Avoid Tokenistic Gestures And Instigate Lasting Change Instead

Action, not empty gestures, will close societal gaps.

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Action, not empty gestures, will close societal gaps.


Avoid Tokenistic Gestures And Instigate Lasting Change Instead

Action, not empty gestures, will close societal gaps.

Share this article

Like everyone, I was disturbed by the killing of George Floyd. I witnessed the strength of feeling, the demonstrations and have done my own soul searching.  But reflection is not enough.

I remember in my younger days being shocked that people were treated differently (I mean appallingly) because they were born with different skin. I remember watching Roots and my horror at the cruelty I previously had no concept of.

I remember joining the anti-racism marches of the 80s and the anti-apartheid movement.  I remember the power of boycott.

The fact that I am no longer shocked, that I know that people are treated differently because of race, religion, class or sexual orientation, is the true scandal.  I know this to be true because I see it every single day.

It is mainly very subtle but it is there all around us. We have all seen enough. Whether we care to admit it or not, we know.

So now is the time for action. Now is the time to stand up and stand for something to be done. What will you do to ensure that the world changes for good?

Whatever happens next will require determination, imagination and courage. It will require give and take, some sacrifice, change and discomfort. It will be difficult because real principles will be tested.

It will require black, white and brown voices to come together, to sit in the fire of discomfort and find some unity. I applaud and am moved by the support voiced by so many yet I know it is all too easy to turn away from the task or to offer up empty gestures.

My first solution was an online, global virtual demonstration. How hard would it have been to marshall all the people like me who would demonstrate but haven’t been able to? A huge and powerful show of support from around the world, evidence, if it were needed, of the number of voices and strength of feeling.

However, the question remained: ‘To what end?’. It seemed as ineffective as changing your social media profile picture. You’d also have to believe that the politicians are listening, and I am not sure they are.

As a former marketer, my thinking instead turned towards how to influence consumer behaviour. Is this the kind of behaviour change that is most likely to be served by a top down or bottom up approach?

Initially, I believe, the change must be led by those with most influence. In this case, the corporate world. They have the power to make significant change happen. And they can set the standard – if they choose to.

This does not mean that we shouldn’t look at education, policy, societal and individual change too. I do not for one second pretend to have all the answers. But I have one idea. A simple invitation to start something powerful that will force real change.

Look at what has started to happen on gender equality and the pay gap in particular. The dial has shifted there because businesses – in the UK at least - are now required (by law) to report on it annually. It has made for some uncomfortable moments as this public accountability has started to bring consciousness and change to this area.

So, arise the diversity gap report. Invite all businesses to voluntarily publish their employee diversity statistics measured against the population they represent and exist within. It is simple and effective:

Step 1: Publish the representation gap statistics

Step 2: Redress the imbalance

Step 3: Publish the pay gap statistics

Step 4: Redress the imbalance

Step 5: Encourage consumer behaviour to follow

The starting point and the first step on the change journey is to bring awareness to the scale of the problem, to notice and report on it.  Thereafter, we have to take action, to commit to shifting that imbalance by giving people real equality of opportunity rather than introducing quotas or window-dressing.

It is too easy to make some tokenistic attempts at righting this with a few carefully choreographed appointments. Not only is this insufficient but it fools no one. This requires a much more concerted effort over the long term in order to make lasting change. That is the second step.

The third and fourth are where we shine a spotlight on any differences in pay that exist and to address these too. We can’t tackle any imbalances properly until we have a truly representative workforce.

Finally, we engage consumers who through their buying power and influence can accelerate change by choosing businesses that behave socially responsibly. Our spending power can and should increasingly be used as a force for good.

A simple, easy to action, measurable initiative we can all sign up to. An invitation to all my corporate friends to do (not just say) something positive and lasting. Some are doing this already and showing real commitment to making this happen.

The question remains, will you wait to be told, for laws to be passed to make this mandatory? Or will you do it yourself?

Vonnie Alexander is founder of Vonnie Alexander Executive and Leadership Coaching.

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Avoid Tokenistic Gestures And Instigate Lasting Change Instead

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