The Diversity and Equity Leadership Challenge to Solve
Widespread inequities exist in the United States based on race, sex, language, and other factors. Racism, classism, and sexism create environments where marginalized members of society are denied freedom from favoritism and bias. In-group favoritism and out-group bias lead to discrimination and a lack of diversity in organizations. This discrimination results from failure, one person at a time, one action at a time failure. Are the diversity and equity challenges in society a leadership responsibility? If so, how can leaders respond?
Society's Diversity and Equity Challenge - Then and Now
Fifty-two years ago, in 1968, civil unrest in the United States increased in what was labeled "Holy Week" due to Dr. Martin Luther King, JR's assassination. The Holy Week riots across 54 cities resulted in 43 men and women killed, approximately 3,500 people injured, and 27,000 arrests. At the time, it was the most significant wave of social unrest since the Civil War. Fast-forward to today. Between May and August 2020, there were 10,600 demonstration events and 570 riots or protests involving violence in the United States (see Figure 1). History has proven that riots are typically carried out by marginalized people to bring attention to societal problems.
Note: Figure 1 adapted from Kishi, R. & Jones, S. (2020) Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).
Riots produce damage and anguish in affected communities. In 2004 the National Bureau of Economic Research examined the effect of the Holy Week riots. The bureau concluded the riots created lasting economic harm such as increased insurance premiums, increased police and fire protection costs, reduced availability of municipal bonds, closed retail operations, and a reduced tax base due to the departure of middle to high-income families from areas hardest hit by the riots.
Where does a leader's responsibility start and stop? Boundaries and role clarity are essential for leaders. Responsibility is a belief that you are the person to make things happen either because of your job or a drive within that compels you. The diversity business case is clear, including increased innovation, better decision making, increased talent pools, and establishing a broader customer base. The CEOs of 200 leading US organizations are taking responsibility for equity and diversity and promise to drive change in six key areas - employment, finance, education, health, housing, and criminal justice. However, creating better social, political, education, and economic systems alone will not produce healthy and safe communities free of inequities without leadership. How leaders approach leading others and the priorities they