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    Laura Morgan Roberts is a Professor of Practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and a visiting scholar at Harvard Business School’s Gender Initiative. As an expert in diversity, inclusion, authenticity and identity development, Laura’s extensive research formed the basis for her study of the influence of African American business leaders. She chats with Marcel Schwantes about her recent article, “Toward a Racially Just Workplace,” and tackles what is seemingly the most uncomfortable conversation in the work environment.

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    Show Notes

    • Laura loves the genuine affirmation of affection from her children that reminds her why life is sacred. [3:36]
    • After President Obama was elected, a popular consensus was that American society had moved beyond racism in the workplace. “I think what we saw was more of a hope than a conclusion… that Barack Obama’s election sort of symbolized that this was a harbinger of things to come,” Laura comments. [4:37]
    • Research shows that only 8% of managers and 3.8% of CEO’s are of African American descent, which is concerning as it does not reflect the global population. [7:29]
    • Marcel asks Laura why she thinks there is such a small percentage of black leaders. “What has been persistent over time is a practice of sort of betting on familiarity… giving those new opportunities… to people who remind us of our younger selves. And so when the people who are in the leadership positions are the ones we’re doling out those opportunities to… they’re also more likely to be alarmed… when someone who doesn’t share aspects of their experience messes up… You’re not given the same freedom to fail when you’re a person who exists on the margins,” she explains. [10:08]
    • Two key dynamics that pose challenges for black leaders in the workplace are authenticity and authority. [12:38]
    • Many black leaders have stories in which people in mentorship roles have tried to steer them in completely different paths, “with very little knowledge or data of what they were truly capable of,” Laura adds. [16:51]
    • Laura admonishes leaders to “get real” about recognizing that external occurrences affect organizations internally. “There’s no… concrete wall that sort of segments the organization and protects it from whatever is happening in society around inequality and exclusion and oppression.” [20:30]
    • Our egos are tied up especially when workplace issues are concerned. [23:51]
    • Oftentimes conversations about diversity and inclusion initiatives turn into ego defensive arguments, which inhibits exploration of avenues for productive coexistence. [26:19]
    • “If you want to understand how to be more inclusive, you can’t just sit around and talk to the people who already feel included,” Laura says. Leaders should take themselves back to experiences where they felt excluded and ask themselves what others could have done to make them feel included. [37:27]
    • The “secret sauce” in truly promoting greater racial diversity, inclusion, and equity is the heart. [41:15]
    • Laura offers advice for the African American professional wanting to grow as a leader. [43:27]
    • Marcel asks Laura why she thinks fear is so prevalent in the workplace. “We structure our organizations and in ways that trigger people’s feelings of scarcity… and when people are operating in that dimension of scarcity they’re triggered… they’re really afraid because they’re feeling incredibly vulnerable.” Marcel comments that Laura’s answer is the most scholarly one he’s received yet. [46:40]
    • Laura wants race to no longer be associated with fear, problems and challenges, and would much rather it be embraced. [50:26]


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    About Marcel Schwantes

    Marcel Schwantes is the founder and chief human officer of Leadership from the Core, a global leadership training and executive coaching boutique aimed at developing great leaders and great cultures through Servant Leadership.

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