Last week, UK-based diversity expert Dr. Jonathan Ashong-Lamptey and I hosted our European portfolio companies in a wide-ranging conversation on inequality and race. Together with General Partner Tom Hulme, we had a frank discussion about shifting perceptions of diversity, ways companies can commit to anti-racism, and outlined a framework for having hard conversations.
Jonathan shared four themes he thinks all companies should address:
1. The perception of diversity is shifting.
With ongoing acts of racial injustice around the world, diversity has taken center stage. In this environment, we see many terms being used — diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equity, to name a few — sometimes not taking into account what such words actually mean. Diversity is a management approach that recognizes that as individuals we have differences, and that there is value in those differences, Jonathan explained; inclusion is part of a systematic business strategy meant to help everyone reach their potential. A newer phrase that has entered the workplace is anti-racism, defined as "supporting anti-racist policies through action," which requires a very strong commitment. As he said, "It's not enough to be doing nothing; you have to be doing something."
Jonathan also observed that business leaders can and should promote inclusion, manage diversity, and commit to anti-racism.
2. Address diversity internally.
Jonathan advised that companies can start addressing central issues that all organizations face when trying to become inclusive by asking these questions:
People: Is this a place where everyone can perform?
Potential: Can we create a culture where people can reach their full potential?
Performance: What is our business case for increasing diversity?
He added that research has consistently shown diverse workplaces will have a business advantage, but each company must develop its own business case and make it work for that organization as part of its strategy.
3. Frame hard conversations around a shared reference point.
As Jonathan explained, we cannot come up with a consistent definition of race, though there are critical outcomes attached to racial identity. It's not useful to say, "your definition of race is not the same as mine" — but we can agree that there are shared meanings attached to these terms. Find a common reference point — a book, a podcast, an article — and use it to build knowledge around what perceptions of racism are and how we interpret them.
4. Speak the local language of diversity.
As I learned during my time working in diversity strategy in Switzerland and across Europe, approaches to diversity vary widely country by country. You still have to have these conversations, but take the time to understand cultural context. Not only do regional demographics and basic terminology change, but so does the fundamental philosophy towards diversity and inclusion. When discussing global EDI initiatives, Jonathan emphasized that using a "copy and paste" approach from one region to another won't work.
We're grateful for Jonathan's insights on this vital topic, and to our portfolio leaders for coming together to do the work that will lead to meaningful progress toward a more equitable and just future for everyone.