The present crisis surrounding race isn’t new in this country, nor Iowa. Growing up as a biracial child in Iowa wasn’t always easy. My adoptive white parents were given the daunting task of dealing with racism through two different lenses at the same time (mine and theirs). I remember as a child I found myself being more comfortable in silence. However, my mother was more comfortable doing the hard work of love and changing the status quo. She made me get comfortable with the uncomfortable situations and to use those opportunities to build bridges. She taught me not to be color blind but to embrace differences as strengths.
The only way to eradicate racism is to make this personal and get comfortable being uncomfortable. Can we as business leaders in Iowa apply these same principles with our work family and our family at home? Recent accounts of racial injustice across this country are vivid reminders that our work is not over. Education alone doesn’t change hearts, but we must take the time to build organizations that challenge implicit biases in which differences aren’t just acknowledged but are most importantly desired at all levels of an organization.
Implicit bias training and education is only a start, but we must be even more deliberate and sincere in how we move forward. Our communities are facing unprecedented challenges, which calls for unprecedented action. For example, we as leaders can change the narrative of the crisis around race and this pandemic as an opportunity to come together. Are we looking for ways to give back and support all our communities? Reevaluate the philanthropic arm of your company as it relates to your charitable contribution policy. Be deliberate and aggressive in seeking community investment opportunities that bring people in our community together to embrace inclusion.
As leaders in Iowa, we do not have the luxury of fostering meaningful conversations about racism only when it is convenient or easy. We are better than this and must challenge the status quo. There is a huge cultural shift on the value we place on leadership today. Leaders who lead through the act of serving not only inspire their team, they also truly care about them as if they are family. They give more than they take and listen more than they speak. I am convinced that how we as leaders humble ourselves will create an unbreakable bond in our community. We need to apply this kind of servant leadership at all levels. Seek opportunities for building bridges within our own companies as well as our communities. The benefits of this will be returned tenfold.
However, change starts within us personally and within our own organizations. Most companies in the U.S. say employees are their most important resource. Employees carry out the mission/vision of the company and are the No. 1 contributor to creating shareholder value and generating profitability. Simply stated, if you want to become more profitable and build shareholder value, invest in people. These investments can include real training/educational opportunities on anti-racism. This also includes new measures on seeking out diverse talent at all levels of the organization. Do all employees feel valued where their diverse backgrounds are desired at even the highest levels of the organization? Making more deliberate investments within our own organizations will not only drive long-term profitability and shareholder value, it will most importantly shine the light on racism and expose it for what it is – destructive. In summary, if we want to eradicate racism, continuous investments need to be made within our own organizations.
These investments will show that being “color blind” doesn’t provide opportunities to build bridges and make Iowa stronger. We as leaders need to build personal relationships with others who don’t look like us. Intentionally seeking ways to engage in conversations about racism is the missing link. Then take action by moving forward together, humbling ourselves through listening to understand, not by responding with our own paradigm.
2020 has been a horrific year on so many levels. As leaders in this state, we can seize this as an opportunity to eradicate racism, seize the opportunity to build better communities, and seize the opportunity to understand each other and make this personal. There is no doubt that profitability and shareholder value will benefit from this type of investment. Now is the time for action through opening up our hearts and minds.