Racial Discrimination: Understanding Can Bring Meaningful Change

By Michael Uskert | June 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainBeyond Supply Chain

In the last Beyond Supply Chain blog, my colleague Stan Aronow addressed the need for a much harder look at ourselves and encouraged us to seek what might be uncomfortable conversations about racial discrimination. I agree and support his comments.

I believe things are changing. Conversations are happening with people who have never taken part before, but what needs to be done to ensure lasting change? I struggled to write this blog. In this forum I have historically tried to provide solutions, recommendations and direction for the topics I address. For this blog, I can’t do that. Instead, I write this to continue the discussion and seek feedback.

A few years ago, a Black co-worker explained during a conversation about diversity and inclusion that if minority representation in the workplace was to happen, the change had to be driven by white males (which I am). Until then, I hadn’t looked at it that way, or maybe I just chose not to think about it, but she was (and still is) correct.

Recent events have again placed focus on business’ role in combatting racial discrimination. Over the last few weeks, businesses have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to causes for change. The North Face, REI and Patagonia have joined a list of companies in a Facebook ad boycott. There are calls for companies to publish the demographics of their executive team and board. Companies are taking another look at their diversity and inclusion programs, with more studies touting their business benefits. This is all good, but it feels like it has been done before.

Businesses must remove barriers that make it difficult or prevent minorities from entering and advancing in the workplace. However, it feels like even with these efforts, there is an enormous gap. These efforts fall short of where much of the damage is done. In listening to my friends and colleagues tell their stories of fear and the belittling experiences that created that fear, the damage was done well before they reached the workplace. Until my friends began sharing, I wasn’t aware they had those experiences. I never understood what they had to overcome just to get to where they are today.

In coming across what I found to be an eye-opening study by the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs (which I encourage you to read), I’m clearly not the only one. Fewer than 15% of white participants thought Black people were unfairly treated in restaurants, in downtown areas, on the job and in shops, compared to 40% to 50% of Black people. When it comes to law enforcement, feelings of unfair treatment jumped to 35% of white respondents, but that’s compared to 75% of Black respondents. This data is from 2008, but considering the stability of the results for the 10 years the study was conducted, I’d hazard a guess that they wouldn’t have changed much if the study was conducted through 2019.

So I ask the question, if unfair treatment isn’t understood by those that can make the change, will it change?

I applaud donating funds, removing support from companies that spread hate, and supporting diversity and inclusion programs, but there’s something missing. How can the actions that perpetuate unfair treatment be removed?

NASCAR’s move to ban the Confederate flag at its events is a move in the right direction toward a more inclusive sport. The actions taken by Walmart, Walgreens and CVS to end the practice of locking up Black beauty products was long overdue. My heart would break if either of my daughters (8 and 13 years old) asked me why a product she wanted to buy was locked up while a similar product was sitting on an open shelf and my answer was “because they think you are going to steal it.” These policies don’t take into account their impact on reinforcing unfair treatment in the eyes of consumers.

The process of seeking to understand needs to continue.

Many businesses rely heavily on their own D&I programs to solve problems of racial inequity in the workplace. However, some research supports limiting the focus of these programs strictly to business-related inequity issues to avoid any overlap between work and home. I understand the logic behind a more limited scope for such a complex and emotional issue. But if business leaders and hiring managers avoid directly confronting issues of racial inequity, where can it be addressed in an impactful way? How can the youth — our future leaders — be meaningfully impacted?

The supply chain profession has focused on programs that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to provide experiences and a path to careers that have been difficult for minorities to enter. I’m not sure those programs are enough anymore. More minorities are advancing in the workplace, but for many, their success has come despite steep odds. More meaningful work must be done.

Growing up, my parents engrained in me that everyone is equal and should be treated equally. I thought I understood. I have learned over recent weeks that I did not understand.

Michael Uskert,
Chief of Research,
Gartner Supply Chain


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