Image credit: Tim Mossholder

George Floyd was murdered when a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground, knelt on his neck, cut off his airway and suffocated him. As with Eric Garner killed by a New York police officer in 2014, Floyd’s last words were “I can’t breathe”.

This was the news this week. Once again, I sat at home in London scrolling through social media, witnessing the shaky phone footage, the outrage, the protests, the fallout over another senseless murder of a black person in an American town. When 1,014 people have been shot and killed by police over the past year, with black Americans killed at twice the rate of white Americans, is this news? These figures do not account for victims killed by suffocation, as was the case with Floyd and Garner.

Watching this unfold through the lens of my social media, the coverage is mixed in with recipes for vegan lasagna and CEO’s touting the hiring of a new D&I chief or donation of laptops to disadvantaged communities. I see praise and positivity alongside mediated police brutality, in a context of structural racism. This juxtaposition mimics the ambivalence I’ve felt over the past few years, witnessing an apparent epidemic of police brutality while going about my day. As usual, the internet, more specifically writer @quintabrunson on a microblogging platform, has better articulated my feelings than I can:

How do I absorb these stories, and go on with my day around people who may or may not be as moved and outraged as I am? It’s similar to the work of diversity advocacy, trying to articulate the unique experiences of underrepresented groups, structural oppressions and disadvantages they face. And then working with those who hold power and influence to fix it, and act as true allies. It takes attention, patience and engagement. It takes optimism and showing up, even when that feels impossible. 

Our socially mediated world allows us to connect news stories in Minneapolis with global structural inequities. We can pay attention and act from afar, but also give patience and attention to each other in our own communities. In the workplace, our BAME employees need support and recognition for the emotional labor and anxiety caused by triggering news, like the murder of George Floyd. Whether we witness prejudice or racism in the news or firsthand, it hurts. That’s where allyship isn’t a “nice to have”, a talking point or a social media brag, it is required. We can show up for each other and we can show up from afar.

A few suggestions:

  • Follow George Floyd’s family attorney Benjamin Crump on social media

  • Make a donation to the George Floyd memorial fund, supporting costs for funeral and burial expenses, mental and grief counseling, lodging and travel for all court proceedings.

Frank Starling is the Founder and MD of Variety Pack.

Updated: May 30, 2020

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Why choose one?

Among those privileged to work from home during these times, growing tired of Zoom calls, trying yet another new recipe for baked cheesecake (because why not), getting used to my favourite furry officemate, my dog Nero, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my work, in between working. My work of advocating and creating action plans for Diversity and Inclusion at global organisations. What does this mean? 

We’ve all been talking about Diversity & Inclusion for a decade and a half. We’ve discussed what comes first, “diversity, then inclusion,” or “inclusion, then diversity,” a philosophical chicken or egg broken record player (messy). While global leaders have been racking their brains on how to “hack D&I,” no one has gotten anywhere. We struggle to see diversity in our boardrooms and C-Suite. Countless opinion pieces continue to come out describing a sense of exclusion, even when underrepresented groups do reach top positions. So with all this talk of diversity and inclusion, it’s hard to claim that we are making headway in either area.

So what’s missing? What are we getting wrong? For a long time, I’ve struggled with this concept of inclusion as it is practised at the organisations I work with. Inclusion, “an act of taking in as part of a whole”, suggests blending. However, why are we trying to minimise or blend our differences, when we ultimately want diversity? When we pair diversity with inclusion, we are demanding two, potentially opposing goals.

What does this look like now? One of the first actions organisations take when seriously committing to a D&I plan is to set up Employee Resource Groups, ERGs. While helpful in creating platforms to discuss shared experiences in the workplace among underrepresented groups, including people of colour, women, people with disabilities, these breakout groups can further isolate and divide organisations. Set apart from the rest of the organisation, these structurally marginalised ERGs are left to “fix” their organisation’s D&I problem. These groups discuss ways of further inclusion into an organisation, while being excluded from the leadership table.

Instead of Inclusion, I propose Integration. How do we live and honour our differences as valuable to an organisation, rather than something to minimise? Bear with me, I’ve got a story.

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my dear Mum had to feed her ravenous rapidly growing boy, keeping the pantry stocked as I ate my way through it. A staple was cereal, but one kind was not enough. She kept me happy with the variety packs of mini boxes of cereal- Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, Cornflakes. Not just to mix it up, but because one box was not enough for me, I’d eat three in a sitting. Why choose one? Coco Pops, Rice Krispies, Cornflakes, all as different as can be and all uniquely valuable in my giant cereal bowl (you’re giggling, but I am serious). While my taste in food has become more sophisticated (mostly), an appreciation for variety (and cereal) still stands. And that’s how Variety Pack came to be. 

When people feel integrated and supported because of, not in spite of their differences, we may be on to something.

Frank Starling is Founder and MD of Variety Pack

Updated: May 27, 2020

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said “luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” This is a rather logical explanation for luck, and has made its rounds in the corporate world. To me, this means to say that luck isn’t something that just happens, we create it for ourselves, meeting opportunity with preparation. Applying for a new job opportunity, taking advantage of a scholarship to return to school for a degree or certification. In these cases, the opportunity is the job or scholarship, and our preparation is what helps us earn it.

But what about when you don’t have the job opportunity because you lack the professional network that might share it with you. What if your financial responsibilities are so strained, that you cannot take time off of work to study? The opportunities that we have access to are not the same because the circumstances in which we live vary wildly.

According to the UK’s Child Poverty Action Group, 45% of all children born into minority ethnic families are living in poverty; 47% of children in lone-parent families are in poverty; and 70% of poor children are in poverty. Surely the circumstances these children must overcome to attend good schools, university and ultimately get well-paid jobs are different from those born into more privileged families. The opportunities these children have based on the families they were born into will be fewer and far between.

So what? I bring this up not to proclaim that life is not fair, but rather to emphasize the role of luck in the paths our lives take based on the opportunities we are given. In the corporate and entrepreneurial world, we like to think of our success as earned single-handedly based on our drive within a meritocratic system. Few in this world like to attribute success to luck, because luck cannot be counted.

But I have a hunch that recognizing the role of luck in our workplaces can help us be more compassionate and open to our employees and colleagues. If we assume that the pay we earn, the promotions we’re given and the jobs we land are given purely based on our independent merit, then we assume that all for whom these opportunities have eluded simply didn’t work as hard.

Vox’s David Roberts asked “How much credit do we deserve for who, and where, we end up?” He suggests that the way in which we answer reveals a lot about our moral worldviews. The more credit/responsibility we give to ourselves and others, the more likely you are to believe “people get what they deserve,” ignoring the circumstances into which they were born, including wealth, ethnicity, sex and ability. The less credit we believe we are due, being shaped by outside forces, the more compassionate we can be towards ourselves and others. It is this compassion that can help us build empathy for others.

Understanding intersections of circumstances that are not our own requires effort, empathy and motivation to want to include others. This kind of understanding is crucial in the knowledge economy because of the collaboration needed in our shared workplaces. This understanding helps us to remove barriers shaped by bias, and the unhelpful presumption that “we get what we deserve.” When we show up to work with the compassion for the diverse circumstances of our colleagues, the parent who was late dropping their child off at school, the colleague who was harassed on her way into the office, the new-hire who had a 90-minute commute, we move towards better workplaces of compassion.

Frank Starling is Founder and MD of Variety Pack


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