INvolve NYC: Bridging the Gap
02 April 2019
Last year we officially launched INvolve’s New York office, bringing our mission and vision to create a business world where everyone, no matter their background, can maximize their potential and be their authentic self. On 21 March, we held our inaugural event for the US arm of our INvolve network – ‘Bridging the Gap’. The event invited Jonathan McBride, Global Head of Inclusion and Diversity, BlackRock, Angela D. Harrel, Chief Diversity & Corporate Responsibility Officer, Voya Financial, Suresh Raj, Chief Business Development Officer, Vision7 International and Maggie Lower, Chief Marketing Officer, True Blue Inc. to join our CEO and founder, Suki Sandhu, OBE in a frank and open discussion on the myths and assumptions that exist around both the LGBT+ community and people of color.
True to form, we wanted this event to showcase our whole person approach to inclusion, and our desire to open up difficult conversations around diversity and inclusion. With ‘Bridging the Gap’ we hit the ground running in New York, addressing and moving past any latent divisions between LGBT+ communities and people of color and focusing on how we can leverage their collective power to work together towards the common goal of acceptance and belonging, and to ensure those who live within both are brought along and leading the charge as well.
Here are some of the key themes which arose during the event.
Who benefits from divisiveness?
One of the key themes which was raised repeatedly throughout the evening was that of division: what divisions exist between minority communities and those in the dominant cultural group and who is benefiting from maintaining these divisions?
While there were some obvious answers in the current political climate of the US, there was a broader question asked about how we approach these divisive characters and mindsets. Angela Harrel expressed the key concern of many agents of change in the current political and social climate; “how do you reach out to hate when it’s coming from misdirected pain?” Many figures in politics and in business take advantage of this pain for profit or influence, but being able to reach across the aisle and bring these people on board is essential to effecting change and not reinforcing divisions. The panelists offered some advice on how to embrace contentious moments as an opportunity to bring someone on board with inclusion.
•Take a moment to pause before responding – make an effort to understand rather than responding with anger
•Always be ready to be pushed off center, push into the moment rather than avoiding it – minds are never changed without embracing debate
•Be thoughtful about how your counterpoint is structured – use constructive talking points and avoid ad hominem attacks
Bridging the gap
Many LGBT+ spaces see a woeful lack of representation from LGBT+ persons of color and women. Our own events at INvolve have suffered from this in the past and many of the businesses we work with have LGBT+ networks which haven’t yet achieved substantial engagement with LGBT+ persons of color either. This persistent observation begs the question: are our LGBT+ spaces as inclusive as we think they are?
Our panelists had many views on this broad theme, with Suresh Raj noting that having persistently been one of, if not the only, person of color in LGBT+ spaces both in and outside of the workplace, it’s an essential question to answer and resolve. Raj expanded on his view, noting that what holds both movements together is a shared desire for acceptance and belonging, and that a lack of understanding of identities which exist at the intersection of both leaves many behind.
So how can we bridge the gap? Jonathan McBride offered his approach, focused on inquiry and micro-aggression theory. At BlackRock, inquiry theory is used to promote an organizational culture of asking questions and pushing in to potential teaching moments and opportunities to understand opposing viewpoints. Rather than pulling away, colleagues are encouraged to ask questions in an open and constructive way. One concrete way this has manifested is in the adoption of ‘the platinum rule’, that is; ‘treat people how they want to be treated’, rather than treating others based your subjective view of how you would like to be treated. Additionally, BlackRock crowd-sources micro-aggressions, asking colleagues to submit experiences they face so that the firm can look into ways these can be addressed firm-wide.
The final key theme which arose out of Bridging the Gap was that of role-modelling and more specifically, the concept of permissioning.
McBride, speaking from his experience while working for the Obama administration, cited the sea change in acceptance of gay marriage amongst African Americans following President Obama’s proclamation of support for equal marriage rights in America, with acceptance rising by more than 12 percentage points in some areas. The power role-models possess to change views can’t be underestimated. Maggie Lower echoed this theme, stating “the first of anything matters a lot”, the first black president, the first transgender CEO, the first female Supreme Court justice – whatever it might be, these cultural moments have the ability to challenge the zeitgeist and progress societal perceptions of minorities quickly and broadly. Importantly, Lower stressed that simply being the first isn’t enough and that those who have made it must always make an effort to be allies to communities they don’t belong to, making a targeted effort to ensure the underrepresented are represented and their voices heard and valued.
The event was a thrilling way to launch our series of events for our US branch of INvolve and we thank the panel and all who attended for an excellent, engaging evening. We’ve already started work with several businesses in New York, and with so many more represented at this event, we are looking forward to building on this conversation across all our activities in New York to affect real change for organisations in our US network.