Racism in Society: Is it a growing problem?

The below video clip is from an interview I did with NECN alongside Wendy Murphy this morning.

From NECN: Racism in Society: Is it a growing problem?

Having discussions on race is so important. Shying away or ignoring the real problems that we face daily do not actually make them go away. As our population shifts and changes, so must the way we think about ourselves and the way we engage others. The idea of a majority population is changing when you think about the growing number of people who check off multi-racial on the census. Did you ever meet someone and wonder “what they are?” or “where are they from?” It’s part curiosity and part need to help us put people in a box (even if you don’t use that internal language, you are doing this). To know someone is from a certain country or from a certain geographic area helps us file them in our mental database which we associate with the characteristics we think we know about that place. It happens so fast we don’t even think about it.

Talking about race and talking about our lens helps us work through stuff that is there. It helps us learn.

In the Paula Dean case, she should own her bad behavior for what it was and call it what it was. It was racist behavior. Does that mean people cannot evolve? No, the beauty of the world is that we have the capacity to evolve. The real question is whether or not we have the will, strength and desire. Where there is smoke, there is fire. That is why we react so strongly. People don’t just accidentally use the “N” word. If you look more closely at other behaviors, patterns emerge. That is, unless we are actively looking at ourselves and making intentional changes.

We are always growing. And now, we have a society that is paying attention. We witness racist behavior that makes our hair stand up, makes us outraged, makes us cry. We also are seeing the responsible supportive active voices saying that we will no longer tolerate this. And we are also using our individual voices to move along that accountability chain. Social media plays a huge role in letting employers and corporations know what we really want. It is in their financial best interest to listen.

Racism is not a growing issue, it has been here. We are just finding new ways to confront it. Our work is not done.

I welcome a thoughtful dialogue around this topic. Feel free to submit comments.


Additional Q & A Not Adressed During 5th Anniversary Breakfast


   Thanks to the 400-plus who attended our annual breakfast. We are grateful for your participation – and we enjoyed your company.

   One of many highlights was the panel moderated by Paul Watanabe, chair of the Political Science Department and director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston.

   The panel took some questions from the audience, but ran out of time with several still unanswered. Because we want to honor the questioners, and because the questions were excellent, we would like to share them, with our responses:

    Procurement – what are the challenges regarding diverse vendor contracts. How can boards influence these contracts?

    In general, two steps are required. The first is to recognize the problem; the second is to be “intentional,” to borrow Governor Patrick’s word, in doing something about it.

   One of the first responses to our initial Benchmarks survey, “Stepping Up,” came from an organization that said completing the survey confirmed that it was performing well in most areas, but also revealed that it had no effective policy in hiring diverse suppliers and vendors.  The organization promptly moved to create such policies.

   Often, longstanding relationships with large firms that can outbid small shops mean it is hard for diverse suppliers and vendors to break in. But the value of diverse companies may be considerable – a more responsive relationship, exposure to new markets, etc.  It just takes extra effort to find the right fit.

    What about geographical diversity? The board and committees of Commonwealth Compact are very Boston-based. Large employers such as Mass Mutual, Baystate Hospital and Smith & Wesson to name a few are not community partners. What is the plan to reach out to other parts of the state?

   A very good question.  In addition to many members in Greater Boston, Commonwealth Compact has good participation in the Merrimack Valley, and some in other parts of the state, but not nearly enough.  The Compact is definitely a statewide initiative and we plan to redouble our efforts to recruit members from all parts of the state. One element of our strategy is to use each of the various UMass campuses as a base of operations. Any help in this effort from existing supporters would be greatly appreciated.  We have recently made a couple of trips out to western Massachusetts to be intentional in our recruitment.

     Can the audience share with us the statistical number of minorities in their respective organizations?

     Too late for the audience, but we agree that measurement is important and that numbers drive action.  That is why we have put considerable effort into the Compact’s three Benchmarks reports.  Let us relate one specific experience: the top management of a local firm, about 18 strong, gathered one day in the corporate dining room.  All were white.  The CEO said: now I want each of you to think of your top deputy – not someone you might be grooming to succeed you some day, but the person who would step in tomorrow if you were hit by a bus.  OK, how many of those people are of color?  Not a single hand was raised. The point was made.   

    How diverse and open are your companies when considering minority college graduates?

   It would have been good to hear the panel on this. Our experience suggests that attitudes vary enormously.  Unfortunately, some companies, and their h.r. departments, still operate under the assumption that applicants of color need to go the extra mile to prove their competence – an essentially racist approach, which Governor Patrick was very honest about at the breakfast.  Other employers, though – including many members of the Compact – recognize the true value of diversity, not just that it is the right thing to do morally and culturally, but also that it adds fresh perspective, a range of experience, knowledge of market opportunities, enhanced collegiality and numerous other benefits to any enterprise.

    Paul [Watanabe] has asked about a “standard.” How can we become more cognizant that white privilege is that standard, and discuss how many whites fear losing it? But sharing power can be transformative for whites, in a good way.

   The question supplies its own answer, very articulately. We would only add our firm conviction that sharing power is not only good for individuals, but for society as a whole, and specifically for the economy.

    When a white male says that it’s time we move beyond color (with the assumption that he really “gets it”), do you agree?

   No.  It is true, and a source of joy in this context, that our president and governor are both African American. And without a doubt the tone of race relations in Massachusetts is far better than it was 40 years ago.  But too many sectors are still lily-white, or nearly so, unemployment among persons of color is unacceptably high, and not only do racial gaps persist in education, health outcomes, wealth and many other indicators, but many are actually widening. This is not a situation to move beyond.


A Conversation with Governor Patrick and Georgianna Melendez, Executive Director of Commonwealth Compact

This conversation takes us through what it was like to implement the mission of diversifying our leadership in state government in Massachusetts. Governor Patrick talks about why, how, challenges and surprises.

From a 2010 CEO Corner Interview on NECN

While this was filmed in June of 2010, the message is still true. Forgive me for my initial brain freeze…television can make one nervous, though I am much better at this now. Thanks to Bob for the save.

CEO Corner video click here

The website has changed.
For information about our programs: http://www.umb.edu/commonwealth_compact/
For the Talent Network: http://www.commonwealthcompact.com

Please contact us with any questions or requests:


“Firing employees for racist behavior – what would you do?”

What would you do?  It is a question employers  face every day.  Some take action and some do not.  Which are you?

In the past few weeks we have read about a Leominster police officer, John Perreault, being investigated for allegedly yelling a racist remark at baseball player Carl Crawford.  That investigation turned up an apparent pattern of public racist comments.  He was fired.

Then, Paraskevi Papachristou, a Greek triple jumper, was expelled from her Olympic Team for a racist tweet.

In yet another instance, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella was expelled for posting a racist message on Twitter.

All of these individuals are, in their respective fields, public figures. All are role models. Their stories send a strong message and a recurring reminder that what one does — whether as a private citizen or on the job — can have devastating effect on employment status.

What would you have done?  As an employer, given a similar scenario in your workplace, what would you do?  How much responsibility or opportunity do you see in this?  What specifically would prompt you to react?  What specific type(s) of action would you take?

Why do you think some employees get fired, some get slapped on the wrist and others experience no consequences for similar behavior?

With social media, our personal lives and our work lives collide in ways that we have never had to deal with before.  It makes us more vulnerable and exposed and yet it adds a layer of responsibility on employers.

We are interested in your responses.

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last night, I was honored to be able to share a message in memory of Dr. King’s legacy.  Inspired by one of his many quotes, the message was one of personal responsibility.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Injustice is only allowed to both prevail and thrive because we allow it to do so.  So much of what happens is witnessed by the “good” and allowed to continue because the “bad” are not held accountable.  From what is seemingly harmless to the outright criminal, unjust behavior is unjust.

We all affect and are affected by our community, however you define community.  When something happens to someone else, there is some impact on us, whether we are aware of it or not.

Last night, the Town of Danvers Diversity Committee went above and beyond by recognizing the efforts of members of their community for taking on the unjust and doing something to create change.  We all have the capacity affect the life of another person.  We choose through our action, or inaction, just what that impact will be.  I challenge you to be a positive influence in the life of others.  Don’t turn a blind eye to the marginalization of your  neighbors, co-workers, family members.  Learn how to engage and take on the difficult task of holding each other accountable.  It is the only way the world will truly change.

Remember that silence translates to the action of allowing injustice to prevail.

YOU can make a difference.  You can also acknowledge the every day efforts and courage that people around you show…don’t wait for a special day, once a year.  Lift each other up and be LOUD.


Thank you Danvers, for honoring the legacy of Dr. King and thank you to the honorees for being brave and taking a stand in all of the ways you were able to make a difference.  Please click on the link for more information on the honorees.

Best Practices in Cross Cultural Mentoring

By Phyllis Barajas

What we understood about talent in the work place, how we identify “­high potentials”–those designated as the heir apparent– are changing as the pipeline of talent is shifting from majority to minority/women.    The 2010 Census confirms that more metro areas than ever are becoming minority majority cities.  Boston continues to be a majority minority city and growing with 53% of the population non-white or Hispanic and 47% white non-Hispanic.

As more professionals of color and women enter the workforce and move up to middle management our assumptions about how our companies and organizations identify, select and mentor will need to be reassessed and new approaches adopted. Greater attention must be paid to how these matches are made and the individuals prepared for a mentor relationship. Traditional mentor/mentee matches have been majority / majority.  Implicit in this dynamic is the assumption that they have more in common, (i.e.  shared values, way of looking at things, and approaches to the work effort).

Mentoring with Fixed Assumptions. We look at the world through our own set of perceptual lens that color how we see things and what we believe to be true.  For many majority culture mentors their own experience with diverse professionals has been limited. One mentor recently noted that he had never met or interacted with “a person of color until I left the state I grew up in to go to college” and he went on “my career in the financial industry has not afforded me many opportunities to meet and get to know very many diverse professionals”.

Win-Win Mentoring Dynamic.  How then will this experience or lack thereof add to or inhibit the ability of a mentor and mentee to establish rapport or trust? Both are necessary if they are to explore the mentee’s potential.  The door this question opens up can lead to a positive experience in which TWO WAY mentoring occurs.  Mentees get a first-hand view at the mentor’s experience, skills, advice and professional networks while the mentor learns about the mentee’s mindset, environment and perspectives.  When pairs are from different cultures, mutual learning is amplified as they both need to become aware of each other’s dominant culture and incorporate it in the mentoring experience.

In the end, a two-way mentoring approach, grounded in a cross-cultural experience,  provides a more relevant leadership development strategy that will effectively address the needs of a rapidly changing talent pool.