  Change always brings some level of disorientation and lack of coordination. A leader must be able to steady those who are nervous, by providing a clear description and rationale of the way forward.  All of this adds another layer of responsibility for leaders.  However, it is an integral component of all large-scale organizational change projects.

This book lays out a comprehensive set of strategies that white leaders have employed to achieve racial equity.  The driving principle of these strategies is to focus on what can be observed and keep an accurate record of what occurs. In cases where people of color began to have more opportunity, it was because the leaders made concrete changes in how the organization recruited, hired, promoted, evaluated and rewarded its employees.  In other words, they changed the process of how the organization operated.

Many organizations rely primarily on awareness training as their strategy to revamp the processes that have, up until now, resulted in only whites getting the best opportunity.  I have yet to see this strategy succeed on its own. It relies on changing attitudes and beliefs, but has not mechanism to track whether individuals put into practice what they are taught.  Nor does such a strategy put in place mechanisms to hold employees accountable for failing to use the new skills and behaviors.  Whenever I have seen real progress in terms of racial equity, it is always because the leader or leaders used their positional power to institute and require new ways of doing business.

Here is an example.  One organization I know had a pattern on promoting only white women were promoted into positions of management. This unit was composed of several hundred people – white women, women of color, white men, and men of color. White women in entry level positions would consistently be promoted over people of color and white men who were senior to them.  A new manager, a white woman herself, examined how such decisions were being made.  She discovered that the hiring interview panels consisted solely of white women supervisors and managers.   This new leader stipulated that all promotion committees would henceforth have to be composed of equal numbers of whites and people of color. It wasn’t long before white men, women of color and men of color began to move up into higher positions. The new leader changed the decision process so that it now met two new requirements: (1) the process would be transparent (the promotion committees had to identify the race and gender of all candidates), and (2) those making the decisions would no longer be composed of only white women.

This leader used her authority to reshuffle how key decisions were made. She did not ask people to talk about how they felt about other races or whether they thought everyone had equal opportunity. Instead, she altered the process of making promotions. She did not stipulate the outcome, but she did impose new requirements that changed how the process would unfold. By having interview committee that was diverse in terms of gender and race, a different kind of conversation took place when evaluating candidates.  Different perspectives meant that candidates were evaluated from more than one point of view.  It was the change in the process that affected the outcome.

The book identifies multiple ways that leaders can use their leverage to create change by implementing news ways of conducting business. It is not always necessary to change people’s belief systems about race or their values in order to achieve organizational change. It is far easier to get people to change their behavior than it is to change their belief systems about race or their values.

Here is an example of just this point.  When organizations across the country decided to computerize their workplace in the 1980s and 1990s, there were no focus groups asking people what they thought about the idea. People were told they would have to convert to computers by a certain date. Training was offered but not required. The only stipulation was that each employee was required to demonstrate a specified level of competency by a certain date. Those who failed to demonstrate the required competency by that deadline would lose their job. This clear exercise of power wasn’t oppressive. People had the time and resources they needed to acquire the necessary competency.

Structure of the Book

This book takes a similar approach to creating racial equity.  It describes approaches that enable leaders to provide all employees the opportunity to become competent in new ways of conducting business—without asking anyone to approve of these new ways of operating. Leaders, using these approaches, institute clear and measurable goals and new procedures, while giving everyone the opportunity to learn and become proficient in meeting those goals and embracing those procedures. Leaders then evaluate employees’ performance against a set of clear criteria and provide training. The changes will be phased in over time, but the outcome is not in question. Experience shows that a committed leader can bring about measurable equity across racial groups.

This work is both complex and long, often requiring a specific sequence of steps that need to be accomplished before other tasks can follow. Leaders can use this book to plan and lead this important change. All the approaches described in these pages have been tried and found effective.

Chapter One, “How We Got Here,” describes the history of white cultural domination from the birth of our country up to the present day. It also discusses the psychology of human differences and explains the risks many white people feel when they interact with people from other ethnicities, races, and cultures. This is not an indictment of whites; it offers a glimpse into how we humans tend to view the world, and most importantly, how we view those who are outside our own culture. Leaders must skillfully engage this powerful dynamic if they are to lead the transition successfully from mono-cultural standards and practices to multi-cultural standards and practices.

Chapter Two, “Where We Need to Go,” outlines how to create a racial equity vision statement for your organization that will provide clear rationales for change. The chapter explains how a racial equity vision statement initiates moving away from of the status quo and awakening discussion about a topic that has been off limits: how racial differences affect career advancement in the organization. This chapter also identifies some thorny dilemmas that are likely to emerge when leaders introduce a racial equity vision. Lastly, it explains the power dynamics of in-groups and out-groups that underlie many perceptions that make it so difficult to reach agreement on issues of racial equity. Understanding and anticipating these dynamics enables leaders to sidestep some potential traps that can veer the change project off course.

Chapter Three, “Tracking Where We Are,” describes how to create a measurable definition of racial equity, and outlines exactly what needs to occur. That definition provides a transparent standard that can be used to determine, at any moment in time, how close the organization is to achieving its goal.  The skill of  TrackingTM  is the primary tool we use to gather and analyze data rigorously. Rather than being some vague goal, a measurable definition of success helps reduce the fear that this is just some ill-formed social experiment that has no defined endpoint.

Chapter Four, “Use Data to Identify Where We Need to Go,” outlines methods for identifying gaps between the where the organization is presently, and where it needs to be in order to achieve the degree of equity in job opportunity that is defined in the racial equity vision. Calibrating this gap is the first step toward moving to close it.

Chapter Five, “Getting Where We Need to Go,” describes ways that leaders break the status quo by: (a) modeling how to run inclusive meetings, (b) by holding innovation conferences, (c) by structuring awareness training, and (d) by creating meaningful cross-racial mentoring opportunities. The chapter also describes how leaders can model new skills by initiating conversations with people from different racial backgrounds.

Chapter Six, “Policies and Procedures That Keep You on Track,” discusses practices that institutionalize new ways of operating that ensure racial equity, including recruitment, hiring and on-boarding, evaluation, disciplining, discharging and firing, rewarding, development, and promoting.  It explains the importance of involving racially diverse members in all the steps of recruiting, as well  as in the onboarding of new employees.

This chapter explains in detail how to use Power Point Mapping.  Every human system, whether hiring, firing, or promoting, has points where individuals have to exercise their discretionary judgment. It is almost impossible to eliminate bias, such as racial bias, from the system unless managers monitor these points of potential bias and collect data to determine if there is a racial skew in the outcomes.

Chapter Seven, “Monitoring Day-to-Day Progress,” details how to create a Racial Equity Steering Committee across all levels, units, and racial groups in order to: (a) continue learning about racial equity dynamics, (b) discuss progress and obstacles to progress, and (c) provide racially diverse input into future decisions that affect people of color.

This chapter also describes how to keep a racial equity Score Card for every unit, and how and when to intervene when progress slides. In addition, this chapter offers ways to provide regular feedback, to reward desired behavior, and to strengthen leaders’ efforts and emotional commitment. Also, it describes the attributes of leaders who have successfully implemented racial equity.

Chapter Eight, entitled “The White Self-Interest in Racial Equity” explains the financial, emotional, and other benefits that we whites can attain by dismantling the white-dominated hierarchy that exists across the country.

My hope is that leaders will use the information and proven techniques provided herein to create workplaces that provide equal and fair policies, structures, and cultures.  These will, in turn,  enable everyone in the organization to contribute without impediments, and along the way, improve productivity, morale and profits.

Feel free to visit my website,  www.workplace-equity.com for updated information and resources that will help your organization achieve lasting racial equity.


[1] Nancy DiTomaso, The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality without Racism, Russell Sage, 2013
[2] Nancy DiTomaso, “How Social Networks Drive Black Unemployment,” The Opionator, May 5, 2013. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/how-social-networks-drive-black-unemployment/?ref=opinion&pagewanted=all  (Accessed May 8, 2019)
[3] New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs are Filled Via Networking.  https://Louadlergroup.com/new-survey-reveals-85-of-all-jobs-are filled-via-networking