Shortly after George Floyd’s murder, Dr. Bella Washington co-authored an article for the Harvard Business Review titled: “U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism.” This is now the context that sets the tone for her new book.
However, The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion is far more than a polemic against racism. Rather it is a deep exploration of the journey, stage-by-stage, that a range of well-known companies have taken towards achieving significant and sustainable diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals.
As such it offers valuable guidance and motivation for any organization committed to creating an inclusive environment where all employees can thrive on equal terms—to their and the organization's mutual benefit.
While racial equality, gender diversity and social justice generally should be corporate priorities, it is important that they are not viewed by business leaders as part of some vague utopian vision—consequently relegated to boxes to be ticked or even ignored in a backlash.
It is essential that the business-positive, performance enhancing aspects of DEI are emphasized—and seen as a key part of the prize at the end of the journey. DEI done right can create great places to work, improve employees’ wellbeing and performance, provide access to untapped talent, bring the company closer to its customer base, and greatly enrich the organization’s capacity for diverse critical thinking and innovation.
Dr. Ella F. Washington is an organizational psychologist, founder of the DEI consultancy Ellavate Solutions, and Professor of Practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. As a black woman who has worked for many years in the corporate world, she is only too aware of the barriers to DEI, not to mention the outright racism, sexism and homophobia that exists in places. But she has seen significant progress over the years and is optimistic about the future.
The core message of her book is that the journey from good intentions to truly establishing a diverse and inclusive workplace with a mature DEI culture is hard, requiring invention and reinvention, trial and error, humility, adaption to a changing world, constant rethinking, and some trade-offs and sacrifices. A difficult but always a necessary journey—for which Washington provides a simple map. Each journey is divided into five stages:
- Awareness – realizing why DEI matters to the organization
- Compliance – meeting legal requirements and doing DEI “because we have to”
- Tactical – fitting DEI into overall company goals
- Integration – creating alignment between DEI efforts externally (brand image) and internally (employee reality). This is notoriously where Nike got it wrong
- Sustainability – DEI systems and culture that can survive business cycles, strategy changes, and changes of leadership.
The majority of the book is taken up by nine chapters—narratives of the DEI journey taken by nine individual companies. The leaders of these companies, which include Best Buy, Infosys, PwC, Slack, and Sodexo, share their experiences with Washington, detailing their successes, failures and lessons learned at the five different stages. These unique mini case studies provide practical guidance for other business leaders, either planning to take this essential journey, or more likely as a way to benchmark what progress they have currently made.
‘The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion’, Ella F. Washington. Published by Harvard Business Review, 2022, ISBN 978-1-64782-128-9