“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
This year has been a tumultuous one in our nation. The deaths of unarmed black men and the escalation of police response to lawful protests, the growing momentum towards marriage equality on the state and national level, and increasing coverage of racial and gender divides in our nation’s corporations are all front and center in the public discourse.
As the subject of equality has become “hot,” meanwhile, I feel that there has been a lot of great discourse on the topic of diversity in the tech community. Also, for many companies, their business practices and policies have betrayed their true intentions and the empty nature of their “PR wins” from exploiting the subject. This has only served to make people question companies’ true motives in this arena more.
So, to my friends and fellow business owners, I’d like to pose a question: What are you communicating to the public and your employees by not observing the only National Holiday set aside to honor a black man?
During the less than 13 years of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, African Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence and one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history. — See more at: The King Center
We all understand what Dr. King stood for was equality. That his dream was of a world where people could be valued and honored for who they are regardless of race, creed, or gender.
If your company wants to be seen as embracing equality, for being good to all their people, for being a shining beacon of a meritocracy, and you're promoting your valiant efforts to diversify your team for all to see in the press — how much credibility do you think that message lands with, when your company only takes days off for Christian holidays and days honoring white men with national holidays?
What do you think you're telling your African American employees by honoring George Washington’s birthday and/or Columbus day and not MLK Day? What is the silent message you're sending?
Changing the world into what?
There is a hollowness to the message of many companies and startups in Silicon Valley that betrays our celebrated mantra in the tech scene to “change the world.” To “disrupt” the status quo. The question from those that see this becomes, to what end shall we change/disrupt it?
Are we merely aspiring to change the world into one where we have more money in our bank accounts? Is that what should inspire us all and the rest of the world? Can we not do better than that? Is it not possible to profit and make the world better at the same time? Can we not create substance and capital simultaneously?
The competitive advantage in doing the right thing.
Diversity isn't just a hot topic. It isn't just a good principle to adopt because it’s “the right thing to do.” It’s actually a competitive advantage. Want to create a great product? Well, having more points of view on your team fosters the loss of the dreaded echo chamber effect. The greater the number of varying opinions you can tap into in the making of your product the more viable the product you can create.
Want to generate more diversity within your company? Create an environment that respects and cherishes it, not just a program that will generate good PR or Forbes interviews for your CEO.
Treating people well isn't just the right thing to do. It too is a competitive advantage. Treat people well, care about their futures as you would yours, and they'll be more likely to stay with your company. Lots of companies think this means feeding their employees and doing their laundry. “Getting them drunk and distracting them with sumo wrestlers is taking care of my people, right?”
Maybe. But, I contend you can create a much higher degree of loyalty among employees by valuing their opinions, giving them ownership over their work, offering them the opportunity to experiment and refine their craft, to advance from within, offering them vacation and work policies that will enable them to both make you and your shareholders a profit AND avoid burning them out.
Want to reduce employee churn? Care about them, fight for them, have their backs. Show them that you honor their cultures, their religious beliefs, their sexual preferences, their right to choose their reproductive care with their physician, etc. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a long term competitive advantage for your business.
What is your soul worth?
We can't afford to lose our humanity in search of profit. On this, the day we honor the birth of Dr King, I'd challenge you, my friends and fellow business owners, to create something of substance. To stand for something. To do better, and to pay attention to the messages you send your customers and employees with your business decisions. Doing the right thing will only serve you better in the end, and maybe we can change the world in a way that leaves it better than we found it. How much would that be worth?