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In Practice

How Can a Company Remove Racism From Its Practices? Part 2

A Black woman in professional dress talks to a white man just out of frame

Companies spend a lot of time and money on implementing DEI. But what works and what doesn’t? James White, the former CEO of Jamba Juice, and daughter Krista White, a DEI expert, have written a book called Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World.

BRINK began by asking them what they say to companies who say that DEI is not core to business success. The first part of the conversation can be found here.

JAMES WHITE: I’d point to 2020 and the racial reckoning that followed the start of the pandemic. I think that changed everything on a global basis. The next generation in the workforce is going to make choices on where they work that are based on their identity. I think we’ve got a generation of both consumers and employees that are going to hold us all accountable differently. 

One of the things we talk about in the book, and I think 2020 exposed this in a couple of different dimensions, is that there are management teams and boards and leaders that are built for this moment and built to be able to execute from this perspective. There are many that just don’t have the capability, the emotional intelligence, and that’s going to show up, in my opinion, over time and in the results.

KRISTA WHITE: I agree that it’s going to be a needed capability if people want to stay relevant and want to be able to compete with the best companies. It certainly can be a tough sell for people and I think acknowledging that these conversations are difficult is important. 

The need for the CEO to be involved:

Does Diversity Training Work?

BRINK: I want to ask you both about diversity training. We spoke to Pamela Newkirk from NYU, who did some interesting research around diversity training and found that sometimes it can have unintended consequences of actually making things worse because it creates resentments among white people who are forced to go through it.

JAMES WHITE: We’ve definitely seen the outcomes that Pamela talks about, and we fundamentally believe that’s one of the flaws in just throwing training tactically at a topic.

This work is foundationally about our culture, and the CEO can never delegate culture, so that’s the first point that I’d make. The second point is that the work needs to be embedded in the values of the organization in a material way, and this gets back to the point around structures, process, symbols, rituals. They all need to be knit together in a way that is consistent with the values and culture that the company ultimately wants to build.

Only after a company has done the critical work in those areas would I deploy training. I think the lazy way to do this work is to hire consultants off the shelf, have them come do some training and just drop it into the organization without context. You actually do more harm than good that way.

BRINK: What about hiring — does hiring blind with no names have a noticeable impact?

JAMES WHITE: I think anything that you can do to try to remove bias from any of the systems for hiring or promotion have the potential to be helpful. The thing I would emphasize more is making sure that we’ve got representative pipelines as we’re thinking about hiring and recruiting. That companies get outside of their comfort zone and look to non-overlapping networks to try to drive greater diversity and representation into their organizations. This is a body of work that you need to commit to that really advantages and benefits the organization and ultimately allows you to build a stronger culture in the company.

KRISTA WHITE: As we’ve seen, technology can be a very powerful source of good, and it can be very dangerous. Just keeping your eye on the types of technology you’re using and making sure that you don’t want to completely outsource this work to AI. 

Hiring blind and AI:

The only thing I would add is just to build on the idea of understanding your cultural context, and it’s going to be different regionally, too, within the U.S. 

People in the U.S. sometimes have trouble doing that, but there are very complex — whether it’s racial or ethnic — systems in place that might be similar to ours, but have very unique needs. Different countries have a different relationship to race and gender than we do. It’s important for us as people in the U.S. to acknowledge that whether it’s a global company or a company that’s just based outside of the U.S., that our point of view isn’t the only one. 

James D. White

Co-author of "Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World"

James D. White is the former chair, president, and CEO of Jamba Juice. He is the author, with his daughter Krista, of Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World (Harvard Business Review Press, 2022).

Krista White

Co-author of "Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Corporate Culture in a Race-Conscious World"

Krista White is a writer and consultant in the DEI space, focusing on work at the intersection of race and queerness. She is the founder and CEO of Kiki For The Future and the co-founder of Culture Design Lab, two DEI-focused startups.

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