“If we get AI right it is the last frontier for humanity. Everything beyond AI will invent and create on our behalf beyond that.” ~Mo Gawdat, Former Chief Business Officer of Google X
How does this statement sit with you? Right now, there is a lot of concern about artificial intelligence (AI) will impact work and more importantly our world. A lot of it is cause for concern and yet there is a part of me that remains hopeful that only the very best will come of this next frontier in technology and human civilization.
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting in a Q&A session with Mo. If I’m honest with myself, I went to his keynote on “moonshot thinking”, his breakout session on “happiness” and then came for more via his Q&A wth the media/analyst crew. His position on AI is palatable and realistic. His perspective on humanity breathtaking. Mo shared that “Technology has never really taken away jobs.” It reminded me of something I have been sharing with HR professionals around our progressive steps towards cognitive technology. Change is inevitable and with every technological advancement there has always been a shift and dropoff. Older less efficient jobs drop off and more efficient ways of operating and living emerge. It isn’t something to be scared of, it is a shift to participate in.
In HR, we have survived just barely by adapting to the changes and shifts in business. This next shift towards smarter technologies is one where we will not simply be able to adapt and survive. We need to be a driving force, steerer of the wheel, participant in a societal shift. That means rather than worry about all of the ways we stand to lose in a world of AI, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Robots that we imagine all of the ways we could be more efficient and valuable.
My friendly advice:
1) Learn more about the emerging technologies so you aren’t blindsided by what’s to come.
2) Offer up time and resources to make it better. There is no HR Tech without the HR community. You should want to improve what is out there for the sake of our industry.
3) Start thinking about new ways to add value. That is to say, if some of your day-to-day duties get delegated to technology tomorrow, what else can you do to serve your respective organizations?
It’s about building capacity and capabilities. Let’s focus less on where we will lack as an industry and make some decisions on where we can increase our value.
Speaking of places where we can increase our value, Mo is no longer with Google X. He left that post on the heels of losing his beloved son, Ali. In return, he made a profound and selfless decision to help people become more happy. In fact, he has a goal of helping one billion people become happy over the next five years.
While we can’t completely own the process of another person’s happiness, I believe we have a huge impact on it in the workplace as HR professionals. His call-to-action of working towards happiness is one you don’t normally find at an HR conference. Nonetheless, it resonated with me, because I have been on a personal mission to focus on happiness in all aspects of my life.
In my Growth on my Terms podcast episode below, you will hear Mo and I sharing about how less is truly more in life. He drives this point by talking about how he was wildly successful in his twenties owning everything a young man could want at the time; yet feeling woefully unfulfilled. I echoed this sentiment in sharing a snippet of the comparison I did of my own happiness when I went from working in Corporate America versus when I went to work in my business full-time.
To the point of “less is more” and speaking to the relativity of having a fortune, great job etc. at your disposaal, Mo said: “It can be harder and better at the same time.” Yes to this! He is and I am evidence that you can go through really difficult times and even within those times; things can be exponentially better than before the struggle.
All in all, Mo Gawdat is brilliant and has heart. Please take the time to listen to his discussion on life, technology and the pursuit of happiness below.
Also, I promised Mo I would get the word out about his “One Billion Happy” initiative. If you are moved after listening to his talk, please head over to: www.onebillionhappy.org. Also, check out his book and free resources on happiness at: solveforhappy.com
Disclosure: I amnot being paid by Mo or anyone on his team to make these statements. I am merely a passionate supporter of his work.
“Bureaucracy is a global thing. “ ~ Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School
I had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session Day 1 with Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School at Unleash 2018 in Vegas. Long before this Q&A, he had wooed me with his words and refreshing perspectives on the disease of bureaucracy as it pertains to the workforce.
One of the reasons why I believe I was unable to flourish in Corporate America was because of my disdain for bureaucracy and politics. “Disdain” is a strong word, but completely applicable here. It wasn’t that I was beyond adhering to the structure or constructs that existed in the organizations that I worked for. It was that those constructs and structures always felt constricting and for all intents and purposes they didn’t appear to have a positive impact on the workforce. To this point, Gary shared in our session that he thought “Very few businesses worry about the environmental costs of bureaucracy and CEO’s only recognize the cost of bureaucracy vaguely.”
The reason why businesses can’t bother to care about these environmental costs is that the function of bureaucracy is to control and maintain order. Gary suggests there are likely really great reasons why bureaucracy existed, to begin with, but maintains it isn’t very useful given the world we live in today.
To some, I may have been pre-maturely seen as an anarchist who wanted things her way and had little respect for rules. The reality is as Gary Hamel asserts: “The pressure on the employees in the US is far more impactful than anywhere else in the world. US companies have an even more transactional lens for people at work.” To put it plainly, those who participate in the US workforce are seen as expendable and a means to an end. It is this line of thinking that ensures that our employee engagement numbers never budge or budge ever so slightly year-to-year. US workers are mere cogs in the wheel and we know it. Not only do we know it, we aren’t collectively empowered to stop it, because of course money.
I was and I am currently one of those people who believe that there are alternatives to bureaucracy. In our Q&A, Gary shared: “You have to believe there are alternatives to bureaucracy. It’s hard to imagine what you haven’t seen.” There is a great conflict in the world at large, but most certainly one at work too. It is the battle of old ways of thinking versus new ways of thinking. In the former example, it is hard for older establishments to wrap their minds around any other work arrangement/relationship that isn’t grounded in having to control how people think, work and show-up. They haven’t been privy to the evidence that suggests an alternative, and even if they had seen the promise of another way of managing people; it is likely a very uncomfortable notion to imagine a workforce where people work autonomously and on their own terms without being infantilized at work.
“Why don’t people have the ability to design their own job or choose their own boss, or approve their own expenses? We are so used to people needing parents or infantilization at work. “~Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School.
Transparency for what?
Another pet peeve I have had with organizations I have been a part of was the lack of transparency. This goes hand-in-hand with the infantilization that goes on in many companies per Gary Hamel’s keynote on “Humanocracy”. Imagine for a second being an adult in every other aspect of your life. This is probably not a hard vision to conjure. You have a family that relies on you, bills, debts, and a healthy dose of responsibility. Yet, daily you report to a job that doesn’t think you worthy of sharing information that may affect your livelihood. Perhaps the business isn’t performing well financially. In most cases, that company you report to would rather cease to exist than to confide in the very people who make it profitable daily. It’s a ludicrous concept and surely antiquated. People should be trusted to show up and work as the adults that they are. Professor Hamel shared with us that: “Transparency needs to be a core principle for how we do business. Let’s be a little more open and have a little more freedom.”
What is the path forward?
“Evolutionary goals and revolutionary steps is the path forward. “
Gary challenges leaders to “employ radical business models while imagining a radically different workplace”. Questioning old hypothesis is a start as well as challenging your own embedded assumptions. Professor Hamel also maintains that we ought to “find a migration path between the past and the future”. “If you are a traditional company it is a much harder transition to moving from bureaucracy”. Aversive strategies to shifting out of bureaucracy do not work. It is about a gradual migration path”.
Some other sentiments shared by Professor Hamel worth further exploration:
- HR is the fastest growing function of the organization but has the least buy-in and respect within the organization. We need to ask ourselves why we struggle to self-actualize when this premise is true.
- The world is changing too quickly to be tied to hierarchical constructs. Why are you holding onto hierarchical constructs? Is it because it truly works for you or is it about control? It is worthy of some further exploration.
- Technology will be used to disempower more than empower.
- Technology is used to aggregate and exert control.
- Employees come first, customers’ second, shareholders last. If your employees aren’t happy, it is safe to say no one will be happy. Nurture your people first and everything else in business will flourish.
Gary is ingenious in the way he sees the world. He had a lot more to say, so as such I am sharing my Growth on my Terms podcast recording of the Gary Hamel Q&A. Have a listen and reflect on where your organization is and how you can begin to reimagine work while envisioning a gradual migration to less bureaucracy and more trusting professional ties and relationships.
Let’s start by defining what a “coon” is. A “coon” is a black person who values what white people think of them more than they care to honor their culture and the suffrage of the racial group they identify with. A “coon” seeks to be accepted and praised by white people while seemingly enjoying any and all humiliation, marginalization, bias, prejudice or mistreatment expressed towards them by white people.
“Coons” are the bud of innumerable jokes within the black community and at the same time equally loathed by others in the community. For the purpose of providing an example, Omarosa Manigault is widely known as a “coon”. She is a black woman who despite what everyone else sees as an ego-maniacal racist in our current president (who I will not name) decided to join his cabinet as Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison for the White House. To some, it just looks like she had a previous relationship with 45 and as a result of their friendship – she took a job she was offered. Sounds simple? Except, there is a little more to it if we dig deeper. I cannot say with any certainty what her specific motivations were for taking a job with the devil himself.
However, if I am to use the data that I have available, I will wager that she took the position to further her waning notoriety and influence. The fact that she did that knowing many of the disgusting views her former boss held is why she gets labeled a “coon”. Like a good “coon” she also thought as many of them do – that it would be different for her because she has presented herself as a supportive, non-threatening black woman. She was willing to sacrifice her own self-worth and maybe even some of her natural self-serving ways of being to be associated with a white supremacist. This is seen as self-hatred in the black community and while it has often been reduced to the derogatory nomenclature of “coon” this is the existential problem we are dealing with as it pertains to individuals who follow this pedigree.
In communities of color, individuals are never standing for themselves alone. As a person of color, you represent yourself and your community. It is a heavy burden to bear, but still, it is a fact-of-life we all assume and understand from an early age. There is a myriad of reasons why black people become “coons” a few examples are:
1) You grew up around white people your entire life and were taught that they are vehicles to progress your social status making your mere association with them a positive catalyst for your existence.
2) You grew up being taught “white is right” and that black people are in a constant state of striving towards learning and knowing more, but never achieve mastery when juxtaposed against white people.
3) You were taught that “white people” are trustworthy over people of color in every situation and always have your best interest at heart. Note: This is synonymous with the messaging and positioning of slavery times that Massa was beating you for your own good in an effort to refine your heathen and innate ways.
4) They secretly or unknowingly hate everything about being black or (more generally a person of color) because their conditioning tells them that everything from their religion to cultural norms lies well outside of what white people think is normal, so they choose to manufacture a representative of themselves that they think is more socially-appealing.
Being deemed a “coon” is the extreme of self-hatred black people harbor towards themselves stemming back to slavery times. However, I would wager that all of us whether we are deemed a “coon” or not sacrifice a little of our existence every day in ways that make us cry ourselves to sleep or pray for a “better” way of living. My entire career has included opportunities, trade-offs, and circumstances in which I had to assess whether being loyal to my culture and people was more important than a paycheck. Personally, I have always chosen the people over the perceived losses I may incur. I’m not ignorant to the fear that is attached to walking that road of choosing values, ethics, and community over livelihood and prestige.
Sometimes you have to bite your tongue and get to a certain place before you can exude the bravery. It takes a lot more self-exploration and integrity to honor yourself above self-serving activities that serve to forward a white agenda shrouded as an opportunity for progression for your career, life etc. Trust me, I get it.
Thankfully, I have the courage and license to confidently decline opportunities especially when they are in gross misalignment with who I am and what I stand for. That means if you ask me to take lesser roles on a project or in curating an event where white people who are less qualified than me have the spotlight, the answer will be “no”. If I have to sign-on to do any work that will adversely impact my community in any way, the answer is: “no”. Unfortunately, money and influence are everything to some so much so that they have absolutely nothing without it. That is an existential crisis of epic proportions. Money and influence are great, but at what cost? In Omarosa’s case, she thought she was making a power move and ending up coming up short in the end. How you start is how you end.
When we talk about diversity, inclusion, and equity in the HR world, do not stop short of understanding whether your policies, rules, and culture create cultural pitfalls designed to make people of various marginalized groups choose “white” over choosing themselves. It is a dangerous pitfall and one that breeds resentment. There aren’t enough town halls, focus groups, culture days or employment branding to save your retention efforts if you continue to make people of color choose your agendas over what is important to them. A word of caution.
This week’s theme for #BlackBlogsMatter is “The Tao of Woke”. As a result, I decided to speak about the state of “wokeness” and what it should mean for you as we continue to navigate difficult themes around race relations and society.
The word: “Awake” is defined as: “to stop sleeping or wake from sleep”. “Woke” being a derivative of “awake” must then be related to that definition. You are not “woke” if you wear kente cloth and are vegan. You are not woke if you wear ankhs and have changed your name back to something more tied to African culture. You are not “woke” if you are white and have 3 black friends, where faux locs, watch Good Times reruns in your free-time, listen to Jadakiss and act as a part-time activist on social media for black liberation. You may not even be “woke” if you are out there daily as a full-time activist for equal treatment across the spectrum of societal issues concerning people of color.
Please know there is nothing wrong with any of those things I mentioned. Full transparency, I have an ankh tattoo. What I am saying is that being “woke” is not a function of those things or evidence that you have your sights on seeking the truth. It is more often than not that people do a mashup of these things in an effort to be seen as culturally-aware or even culturally-sensitive.
To be “woke” you have to awaken. To awaken you have to stop sleeping. Being “woke” is a matter of consciousness and in that state of consciousness, you must also have a conscience. In other words, you have to care, be aware and open to seeing things as they are; not what you think they are. The state of our country is in a disarray not just because 45 is at the helm, it is in a disarray because of decades of neglect, discord, and greed among a few things I will not mention here. If you are awake and seeing things clearly, you understand that narratives like “black people are in dire straits and suffering” is not only not true, but you would know that if there were such an instance in being Black in America that it has more to do with the disproportionate ways we are educated, compensated, and treated legislatively that contributes to poverty in our communities and even crime.
There is a state of consciousness you have to be in to not merely accept the neatly-packaged narratives you are fed by the government, media and even loved ones. To be “woke” you have to be willing to discover the unabashed truth. You have to be willing to speak honestly about what you find. It is a state of being that will not allow you to turn a blind eye to the suffering and truths of others. Being woke means you lead with heart over head understanding that it was never in the plans for any human to suffer on their journey here.
To be woke is to explore yourself coming to a place of understanding for that which is most integral to your values and morality. Wokeness is having all of that knowledge in a world of representatives and boldly deciding to show up as yourself every day regardless of the consequences.
Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth your time and effort to get there? Absolutely.
Let us not make the term “woke” another social banality that we get so tired of hearing that we missed the message and lesson it tried to teach us.
As humans and as professionals in a human-centric industry, we owe it to ourselves and to the people we serve to try a little more every day to awaken to the truth of other people’s experiences. You may not understand it fully, but exposing yourself to narratives that make you uncomfortable is a start.
I hope you will take the steps necessary to quiet your ego, speak less, and allow space for other people to speak their truths. If you can do that at a minimum, you are well on your way to being “woke”.
Diversity and Inclusion was not my intended path. It was something that I knew very well at the ground-level being most often the only black woman in the companies, departments, and teams I worked for. Nonetheless, it wasn’t my focus to be a diversity and inclusion professional in the way that some may choose it as a field now. My work in HR brought us together. Whether it was the first D&I training I had in my first job where I spent three hours picking stereotypes out of a hat and affixing them under posterboards labeled “Black” “Hispanic” “Asian” or my long-stretch working for federal contractors who saw diversity as a burden rather than an opportunity; it is safe to say that I should have seen that the course was being set for me to have an impact in this arena.
I had an impact ( and the journey continues). I saw the wayward relationship Talent Acquisition and HR as a whole had with Diversity. The annoyance of bosses of mine when asked about their hiring practices. They never had logical justifications for why they didn’t have a more diverse slate of candidates for jobs and I learned in the long run that they simply didn’t care. Watching the awkwardness of these relations and the contention at meetings, I often offered myself as the lone soldier that would either solely champion diversity efforts inside and out of the company or I became the one ally that Diversity had from Talent Acquisition. I went on to do some good work (never enough in my opinion). I became a regular face with local organizations that served the differently-abled population. I helped to train their people and even created some unique opportunities for internships and regularly paid positions for a few. I spent hours and hours for years combing through curriculum and tailoring it to what the market demanded to help my community organizations best empower their students. I fought for At-Risk Youth and got some of the most diligent and bright young men to work in fields they could never have dreamed of. It was good. I was doing good. That was until I realized that very few cared as much as I did about these people. I saw people. My employers saw these people as “good faith efforts”. Do you see the disconnect?
The Struggle is Real
You know you are in bad shape when you are working for a differently-abled person who doesn’t see the necessity in making a way for other differently-abled people. Add the red-tape of getting budget to move some of my programs ahead, even when I identified state funds that wouldn’t need to put a dent in anyone’s operational budget; the times that white people with no qualifications for the jobs they were being recommended for were dropped on my desk to execute an interview process and sometimes a hire. Perhaps you can start to get a glimpse of where my relationship with diversity went wrong. For whatever reason, there are companies that believe that putting a person of color or a differently-abled person in a diversity role means instantaneous success. Judging by the comments of Apple’s VP of Diversity (who has since apologized for said commentary), that is simply not true. In fact, it has been my experience that often times being a woman of color in diversity is a struggle. I remember being extremely excited to work with the African-American women who held diversity roles at two of my last jobs. In every instance, they all disappointed me and on some level, it wasn’t their fault.
You see, you can’t be a Black person or Latino person and start closing the gap for your own people in a substantial way. This is the trickery and illusion of diversity. Let me be clear, you cannot intentionally and substantially close the gap of employment, upward mobility and all of the other socio-economic factors where Blacks, Latinos, and even Asians are adversely-impacted. Even if all of the numbers around hiring, workforce census, metrics around people of color ascending to leadership or the lack thereof all align and express that there is a problem; in many companies, this will be regarded as you are hiring more Blacks, Latinos or Asians because they are your people. Instead, you have to speak about “diversity for all” white, blue-eyed men included with specific “initiatives” earmarked to attract more diverse groups.
Keep in mind we had a biracial, (but regarded as a black mostly) in President Barack Obama. If he articulated the disparities faced by diverse groups of people — supported by data and then went forward with closing those gaps ( and he did this to the best of his ability), he would be seen as being a president for serving individual interests. In other words, he would be somehow pegged as being discriminatory for eliminating barriers for people who really need it. This was the real and actual reality of his presidency. The same rings true for people of color in diversity and inclusion. Unless we are addressing the whole we can’t have programs for the select few who truly need our efforts and our help.
You may be wondering: Why is it like this? I have an answer for you. Diversity & Inclusion is the American Red Cross of Racism and all other “isms”. Companies have decided that it looks good to be taking an action or actions towards diversity and inclusion except many of us know that there is no real change to the plight of people of color or any other marginalized group being made. It looks nice. It makes the company look attractive to say “they value diversity and inclusion”, but in practice, many do not practice what they preach. It is the reason why Unilever who is the parent company of Dove can be a part of a myriad of diversity-related coalitions and alliances and still have Dove be tone deaf enough to release their recent ad that simulates a white woman removing dirt from her body as a result of using their product that really ends up being a black woman.
Diversity & Inclusion is like getting a band-aid after you get bruised or wounded and suddenly someone says you have healed no need for that band-aid anymore and they rip it off without concern for your pain. So, I have asked myself what does it all matter in the end? If we are going to continue the diversity & inclusion dialogue, conferences and summits all highlighting the star-students of the bunch while being thoroughly-oblivious to how that doesn’t nearly speak to the other 80-90% of companies who couldn’t care less or care, but play helpless, or do just enough to ensure that they don’t jeopardize contracts or possible litigation — ask yourself what good is it all doing?
This my friends is the truth about diversity and inclusion. It stinks. It needs an overhaul and/or dismantling and it is virtually useless if the practitioners who touch it on a day-to-day basis don’t care about the only thing that matters in all of this and that is humans.
I will keep up the good fight, but I prefer to fight for people over lofty concepts like diversity and inclusion.
I have been doing deeper dives on this topic on my weekly livestream show “Ask Czarina Live” if you are interested, feel free to watch the replays here.