Building an Anti-Racist Workplace Transcript
WorkLife with Adam Grant
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
John Amaechi (00:02):
I'm very privileged, I live in a penthouse in Covent Garden, in the center of London. I've done all right.
Adam Grant (00:09):
This is John Amaechi. He has a very long list of accomplishments. He's a New York Times best selling author, the CEO of his own consulting, advising and training company, APS, and a recipient of an OBE, a prestigious honor awarded by members of the British Royal Family for extraordinary achievements and contributions to society.
John Amaechi (00:29):
I also get stopped in the search three times a year, like I'm a criminal. I also walk to the gym in the morning at 5:00 o'clock and I don't put my hood up because it's dark and I walk past a police checkpoint and I have to make sure they can see me smiling with my eyes and with my face so that I don't get stopped as I walk past them.
Adam Grant (00:49):
John happens to be a six foot nine black man.
John Amaechi (00:52):
And that's the nature of it. It doesn't take away from the fact that I don't worry about how much a pint of milk costs, but the privileges, they're not thing where there's a, kind of a zero sum game, they create a landscape that describes my experience and that landscape is different than for somebody else.
Adam Grant (01:10):
First of all, John, I'm sorry that you have to go through that. One of the things that reminds of that one kind of privilege doesn't always offset a- another kind of disadvantage. It's interesting to me also that you have the privilege of a British accent, which I- I would estimate adds at least 20 IQ points, if not more. Do you have completely different professional interactions with people when your camera is on versus off?
John Amaechi (01:32):
Yes. And if I turn my camera off, people wouldn't assume that I am black person. Because my name is written John Amaechi, people think I'm Italian a lot. It hurts a little bit, actually, because white people will say to me, in the nicest possible way, "You don't sound black." And I know it's meant as a compliment.
Adam Grant (01:50):
Oh my god.
John Amaechi (01:51):
But it wounds because I am, I'm still properly black. I may not be as cool as Jay-Z, but I'm still properly black. I grew up in Stockport. It's a tiny little town, near Manchester. Well, the Stockport accent makes you kind of aggressive and dim at the same time. So, my mom was like, "You're going to be a massive black man, you will not have an accent like you're from Stockport." It's a protective mechanism. It's the the virtual equivalent of Whistling Vivaldi. And, you know, that Claude Steele book.
Adam Grant (02:21):
It's a powerful book about the psychology of stereotypes. The title is inspired by the experience of a black man who is working on his doctorate in Chicago. As he walked home, he made it a point to whistle well known uplifting tunes, ranging from the Beatles, to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Instead of crossing the streets to avoid him or averting their eyes, people would smile at him. It took the threat out of the air, which is what John's accent often does.
John Amaechi (02:48):
The way I talk is like classical music and therefore people find it less difficult to handle. I slide through the system that is designed to kind of catch me. Sometimes it's like you know who you are by how the world reacts to you. But it's such a weird situation to have to curate everything, 'cause we're looking at each other over Zoom right now and everything you're looking at is curated. Everything, even from the way the background is lighter around my head and darker as it gets on the outside, it's all designed to like ... he is professional. My glasses are chosen because they're the nerdiest looking I could find. But I have to actually put who I am on display, because otherwise people are distracted by the case that carries my brain. And it's so weird. It's so ... It's exhausting to have to kind of carry a flag that says, "This is who I am. I am not a scary monster.”
Adam Grant (03:45):
So, who in your workplace might be wearing themselves out whistling Vivaldi? Or might you be doing it yourself? And either way, what can we do about it? I'm Adam Grant, and this is WorkLife, my podcast with the TED Audio Collective. I'm an organizational psychologist. I study how to make work not suck. In this show, I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people, to rethink how we work, lead and live. Today, how to confront racial bias at work and in life. Thanks to Verizon for sponsoring this episode.
Adam Grant (04:32):
After the murder of George Floyd, like many people, I felt I needed to be doing more to combat systemic racism. I started doing a lot of reading and a lot of listening. One day I came across a BBC video of John Amaechi and it stopped me in my tracks.
John Amaechi (04:48):
We've been engaged in a global conversation about race and racism. You've probably had discussions at home, at school or at work, and in those conversations you've probably heard the term white privilege. You may have even had this term used in a way that felt like an insult or an accusation. Others will have told you that it's all just made up to make white people feel bad. And none of this is right.
Adam Grant (05:14):
The conversation it led to, this one, was so powerful and so revealing that we decided it should anchor an episode of work life on its own, a walk through the landscape that John lives in, and what research reveals about how we build that landscape and how we can rebuild it. John and I could've talked for days about so many facets of racism, but we focused on some especially challenging questions. How racial privilege really works, how to diffuse the difficulty of talking about it, and how to apply this knowledge to undue bias in our workplaces and ourselves. These questions are so important and so complex, that we also invited three additional experts to weigh in at key moments in the conversation.
Adam Grant (05:56):
They elaborate on some of the research John and I discuss and the implications for anti-racism at work. Later this season, we'll be following up with another episode on debiasing, looking at evidence based approaches to driving personal and systemic change. But let's start with John, a psychologist who spends most of his time working with leaders to improve workplaces. Although he didn't set out to become a diversity and inclusion expert, he's found himself doing a lot of work on individual and systemic bias. And rooting out bias at work or anywhere, starts with ensuring that we understand how our own biases play out in the first place. Chapter one of this conversation focuses on rethinking privilege as we usually define it.
John Amaechi (06:41):
Everybody believes in some kind of privilege. You might call it a different name but every single person knows the advantage of being born into a wealthy family versus one without means.
Adam Grant (06:52):
The thing that really hit me was the BBC video that you did a few months ago completely changed my thinking about privilege.
John Amaechi (07:00):
Privilege is a hard concept for people to understand because normally when we talk of privilege we imagine immediate, unearned riches and tangible benefits for anyone who has it. But white privilege, and indeed all privilege, is actually more about the absence of inconvenience, the absence of an impediment or challenge. And as such, when you have it, you really don't notice it. But when it's absent, it affects everything you do.
Adam Grant (07:26):
John, I've always thought about privilege as the presence of an unfair advantage and you said, "No, there's a better way to think about that." Can you walk me through how you see privilege and how you arrived at that definition?
John Amaechi (07:38):
We sometimes imagine just 'cause they're white they must have it easy, and they haven't. They've- they've struggled and they've worked. But there is a difference when your struggle is not related simply to your skin color. There's a difference. When as a man, you realize that there are things that women experience that you never even considered, that's the thing that made the difference for me. And so, I wanted to help people understand that I see them and that I know that just because you're a white person, this doesn't mean that your life is this, you know, ride through the hills that's full of amazingness and wealth and brilliance and no troubles. And I wanted to make this an accessible term that people could then understand as the absence of an impediment.
John Amaechi (08:17):
The idea that your life has an advantage because there is a disadvantage that you don't experience. And that makes it easier to understand why nobody notices it because if you're not having something bad happen to you, why would you know about it?
Adam Grant (08:32):
I love that. I just thought it was ingenious, because it- it seemed like a way to get around all the defensiveness that people have around admitting they're privileged. And yet, the online comments (laughs) made it very clear there were some people who are threatened by the idea.
John Amaechi (08:47):
My video seems to do a circulation around the wrong sorts of groups every two weeks. So-
Adam Grant (08:54):
John Amaechi (08:54):
... vociferous outpouring every two weeks. And the response from Terry Truth is clearly an English bot, if it's a bot ... "Bollocks mate, get a real job like scaffolding, then come back and talk about white privilege.”
Adam Grant (09:09):
John Amaechi (09:09):
And there it is, the idea that I work really hard in my job, therefore I cannot have privilege, is right there. Some part of this rejection of the idea of privilege from all of us is the idea that the general public needs to feel innocent. I am blameless for the difficulties of other people. And it needs to feel that the world is fair. Which means that they are a person who succeeded because of their brilliance, and anybody who's failed has failed because of their deficits.
Adam Grant (09:44):
In a series of experiments, psychologists have recently shown that when white people become aware of our privilege, we tend to get defensive. We start describing all the hard work we've put in and the hardships we've endured. It's a way of saying, "I- I'm not privileged, I've earned my success." And this is a major obstacle to progress, because we can't begin to dismantle the unfairness of privilege until we can see it. Which brings us to our first research expert, one of the psychologists behind that paper, cleverly titled I Ain't No Fortunate One.
Brian Lowery (10:19):
The claim of privilege is not that people don't have hard lives, it's just that they are still benefiting from their race. And so, what people do is they try to manage the discomfort as saying, "Look at all these struggles I've had," which are actual struggles, and they say, "Therefore, I can't be privileged." As if privilege is simply living a perfect life. I am Brian Lowery, professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. I've been doing research on racial privilege and the experience of it for, uh, maybe the last 15 years or so.
Brian Lowery (10:54):
Inequality is a function of systems, not individuals within a system. Meaning, I can only be disadvantaged relative to someone else. And so when you think about systemic racism, it does disadvantage ethnic minorities but it also, by default then, provides advantages for white folks. And sometimes, the reality is, racism might be more strongly expressed in terms of advantages that white people enjoy than disadvantages that black people suffer. One example is we show people the results from a standardized test, when white people are told that white people do better, they think the test is more legitimate than when they're told that Asians do better. That's evidence we would argue that whites are engaging in behaviors that are meant to privilege their own group, probably without their awareness.
Brian Lowery (11:46):
It just feels right. The test feels more legitimate. So, that has implications obviously for hiring in workplaces. When you look at the way groups interact, that in-group favoritism, that is doing favors for people like you, is a bigger part of the inequality than actively discriminating against the out-groups. In-group love is stronger than out-group hate. People are, in some sense, more comfortable with the idea of out-group hate than in-group love. And gender, people have an easier time understanding it. A boy's club, you think of that as discriminatory, even though you're not saying anything about how they treat women, it's just implied in that providing benefits to people like you also excludes people not like you. So, the same is true of race.
Brian Lowery (12:39):
In America we have a strong belief in the idea of meritocracy. Virtue is a function of having earned, through hard work and talent and to be told that something about the system is contributed to your success is deeply painful. So, when you confront white people with the possibility that some of their outcomes have been influenced by systemic racism, they are both uncomfortable and active in trying to refute that.
Adam Grant (13:16):
How do we get past that? I was curious to hear John Amaechi's advice for overcoming defensiveness, which is very relevant to him because his first career was playing professional basketball in the NBA. When people brought up his natural advantage, he used to get defensive about it and not the good kind of defensiveness that won championships.
John Amaechi (13:36):
When they said, “Oh, well of course you're a good basketball player, you're 6'9".” No, I'm not privileged. I used to say that all the time actually being 6'9", I was a very average NBA basketball player. I would not have been a basketball player at all had I not been 6'9". It's definitely a privilege. You just have to kinda say "there it is." Does it mean I didn't work hard? Nope.
Adam Grant (14:00):
A couple years ago, somebody called me a privileged Ivy league professor. My- my instinctive response was to say, “Hey, wait a minute, I didn't grow up in a wealthy family, I worked my way through college.” And it- it sounds like you've had that reaction too, is that defensiveness? Is it okay for me to acknowledge that I've always been privileged in terms of skin color, but not always in terms of class, how would you suggest thinking about that? I've really been struggling with this.
John Amaechi (14:25):
You know, if we could introduce a little more nuance into the discourse, it would really help. There's a lot of absolutism in the interest of- of speed of message dissemination that I think creates that zero sum game, that idea that either it's this or it's this, and we could do without that. The other thing that I suppose we need is- is self-interest. I do believe we're in a place right now where unless you can tell people what's in it for them getting them to change and shift in any substantive and sustainable way is really difficult.
Adam Grant (15:03):
What's in it for me to recognize my white privilege, what's the advantage of understanding that for me?
John Amaechi (15:09):
I'm struggling here because if I had this answer, I'd already have written the book. It's not enough to say that the world is becoming more diverse. That Gen-Z is the most diverse generation of all time, that they're gonna be 30% of your workplace in ten years. You tell me what have you got? What- what helped me, you help me.
Adam Grant (15:29):
I think I would say somebody who tends to be pro socially motivated, generous more a giver than a taker or a matcher is- is probably gonna resonate with an argument that says, hey, here's a contribution you can make to alleviate other people's suffering, to open doors for other people, to create opportunities where people have been denied them because of- of systemic injustice. My guess is though those are not the people you're struggling to reach.
John Amaechi (15:52):
No it's Terry truth. [crosstalk 00:15:54]-
Adam Grant (15:54):
John Amaechi (15:54):
... get a real job like scaffolding, and then come back and talk about white privilege.
Adam Grant (15:59):
If I were speaking to Terry, I would say Terry, frankly, by not understanding the privilege of skin color is also missing out on, you know, understanding various kinds of privilege that he hasn't benefited from. If he understand your definition of privilege, he can actually get a much, a much clearer view of the real obstacles that have been standing in his way. And that might actually help him both empathize with you, which- which is something that you and I are both invested in, but also maybe do a better job at navigating the challenges and complexities in- in his own world.
John Amaechi (16:34):
I like that, that's a brilliant option. The idea that if you understand this, it will help you understand ways that your life is harder than it should be too and you might be able to do something about that is brilliant.
Adam Grant (16:51):
Now to chapter two, once we've recognized our privileges, how should we act on that understanding as allies, especially at work and what if we screw up?
John Amaechi (17:01):
Allies, don't realize the privilege they have. I don't get to shout because then I'm the monster people think I am, but allies have this advantage.
Adam Grant (17:13):
I know as a white person, I have not done enough as an anti-racist both in my words and in my research, as well as in my actions, I also don't want to feel like I've caused the suffering that many black people have experienced. It seems like there's a fine line between holding people accountable for doing better and, you know, shaming them for their past shortcomings.
John Amaechi (17:34):
When people make mistakes, what they do is they forensically examine it. And then they say, right, I'll never do that again. And then two days, two weeks, two months later, they do it again because they tossed it out. I want you to take the core, strip it, of emotion and guilt and all that other stuff. That's selfish, frankly. And stick it right in your chest. Embrace the wince, just hold onto it.
Adam Grant (17:57):
You have a great term for these uncomfortable moments. I think it's "wince moments?"
John Amaechi (18:01):
They happen all the time, the wince is the idea of just it's stripping away the emotion from a teachable moment. Don't embellish it with guilt. Don't laden it with kind of poison that seeps into your system forever. I like to believe I'm woke, but I make tons of mistakes because I purposefully encounter lots of different types of people.
Adam Grant (18:21):
Despite John's work in diversity and inclusion, he's not immune to bias. As a board member of a hospital. He deals with grievances and disciplinary actions. When one of the surgeons was reported for questionable conduct, John was called to handle the situation.
John Amaechi (18:38):
And I was like, “Okay, okay, well, but what's his name?" Well, over 50% of our surgeons are women, well over. I know this. My mother was a doctor, I know women can be doctors. And yet there it was that programming and my temptation was to say, "my mum was a doctor, I'm a good person it'll never happen again." Instead it sits in my sternum. There's no guilt. I don't sit with it like, "oh, I'm a terrible person, how could I do that?" But now anytime I have a conversation about gender, it just lightly vibrates so that there's increased vigilance about what's happening around me and that's what I think the solution is.
Adam Grant (19:34):
John, are there stories from your work experience that led you to say, I need to be in this field. I need to help organizations become anti-racist or become better at diversity and inclusion?
John Amaechi (19:46):
I struggle with being seen as a specialist in diversity and inclusion 'cause I'm not an expert in this because I happen to be black and gay. And I know you know that, but there's something about it that makes me feel diminished cause it's like, I'm a proper psychologist with proper psychologist stuff. I do performance and leadership and training and coaching. And- and now I'm just that diversity guy. It's almost how I feel about basketball actually, it's why I don't talk about it at all.
Adam Grant (20:14):
It sounds to me like you're reacting to the constant experience you've had now through multiple chapters of your life of being both tokenized and typecast, which is grossly unfair.
John Amaechi (20:25):
Yeah. I'm really interested in data that helps us describe people and environments and helps us to help them. I want people to realize that I'm a geek and a nerd. I started in psychology because my mum, my mum worked a lot in palliative care. She was a GP. So I would go into these houses, surrounded by family members who were clearly mourning in real time. And I used to watch my mum interact only with the family members. And it just became very clear that she had some kind of magic. She would tell them, you know, you're gonna do this, this, this, and I'll see you in a week. And they would repeat back. I'll do this, this, this, and I'll see you in a week.
John Amaechi (20:59):
And I'm a Star Wars fan, she took me to see A New Hope. There's a scene 34 and a half minutes in 33 and a half minutes in if you have the old version. And when they go into into Mos Eisley with the speeder and and the droids are in the back and they get stopped by the storm troopers and everyone just waves at them and says, "these aren't the droids you're looking for ... " And they would just repeat it. And that's when I knew my mum was a Jedi. That's why I became a psychologist because it's as close as I could get to Jedi description. And I have my own replica lightsaber from New Hope here. And it's not like a cheap one either. This is custom made.
Adam Grant (21:36):
(laughs). That's amazing.
John Amaechi (21:37):
Adam Grant (21:43):
I wanna talk a little bit about sort of the- the ally perspective here. Just thinking about my own failures in anti-racism and other people who I know, recognize the problems and care about the problems, but haven't done much about them, I keep coming back to this literature onpsychological standing.That sense that, you know, it's- it's not my place, it's not legitimate for me to speak up because I'm white. What are your thoughts on overcoming it and getting those people who are by-standing for those kinds of reasons on board?
John Amaechi (22:13):
There's a couple of things that I'm trying to do. One of them is to stop the alignment of allyship with black people as individuals and start the alignment of allyship with their own principles or with their organization's values. So racism is an incivility. Sexism is an incivility. I do not require sisters nor a mother, nor a wife to be against sexism and misogyny because it is an incivility. If I'd intervene on something that's racist, it's not on my behalf or another one of my black colleagues. It's because it's an incivility against the values that people say they share. Today it's not about an individual. It's about standing up for your values and understand that you don't need to have a black person in your team for that to be important because the presence of a black person has never been required for racism to occur. The presence of a woman has never been required for sexism to occur. As men, we know that the absence of woman reveals sexism and misogyny.
Adam Grant (23:18):
People are getting criticized or penalized for their attempts to be allies. And I've seen this personally, I've tried to be thoughtful about using my platform to draw attention to data around these issues. And I've been accused of virtue signaling and of performative allyship, I guess, how to respond to witnessing other people, responding to attempted allyship in ways that- that discourage it, or, you know, make us feel powerless.
John Amaechi (23:43):
If it's black people who are critiquing, I think it's always worth taking a stop and to think about how you're perceived. If it's white people who are doing it, give it the usual checks of, is this substantive critique, or is this just an effort to stop me from doing what I'm doing? I can't imagine that people would look at you talking about data, talking about the facts and the evidence, and then say, yeah, that's the same as putting a black square on Instagram. That is not the same. That is exactly addressing one of the major excuses that we see out there, "oh, I didn't know there was any evidence."
Adam Grant (24:19):
Our second research expert specializes in how to be a good ally.
Dolly Chugh (24:24):
Hi, I'm Dolly chugh. I'm a professor at the New York University Stern School of Business. I study the psychology of good people. The challenges that being an ally that is being invested in the interests of a group that we're not part of and acting on that on behalf of others often means that we're wading into waters that are unfamiliar to us. We're going to make mistakes, and then recovering from those mistakes by learning from them, owning them and doing better the next time, it's a dynamic learning perspective rather than an either or good person perspective. Our mind has some constraints just as that same mind has mistakes it makes when it's picking what cereal to buy, what investment to make, that same mind is going to make mistakes when thinking about who to hire or what is an inappropriate joke to tell.
Dolly Chugh (25:20):
I'm on a mission to get people, to let go of being a good person so that they can become better people. It begins by first adopting this mindset of being a learner, one in which we view ourselves as always changing, improving, and learning. It's like, if you get a new phone, you have to figure out the features and maybe ask someone how to do something. But somehow when it comes to issues like allyship or diversity or inclusion, we think we're supposed to just have it figured out. That growth mindset where we're always learning it getting better is absent from this space of diversity and inclusion and yet it's exactly what we need.
Adam Grant (26:03):
Confronting bias and encouraging allyship is a meaningful step, but to build anti-racist workplaces, it's not enough to change individuals. We need to change the structures and cultures of organizations. More on that after the break.
Adam Grant (31:06):
I've been talking with John Amaechi about what people can do individually to be anti-racist at work. Now we'll move to chapter three: What organizations can do.
John Amaechi (31:20):
If you have control to hire and fire people, then you have the ability to say, "These are the standard of behavior and civility that we expect."
Adam Grant (31:30):
You've said, you know, people just don't want to address the fact that they are biased. I wonder what you're doing at either, you know, an executive level, a group level, even in an organizational level to- to try to change that.
John Amaechi (31:43):
So, I see the inclusion part of the work that I do as simply a facet of leadership and culture. The bias part comes in where it comes to culture because I think the culture is defined by the worst behavior tolerated.
Adam Grant (31:59):
Ooh. Ooh. Wait. That is brilliant! Say more about that.
John Amaechi (32:02):
The example I give is about littering. It is illegal, but it's clearly okay because you've- you've looked outside, right? And the act of doing nothing is what tells everybody it's okay. That's what defines what is possible in this culture. People love to talk about the mode, the most common behavior is the thing that defines an organization. And it is not. The bad stuff you're allowed to do while still existing in the organization tells you what the standard is. That tells you what the culture is all about.
John Amaechi (32:34):
All those talented but toxic people who can still wander through the virtual hallways of an organization unmolested. "I can just do what that bloke does" and it's invariably a bloke, "And just be technically brilliant and a complete jerk. And I'll still progress." That's what defines the culture. The worst behavior tolerated.
John Amaechi (32:54):
So, I'm trying to help them realize the impact that that not addressing bad behavior has. You have to treat even the minuscule transgressions as if they're significant.
Adam Grant (33:05):
There's a- a Campbell and Brauer paperthat showed that roughly 80% of the discrimination is perpetrated by about 20% of its students. The risk of talking about that research is it makes it sound like a bad apples problem, when of course we need to fix the barrel. But at the same time, I think it speaks to your point that if these 20% of students get away with this behavior, number one, they can treat a lot of people poorly. And number two, they may actually move the line for the rest of the organization.
John Amaechi (33:31):
If a certain type of behavior is tolerated for long enough, it becomes the norm. That study, it doesn't just speak to the 20%. It speaks to the silent majority. It suddenly places a burden on that majority of people who see stuff and do nothing. That's what I'm trying to get people to change. And we all know a lot of the incivilities are in the form of a joke, but what you can do is you can suck the oxygen of the room. So, if somebody makes that joke that's sexist or racist or something else, you stay silent, you look away, you don't laugh. It sucks the oxygen out. If enough people do that in an environment, you don't actually have to address the individual at all. They will come to you and they'll say, "I told my usual brilliant joke. You didn't like it." And all of a sudden you're not the person, uh, moralizing, but rather you're the person helping them. So, you've just reframed it from "I'm a moralizing liberal" to "I'm actually trying to help you."
John Amaechi (34:24):
We were on a team call with somebody and somebody on the call started describing Black people as "colored". The moment they did that, we all went off camera. Somebody is like, "Oh wow, it seems like your cameras aren't working." And so, it gave me a chance to come back on and say, "Well, actually, it was because we were responding to the fact that one of your colleagues has just used the word colored, and that's not been in vogue for about 30 years." You don't have to be uncivil. You don't have to be rude. You don't have to be- You can just make it clear that you've seen something that transgresses the norm, and then, give them an opportunity to make it something that they're curious about.
Adam Grant (34:56):
You're dealing with a lot of leaders who had given lip service to the idea that they want their companies to be anti-racist. You then run into a ... It's almost always middle managers who say, "I don't have the span of control or the influence to drive enough culture change." How to overcome those senses of either futility or legitimacy in a manager's life?
John Amaechi (35:14):
Organizations have to be fair and help a manager prioritize this type of thing. If your reward and progression through an organization is not related to this, then it's not important to the organization. But once you do make it important, then you have to give people a scope. Your job is to not change the whole organization. You have a team of three people. That is your job. Fulfill the promises of this organization in your direct control. And if you don't meet them, you will be graded against those in the same way that when you don't meet your targets. That's it. But again, meaningless if the organization allows for other kinds of behavior in other places.
John Amaechi (35:55):
Inclusion does have an enemy. People think it's straight White older men, and it's not. Inclusion's number one bullseye on the forehead person is the mediocre. When all of a sudden to be a Harvard professor, you can move beyond a White man who's middle class, the moment that expands, the pool of people who are passionate, driven, ambitious, intellectually curious expands. People who would have just been in the taxi queue for tenure, suddenly realize they've got fire in their hands. It's no surprise that there's a backlash. And especially when it comes to race. So many poor White people have been told that this is a zero sum game. "You have a miserable existence as a poorer White person, but just you wait what happens if you let Black people get anything. You'll have even less." Is the narrative.
Adam Grant (36:46):
That feels like in some ways the organizational analog of Martin Luther King Jr's critique of the White moderate.
John Amaechi (36:52):
I saw this research that talked about when it comes to race, there's 30% of this group of people who are vehemently against racism. They recognize the inequity for Black people. However, this 30% of people was also vehemently against any intervention that might be created to remedy it. It's just fascinating. Those are the same people who say, "Yeah, racism is real, but that over there is positive discrimination." That group of people who are in the middle, who want to feel innocent and fair, and their inaction prevents change.
Adam Grant (37:27):
Which brings us to our third expert, a trailblazer in studying organizational justice and inclusion.
Quinetta Roberson (37:35):
I like to say that I studied equity before it was fashionable to do so. There are many leaders who don't want to talk about it because fairness seems intuitive. When I ask employees to rate their managers on a scale from one to ten, they'll say five maybe. But then the leaders will say, "Oh, I'm a nine in terms of fairness." They think that they're inherently fair.
Quinetta Roberson (37:59):
My name is Quinetta Roberson. I am the John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of Management and Psychology at Michigan State University. My research tells us that it is possible to build anti-racist organizations. Then second, how to do so in a way that not only changes, uh, the way people experience organizations, but also can drive organizational effectiveness.
Quinetta Roberson (38:28):
We know that when people think about fair treatment in organizations, they think about the fairness of the outcomes they receive, the fairness of the policies and procedures they experience, and the fairness of the treatment from their managers, peers, et cetera. I had a grad student years ago who did recruitment ads and manipulated whether it said, "We are an equal opportunity employer" or "We are an inclusive employer." Her hypothesis was that women and minorities would be more attracted to the organization that espouses values for inclusion, which was the case. However, it actually was more attractive to everyone. If you say we are an inclusive organization, everyone who applies, no matter what their background, feels that their interests will be considered and their talent will be valued.
Quinetta Roberson (39:26):
In terms of how to make inclusive environments, I have this paper on inclusive leadership, and we ask leaders, "What do you do to be inclusive?" But they kept saying, "I allow," which to me has a m- element of power baked in. "I allow people to be themselves. I allow you to contribute or to speak, to have a seat at the table." If that's the way leaders are thinking about inclusion, we still got a ways to go.
Quinetta Roberson (39:59):
Allowing could be psychological rather than behavioral or actual. We gotta push more and do things that are actionable to really create these environments that we wanna see, and it's intentional action. Being able to welcome, invite and value perspectives that not only we know, but that we don't know. I think a lot of organizations will rely on their employee engagement survey and say like, "Oh, we have an inclusion measure." That happens annually or quarterly, but it's an easy pulse check that I can do as a leader. "What can I do to make you feel more included? What has been your experience?" Really get some feedback and, and try to put that into practice.
Adam Grant (40:46):
I asked John Amaechi about the cultural and structural changes that might move the needle on inclusion.
John Amaechi (40:52):
There's lots of easy wins to me. They're boring though. People want sexy magic wand stuff. Just address the widgets of the system. Nobody will notice. It's very dull, but it makes a difference.
John Amaechi (41:07):
Data quality. Let's get an organization to have standardized data quality. We don't do anything else without really high quality data. Redefining talent. Let's create a new leadership profile that isn't based on a bunch of American executives who will have a certain profile. What are the criteria that are important? Is, is experience really important when we know that it has virtually no impact on future performance?
Adam Grant (41:34):
John is referencing a recent meta-analysis, a study of 81 studies across a wide range of jobs. The finding: past experience rarely predicts future performance. What matters is past performance and current motivation and ability. It's how well people can learn to do a job, not how long they've already done it. Job postings with minimums years of experience often prevent promising people of color from getting a foot in the door.
John Amaechi (42:07):
Even how we measure intellect and intelligence, is that really important based on what you're doing? It's not always really about intelligence. There are job descriptions out there that women read that they know are not for them as women. There's a code written in there that just makes it clear.
Adam Grant (42:22):
Theninja, rock star languagethat discourages women from applying, what is the race version of that and whether there are certain kinds of culture statements that would very clearly signal to a black person, "You know what? This is not an inclusive environment."
John Amaechi (42:37):
When it comes to organizations, absolutely that's the case.
Adam Grant (42:40):
John Amaechi (42:40):
I would never go into a pub that has England flag bunting at the front. I am not an anti-nationalist; I don't hate England. I know that not every pub with England flag bunting is a BNP pub, is a racist pub. The BNP is the British National Party, right, but I know that every racist BNP pub I've ever been past and had trouble at has got England flag bunting at the front.
John Amaechi (43:01):
So many organizations don't realize that when you look at their website, it's essentially England flag bunting. A financial institution that we work with, I looked at their videos on their website. Their first video that showed skydiving, polo, golf, archery.
Adam Grant (43:18):
Those are the whitest sports I could think of. I'm not even white enough to play them.
John Amaechi (43:22):
What we know about that is, it's men stuff and it's white men stuff ...
Adam Grant (43:26):
John Amaechi (43:27):
... and that's how you know, "This is not for me."
Adam Grant (43:29):
Let's actually change the way that we present what our organization is all about, and magically, this, this pipeline problem, where we claim there's just not enough talent (laughs) might start to go away.
John Amaechi (43:39):
Yeah. And stop making excuses, right? So there are lots of leafy suburbs where very nice organizations are based. You've got some of the big bio pharmas, and they always say, "Well, we can't get people who want to live in the ..." It's like, "No, black people like fresh air too, it's just that, if the fresh air also comes with a touch of racism, then we're a little less inclined to go and live there," and that's the differentiation. I would welcome the fresh air just without the side of racism.
Adam Grant (44:07):
Many workplaces have tried to fight that racism with unconscious bias training, and John is not impressed with the results.
John Amaechi (44:15):
Can we have an evidence-based approach to training, please? I love a story, but let's not have an anecdote-led approach to training. "This is what works. And if it works and is unpopular, it's still what we do." Stop trying to teach complex, nuanced stuff in three-minute bites. Let's do some team-based learning stuff. Let's make it a responsibility of senior people to teach, which means that some of their time is gonna have to be carved out to give them the skills to coach and teach, because I think that's part of the responsibility of leadership.
John Amaechi (44:49):
Let's start crediting people for the development of their talent. Let's abandon utilization cultures. Utilization cultures, the billable hours culture of professional services, and let's rearrange this to a value-based culture, which will involve ingoing learning.
Adam Grant (45:04):
That makes so much sense. I've never thought about that as a piece of the diversity and inclusion puzzle. I'm thinking of the DeVoe and Pfeffer work showing that when people are paid hourly, they start to think about time as money and then they're not willing to do anything that doesn't have an immediate financial return. That closes the door on all kinds of learning, including, "Why the hell would I ever attend a half day bias training (laughs) workshop," right? That's not generating revenue.
John Amaechi (45:25):
We know that our attitude entering into education matters. So if we enter into it with the idea that, "This is just costing me money," w- we're already in trouble. At the same time, we know that there's so much that's mandatory in organizations. Why would this not be mandatory? If you have to do health and safety, it's mandatory, but being able to respect and show that there's dignity for your colleagues who are different is not, that's a weird message to send to me.
Adam Grant (45:51):
In our second episode on bias later this season, we'll tackle why training often backfires and what the evidence tells us about how to overcome individual and organizational biases. In the meantime, my biggest fear when it comes to anti-racism is that nothing meaningful will change. It's a fear of John's too.
John Amaechi (46:13):
I remember 1991: Rodney King. I was in America at the time. I remember Dan Rather telling everybody, but he was telling me that this grainy footage from an actual camcorder would change everything, and here we are. During COVID, our workforce became humanized. We suddenly realized they're not resources, but they're human beings who have worries and struggles and are mourning and anxious, and mental health was taken more seriously than, "Here's a gym pass." And then on top of that, we had this shared psychic trauma for all black and brown people, which is, to watch somebody being murdered for looking like you. It's devastating to people's psychology.
John Amaechi (46:52):
The biggest thing that I learned since George Floyd's murder is that black people are strangers to white people, and I think that wounds white people a lot. Their absolute and abject lack of knowledge around the lives of black people is a choice, because there's television, there's sports, there's so many ways to access the lives, there's colleagues, and yet, somehow we've managed to not know anything about them. That hurts. So the hierarchy's real and the window is closing.
Adam Grant (48:06):
Next week on WorkLife, we take a short break from our regular season to bring you a bonus episode, featuring author Glennon Doyle. She tells us how to let go of the old identities that are holding us back.
Glennon Doyle (48:18):
I don't identify as anything anymore because it feels to me like the second you have an identity, then you have to have a dogma or a list of rules that, that allows you to keep that identity. That just stopped working for me.
Adam Grant (48:37):
WorkLife is hosted by me, Adam Grant. The show is produced by TED with Transmitter Media. Our team includes: Colin Helms, Gretta Cohn, Dan O'Donnell, Constanza Gallardo, Grace Rubenstein, Michelle Quint, BanBan Cheng and Anna Phelan. This episode was produced by JoAnn DeLuna. Our show is mixed by Rick Kwan. Our fact checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hahnsdale Hsu and Allison Layton Brown. Ad stories produced by Pineapple Street Studios.
Adam Grant (49:03):
Special thanks to our sponsors: LinkedIn, Logitech, Morgan Stanley, SAP and Verizon. For their research, thanks to , thanks to Marilynn Brewer on in-group favoritism; Rebecca Ratner and Dale MIller and on psychological standing. Mitchell Campbell and Markus Brauer on discrimination; Jason Steed on just joking; Chad Van Iddekinge and colleagues on experience; Kieren Snyder on sexist language; Sanford DeVoe and Jeff Pfeffer on time as money; and Dolly Chugh, Quinetta Roberson, and Brian Lowery and his collaborators Taylor Phillips, Miguel Unzueta, Eric Knowles, and Roz Chow.
Adam Grant (49:41):
Speaking of Brian Lowery, he's launching a podcast in June: Know What You See. In our conversation, I mentioned the time when I responded defensively to being called a privileged Ivy League professor.
Adam Grant (49:53):
After I read your research, I was like, "Oh man. I'm one of those people. I've done this, I've fallen in this trap," but, uh, maybe this is just me trying to rationalize my past actions, which I, I am definitely guilty of more often than I would like to admit, but it seemed like there was a subtle distinction between denying current privilege and denying former privilege.
Brian Lowery (50:14):
Why do we need to deny at all? That's my first, uh, question. So what? She thinks you that guy, and right now, you are that guy, why, why the discomfort?
Adam Grant (50:23):
That's a great question, and that's a question I probably should have asked myself right away, right (laughs)? It's like-
Brian Lowery (50:27):
Adam Grant (50:28):
... it's what we're supposed to do as psychologists.
Brian Lowery (50:29):
Adam Grant (50:30):
Hm, discomfort. Interesting. Let me, let me try and unpack that.
Brian Lowery (50:33):
In a way, it's incompatible with the way you'd like to be seen. Setting the record straight, again, assumes (laughs) a need, right, and the question is, what is that need and why does it exist?