Racial Justice: Insights from HBR — A book review by Bob Morris

Racial Justice: Insights You Need from Harvard Business Review 
Various Contributors
Harvard Business Review Press (December 2020)

“Justice delayed is justice denied.” William E. Gladstone

This is one of the first volumes in a new series published by Harvard Business Review Press. Each offers hundreds of cutting-edge insights within a business field of greatest importance at a time when the global marketplace is more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can recall. In this instance, the field is racial justice, one of several essential dimensions of [begin italics] human [end italics] justice.

Each volume anthologizes HBR articles that are among the most relevant and of greatest value. There are eight in this volume that focus on racial justice, following a superb Introduction by Robert W. Livingston. In terms of value, if all eight were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be about $75. Amazon now sells a softbound copy of this volume for only $17.98. That’s better than a bargain. That’s a steal.

Any of the eight articles is worth far more than the cost of the complete book. (That’s also true of all of the other HBR anthologies.)  For example:

o Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington prepare their reader to achieve meaningful change by avoiding three missteps while taking three specific actions. They lock in on the most important dos and don’ts.

o Mark R. Kramer reviews ten “concrete commitments” that any company can make to achieve racial equity within and beyond their workplace culture. The success of these commitments requires full support C-level executives as well as wide and deep buy-in at all other levels.

o Laura Morgan Roberts and Anthony J. Mayo explain why and how, “to maximize the human potential of everyone in the workplace, organizations should take three specific steps toward racial justice.” The material they provide will help acceklerate personal growth and professional development throughout the given enterprise.

o Joan C. Williams and James D. White insist that efforts to dismantle structural racism often fail because they don’t address subtle and persistent forms of bias. Instead, companies “must take action to con front and change the structures that reinforce racism.” They recommend and explain a “four-component DE&I model.”

o Maxine Williams suggests that “people analytics can [and should] replace gut decisions with data-driven ones, but firms often say that they don’t have enough people from marginalized groups  in their data sets to produce reliable insights. Employers can take [specific] steps to supplement small n’s [i.e. sample sizes] and have a better chance of improving diversity and inclusion.”

o Stephanie Creary observes, “Black employees feel that they have not been adequately heard, understood, or granted opportunities to the same extent as their white peers. People of different backgrounds — particularly people managers — can become better workplace allies by following four practices.” They are comprised in an acronym, LEAP, for the framework of four practices that Creary thoroughly explains.

o Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo point out, “Companies spend millions on antibias training each year in hopes of creating more-inclusive workforces, but these programs rarely deliver. Although bias itself is devilishly hard to change, it is not as difficult to interrupt.” Williams and Mihaylo recommend several practices that managers can use “to counter bias as part of their everyday work.”

o James Detert and Laura Morgan Roberts focus on five strategies you can use ‘to improve your chances for leading change from within, mitigating risk of rejection, and preserving your career options and mental health.”

Perhaps the best way to look at a book such as this, an anthology of HBR‘s best articles, is to pretend that you and your business associates are struggling (without much success) to compete with companies that are speaking out forcefully against racism. They’ve made unprecedented commitments to equity and launched ad campaigns and task forces to counter racism, especially anti-Black racism. Obviously,  you cannot retain a team of cutting-edge thinkers in this field to address key issues. However, most of what you need — information, insights, and counsel — is provided in this 131-page operations manual. You can purchase a copy from Amazon for only $17.87.

It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among those most highly-admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable, with the greatest cap value in their industry segment.

C-level executives in those companies are committed to the organizational form of servant leadership, a concept that Robert K. Greenleaf explains in an essay published in 1970. “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.

“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“

Leaders in all organizations — whatever their size and nature may be — will derive substantial benefit from the information, insights, and counsel provided in this very special book. If you share my high regard for it, I hope you will check out other anthologies of classic HBR articles.

Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.