Progress is the path; equality is the destination.

*This is an excerpt from the article “Opening The Door” by Blair Potter, featured in the January 2021 edition of The Meeting Professional. Read the full article here.

The killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by police officers in Minneapolis in May 2020 led to worldwide protests against racism and police brutality. Melissa Majors, CEO of Melissa Majors Consulting, says many companies felt compelled to prove their commitment to diversity and inclusion urgently because of the swift societal shift.

“They hired chief diversity officers, made statements in solidarity, invested in training, created employee resource groups, etc.,” says Majors, who has dedicated her career to maximizing the business impact of education, inclusion and leadership strategies. “Research suggests that if these actions are based on a moral reaction vs. a long-term business need, the priority and potential impact will likely fade when the next crisis arises.”

She says 2020 sparked an awakening in many who previously believed racism no longer existed.

“I’ve had countless conversations with friends, colleagues and clients who were overwhelmed with shame and guilt for being oblivious to racial injustice,” Majors says. “I’ve had just as many conversations with people who became even more convicted that racism isn’t pervasive. They think all people are treated equally, and anyone who believes otherwise is playing identity politics.”

She says a company’s success relies on its ability to innovate, especially in times like these when reinvention is paramount.

“Growth-minded leaders have vision and behaviors that transcend their personal opinion, political views and biases,” Majors says. “They recognize the business imperative of being inclusive and operationalize it in process, collaboration, values and business development.”

Gwen Migita, vice president of social impact, sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion for Caesars Entertainment, says the company made a shift toward prioritizing race and gender equity in 2017. She says the events of 2020 have enabled the company to refresh its approach to commitments among various diverse groups.

“It has even opened the door for me and other diversity officers to talk more openly about race in the workforce,” she says. “How do you talk about race in the workplace? How do you talk about it in a way that’s productive and healthy and talk about feelings and empathy in the workplace?”

Caesars Entertainment’s longtime diversity partner the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) worked with the company’s employee resource group for Black executives and managers to produce a virtual town hall to talk about racial justice.

“How are people feeling in the workplace? How are our team members feeling supported or protected in the community by our new company leadership? When it comes to these feelings of injustice, or justice in some cases, we have different views,” Migita says. “That dynamic, that comfort with tension and having courageous conversations, is a series that we have evolved this year into national town halls.”

She says monthly town hall topics range from how people hide and cover nonphysical disabilities in the workforce to the rise of hate crimes (the topic for January 2021). The town hall with NOBLE included staff members sharing their personal stories, including Dishone, who runs the special response team and previously served as a community engagement officer in Milwaukee.

“He shared his feelings about how people perceive him to be two different people and how he’s told by the community, ‘You can’t be Black and blue at the same time’ and how he reconciles that difference as a manger in our workforce,” Migita says. “There’s a lot of that type of stress that our team members are going through.”

Melissa Majors says that while we are making progress toward racial justice, we have not arrived.

“We must sustain the commitment and work needed to unwind racial injustice. Progress is the path; equality is the destination,” she says. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

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