Leadership in 2020
Everyone is saying that nothing is going to be the same again after 2020. I’d add being a business leader to that list. I’ll never be the same.
In the first few months of the year, I was already working on being more expressive with my opinions and decisive in my actions. When the pandemic hit, I had to take both of those capacities to a new level. My leadership team was relatively prepared for handling an economic downturn but stepping into personal health decisions (physical and mental) while trying to balance keeping the business alive – that was all new. However, I felt a strong sense of purpose. The void of quality information and steady leadership from our governments had to be filled.
The old me was very careful about what I said (within our company and out in the world) because I didn’t want to be viewed as political, I didn’t want to offend anyone, and I didn’t want to be seen as opportunistically exploiting some opportunity, so I didn’t always take a stand on issues or say things directly. But, the new me feels I must step in and share my voice – for my company, my community, and the world.
Here we are on the eve of Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S. I’m so happy to see all the companies and people who are recognizing this holiday this year. I’m sad that I’ve never been to a Juneteenth event or celebrated in another way. It is another reminder of how much I haven’t seen or known.
A few weeks ago, I thought racism was something that was out there, elsewhere. Not with my friends or family. Not in my company. But, like many of you, and many others out there, I’ve finally been getting an overdue and eye-opening education on racism in our country. I realize now that racism is everywhere. I now know I’m part of the problem and I’m feeling called to be part of the solution. Here is what I’m present to in this moment:
- This is urgent. I keep a running list of strategic projects that will better our company. On that list, we have ideas on how to improve diversity and inclusion, but they’ve continued to remain on the list while more urgent issues are addressed. I’ve now moved these items to the top of the list and have added many more ideas as well. This is not something to do later when we have time. We have to get into action now.
- Our changes must be sustainable. This is too important to tolerate it fizzling out. We must make changes and we must keep them up. One of my friends described it as being a tortoise, not a hare: “By stating that we will be a tortoise, I am not implying we sit on our hands and take our time, I am expressing that we’re in this to make a long-term sustained change and we understand that to do so, we need to be in it for the long haul.” I love that concept and wholeheartedly agree with it.
- Action must be balanced with understanding. I’m a strategic thinker, so I always want to assess everything before I take action. For several weeks, I’ve been reading every day to try to educate myself on this topic, but I feel like I’m only at the very beginning of what I need to know. I want to continue to learn as much as I can, but I also know this can’t wait, so we have to start moving now.
Can a Little Company Make a Difference?
When the anti-racism/anti-discrimination topic picked up steam a few weeks back, I found myself wondering how our company could make a difference. At first, as I was learning more about the protests, I thought they primarily surrounded around issues with our law enforcement, and I specifically wondered if there was any role for our company to help with that. As I started talking more with black friends, neighbors, and colleagues, I realized how much more the protests were about and how much we could actually do as a company to address more subtle forms of racism.
Over the last couple of weeks, as we’ve sent out thoughts to our company, and welcomed more conversation, the ideas have started pouring in: we can read books and watch documentaries to educate ourselves, we can openly discuss what we’ve learned and bring in diversity and inclusion speakers to push our thinking, we can volunteer with, and donate money to, causes that support anti-racism and anti-discrimination, we can provide internships and scholarships to students of color, we can push more granularity within our hiring/retention goals, we can educate ourselves to ensure our processes are free from bias, we can establish a committee to build this into our culture, we can establish a program of anti-racism and anti-bias training, we can support black businesses (B2B and B2C), we can buy and donate children’s books on black history to school districts, and we can honor Juneteenth.
For now, we are starting by educating ourselves and holding company-wide conversations, planning anti-racism and anti-bias training for our annual meeting this summer, and planning to launch a culture committee focused on diversity and inclusion in the coming months. We don’t have it all figured out yet, but I’m optimistic because our conversations over the last few weeks are gaining momentum, not fizzling out. And, as a smaller company, we have even more of an opportunity to transform quickly to truly support diversity and take our inclusion to another level.
Back to where I started: 2020’s call to business leaders. Over the last few months, we’ve seen so many examples of business leaders doing the right thing during this pandemic – taking care of employees and doing all they can for their broader communities. I strongly believe the companies doing the right thing will be more successful in the long run. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been even more impressed with how many companies are publicly taking stances on racism. People are sharing meaningful thoughts and commitments. They are speaking out in a way they never have before. So many people I know are taking the time to understand, and so many companies are setting the stage for meaningful action. We all need to continue to push for this as an urgent and important issue, because if we all do our part, together we can make a lasting difference.