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We need leaders who boldly champion inclusion | June Sarpong
TED Talks Daily
You're listening to TED Talk Daily. I'm Elise Hugh. Workplaces these days seem to talk a lot about diversity and inclusion, and it sounds good, but are they walking the walk? In her 2022 talk from TED at BCG, diversity leader June Sarpong shines a light on the diversity disruptors in business and sport, and how they did it as inspirations to push toward noticeable change. That's after the break.
Hey, TED Talk Daily listeners. I'm Adam Grant. I host another podcast from the TED Audio Collective. It's called Workplaces, and it's about the science of making work not suck.
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When we think of our modern day successful entrepreneurs and corporate leaders, the thing they all have in common is they excel at the general cut and thrust of business.
Outsmarting the competition, growing the bottom line, creating a superior product or service.
But to become a business rock star that rarefied category of a name we all never admire, you need something else.
General good business acumen isn't enough. The thing the rock stars all having common is they disrupt businesses usual.
They look at things the way they are and say to themselves, nah, that's not it. Consider how we used to search and how cumbersome the process was.
Sergei Bryn and Larry Page completely transformed the way we find things and each other, and even how we buy things.
And what about coffee? For many of us, our morning brew was a rather dull experience until Howard Schultz built Starbucks for a community of people who wanted fancy varied social coffee.
And of course, I can't forget Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, two men who took computers from nerdy labs and enter our homes and in the case of jobs are palms too.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, don't worry, I will be coming to that in a minute.
So if innovators, I know you're thinking, so if innovators like these can do all this, then I believe they are up for a new challenge.
A challenge that no one in business has fully cracked yet. So today, I want to talk to you about why I think why I feel we need a rock star.
The diversity and inclusion agenda is one that most of us are sold on. We know it boost creativity and profits and generally makes our lives richer.
We've known this for a very long time, but if we're honest, progress has been slow.
Nearly 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs are white males, and in the UK where I'm from, they account for 90.4% of the top 20 roles in FTSE 100 companies.
Now that's the status quo that is ripe for disruption.
Disrupters are not afraid of doing the difficult. They push through discomfort. When others doubt, they see a better, more exciting, new way.
A new way that others then emulate, a new way that eventually becomes the norm.
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, we need bold disruptors who are uncomfortable with the status quo.
Even if the status quo benefits them, in fact, especially if the status quo benefits them.
Now the general thinking around D&I is that we have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.
But as a step before this often overlooked, before uncomfortable conversations, must come uncomfortable connections.
And that's something I know a little about.
I get paid. Sometimes, anyway, I get paid to do the two things that most people are uncomfortable doing.
Public speaking and talking to strangers.
Now the thing is, when I was a kid, my report card read must talk less, luckily I didn't listen.
So for the past 25 years, I have been working in television.
The first is on a talent more recently as an executive focusing on D&I.
My work as a host has meant that I've had to learn how to build meaningful connections quickly with all kinds of people from very different backgrounds.
But it hasn't always been easy.
There are new logical and anthropological reasons why we gravitate towards people that remind us of ourselves.
There are spoken codes of familiarity, codes that make us feel safe.
We see this everywhere, conferences, lunch halls, parties, even places of worship.
Now there's a palpable feeling you get when you don't connect with someone.
It's awkward, it's horrible, and you just want it to be over.
But if you push through to find common ground even if it's small, just to get to the breaks through, that's when the magic happens.
And something changes in both people.
A game changing moment came for me early on in my career when I was interviewing a high profile actress who shall remain nameless.
She was starring in a movie that was considered quite controversial at the time.
And as a result, had been subjected to countless insulting interviews.
So by the time I got round to her, things were tense.
And to make matters worse, we had absolutely nothing in common to fall back on.
With her being a high profile, a list actress, and me an up and coming host.
In that moment, I knew I had two choices.
One to carry on as we were, which would have been very uncomfortable for us both,
and probably ended in the interview being cut short.
Or two, try and find a breakthrough.
Now this was a well seasoned actress, and it wasn't a particularly big budget movie.
So I knew there had to be a big reason as to why she'd accepted the role in the first place.
So I decided to focus on the character rather than the controversy.
And she immediately opened up.
And we were able to have a deep and thoughtful conversation that was actually enjoyable for us both.
And she even thanked me at the end.
I learnt so much from that encounter in terms of what can happen when you don't give up on an uncomfortable connection.
And how powerful it can be for both people.
To this very day, that moment still serves as a template for me of what to do.
Whenever I find myself in a similar situation.
Now if we are to move society forward, this is a journey we all have to make.
However, I believe when it comes to the workplace, those with the most power and agency must make the biggest leap first.
Let me tell you about John Landgraph, the CEO of FX.
In 2015, variety magazine wrote a scabing article about the least diverse networks in America in relation to directors.
All at the bottom of what was a pretty bad list was FX.
Out of the 168 episodes that had aired on FX and FX, between 2014 and 2015, 88% were directed by white men.
5% by white women, 7% by men of color, and 0% by women of color.
What happened next was interesting.
Instead of doing the usual corporate thing of trying to defend the indefensible,
rather, Landgraph held up his hand and pledged to diverse creatives that he was going to act and act quickly at that.
So he and his team set about putting together a concrete plan which included a significant financial investment in diverse creatives and in their suppliers to find higher nurture and develop diverse creatives from industries where there were transferable skills, such as music videos, advertising and theatre.
Within a year, Landgraph had turned FX from being the least diverse network in America to one of the most, and they had also managed to increase their diverse directing pool to just over half.
Critical and commercial success would follow, with hits such as Atlanta and better things, and there would also be an upsurge in paid subscriptions.
All because Landgraph stopped following the crowd and instead decided to disrupt in an inclusive way.
I would call that rock star behavior, just saying. Now someone else that I think is already a rock star in more ways than one is Garra Southgate, the current England men's team football manager.
Now before becoming England manager, Southgate was a soccer player himself.
In the early 1990s and 2000s, and witnessed firsthand the racist abuse his colleagues of colour were subjected to, with monkey chance being screamed at them during matches and banana pills thrown onto the pitch.
This searing knowledge would serve Southgate well when he became the custodian of the careers of a new generation of England players. He knew he wanted to create a better work for his players, so he educated himself on racial injustice.
Then did the same with the whole team, by bringing in Owen Eastwood, a New Zealand performance coach whose modern day interpretation of the Maori philosophy, Waka Papa, we are all connected there for we all belong, would become embedded in the sikings of the whole team.
Now this England squad was like nothing the country had ever seen before, vibrant with swagger as the young people would say, ethnically diverse and aligned to movements such as BLM.
So when American players led by Colin Kaepernick decided to take the knee, Southgate's players did so too, in solidarity.
A public backlash ensued. Rather than bow to public pressure, Southgate penned an open letter to the nation, saying,
I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice and so do the players.
It's their duty to continue to interact with the public or matter such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.
There would soon be another moment of truth. When three of his black players, Marcus Rashford, Bakaya Sarko and Jaden Sancho, missed their penalties in the Euro's finals.
A barrage of torrid racist abuse would follow. Again, Southgate stepped up and not only defended his players, but took the blame as coach.
And the beautiful thing that also happened was because of the education piece that had gone before, the whole team rallied around the players, seeing an attack on one, as an attack on the more.
The unequivocal solidarity that Gav Southgate has been able to create within this England team is truly a profile in courage. The level of emotional intelligence and understanding that he has displayed means that he is now leading one of the most unified sports teams in modern times.
There is no reason this can't be a template for business too. There are hierarchies of inclusion that exist in every society, with those at the top, on the inside, and those at the bottom cast outside.
I grew up in London as the daughter of African immigrants, so I know what it feels like to disrupt the world the way it is and to break through. As a working class black woman, somehow I had a different vision for myself than the one the world had created for me.
Fortunately, we are now starting to see more and more women of color progress, but it shouldn't be on us.
I know many of you will have noticed, because I saw your faces, I know you did, that the list of business leaders that I opened my talk with were all white men, and all white men from mainly affluent backgrounds at that.
There is an acquaintance. No one group has a monopoly on talent or ability, but as a result of the detrimental impact of imperialism and colonialism, up until very recently, and these from a Western perspective, this group has had a monopoly on access and opportunity.
We are heading into some very turbulent times economically, and socially we are at a crossroads too. In the past, difficult times has often meant that diversity and inclusion has been put on a back burner.
You now is the time for us to dig deeper. We know inclusion grows the bottom line, and the leaders who truly understand this will be the ones that not only win, but win the right way.
So, these innovators, these guys, these rock stars who have taken on everything from computing to commerce to coffee, only because of them disrupting equity too, to look at the world the way it is, just like Garif and John did, say to themselves, nah, that's not it.
I don't know about you, but those are the kind of rock stars I want to see. Thank you.
I guess at TED.com.
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