How business can help heal racial division

1: Getting better at getting better is what RiseWithDrew is all about.

Monday through Thursday we explore ideas from authors, thought leaders, and exemplary organizations.  On Friday, I share something we are doing at PCI in our quest to earn a spot of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.


Last Friday, we looked at a recent panel discussion on Zoom with four of our Black leaders.  At PCI, we pride ourselves on having a highly diverse workforce.  The discussion was part of our ongoing Meaningful Conversations Series focusing on social justice.

The origin of this event dates back more than a year.  In May of 2020, Lori Bishop, our Chief People Officer at PCI reached out to me and shared that our Black associates, specifically our Black men, were going through a difficult time.  

On a Sunday afternoon in February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year old black man, went out for a run in his neighborhood.  He was murdered by two white men in a pickup truck.  The incident was the latest in a series of killings of young Black men involving law enforcement or vigilantes.

At her suggestion, I reached out to a group of our Black male leaders and set up a meeting for the following week.  I had worked with the seven men on the call but this was the first time we had ever talked about race, racism, or prejudice.  The goal was simply to create some space for them to share what they were experiencing in the wake of these tragic killings. 

Talk about an eye-opener.

As I listened to each person describe their experience growing up Black in America, I was not prepared for the frustration, fear, bitterness, anger, and sadness that was expressed.  

As a white kid from the suburbs, my experience was so different from what they described.  Listening to each of these men talk, I experienced firsthand what it feels like to see something from a completely different perspective.  It was a meaningful and powerful experience for me.

2: The next week, George Floyd was murdered.

We met again.  Once again, each man was given space to talk about what and how they were feeling.  The tone of the meeting was raw, unvarnished.  There was bitterness and fear.  As well as gratitude.  For the opportunity to share.  To be together.  

We talked about holding a meeting open to all PCI associates.  This became our first company-wide Meaningful Conversation.  

More than 250 of our associates participated.  

Our theme for 2020 was “Trust: the one thing that changes everything.”  Working with our Chief People Officer, we anchored the meeting around the idea of trust, being trustworthy, and building trusting relationships at work.  

I opened the meeting sharing my outrage and anger with what had occurred.  We used the “breakout rooms” feature within Zoom to provide people with a small group setting (7-8 people) to share what they were experiencing.  PCI leaders served as moderators.

We established some norms for these conversations, including “Speak from the ‘I’ perspective,” “Listen to understand, not to respond,” “Call each other in, not out,” “Live in the now, not in the hypothetical,” and “Expect & accept a lack of closure.”

The conversations created an opportunity for people to be authentic and connect with others during a very difficult time.  The feedback on the meeting was overwhelmingly positive.  

We held another Meaningful Conversation meeting two weeks later.  This time we introduced our True Trust Vision:  “We are an ever evolving learning organization of dreamers and doers, who have been called to live the lives we were created to live, commanded to LOVE and TRUST beyond the limits of our prejudices, and open our hearts to change.”

At PCI, we have a 25-year history of holding book clubs where we buy a book, bring people together, and discuss it.  This practice is part of our DNA.  

So, leaning on this history, we decided to read and discuss White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.  We asked our extended leadership team to participate and then opened it up to any other PCI associate who was interested in joining.  About 150 of our associates participated in the five-week discussion.

The idea was to introduce ideas and perspectives to our associates and challenge our thinking.  We organized into groups of ten and had a PCI leader act as moderator and discussion group leader.  I found the material to be startling and challenging.  The discussions were thought-provoking and soul-searching.

As the summer of 2020 turned to fall, we continued to hold a company-wide Meaningful Conversation every month or two, gathering people together, and providing a forum for us at PCI to check in and have further discussions around social injustice issues.  

Last spring, our CEO Council met, discussed, and adopted several of the recommendations put forward by Orvin Kimbrough, CEO at Midwest BankCentre, in his article: Shared Prosperity: Our Corporate Responsibility in a Time of Consternation,  including: a commitment to diverse and inclusive economic environment starts at the top, look outside your network when hiring talent, and commit to supplier diversity. 

This summer we had a second book club where we read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Once again, about 150 of our associates participated.  More compelling, provocative conversations.

3: As a conscious capitalist , I believe for-profit business can play an important role in healing the racial division that plagues us as a nation.  There are of course many facets to these issues, but making progress against the economic disparity  that exists is a critical leverage point to a better future for all of us.

The workplace is also a highly diverse place.  Companies that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion outperform the competition.  

And, the workplace is where we spend a huge percentage of our time on the planet: shoulder-to-shoulder with people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, ages, and worldviews.  While working together to be successful in business, we get to know each other, learn from each other, and gain an appreciation for each other.  

This, I believe, is the ultimate antidote to racism and social injustice.      

________________________

Reflection:  How might I benefit from exposing myself to new or different perspectives regarding racial injustice? 

Action:  Have a conversation with someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Seek first to understand, rather than be understood.

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