Insights|Leading by Example During Black History Month

Leading by Example During Black History Month

Black History Month should be seized as an opportunity by all businesses to lead by example on issues including diversity, inclusion and equality

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Black History Month - Leading by Example
by Mike Small February 21, 2020 - 3 MIN READ

Black History Month should be seized as an opportunity by all businesses to lead by example on issues including diversity, inclusion and equality

When this country officially introduced Black History Month into the school system, it was leading by example. It set a standard that other countries including Canada and Great Britain have also strived to emulate.

Yet, in the 44 years since U.S. schoolchildren first heard their teachers recounting the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver and of course Rosa Parks, for many people living in this country, it may seem that further progress has stalled.

Even though it’s a powerful annual reminder of the mistakes of our collective past, which in turn highlights the sheer determination and force of will that still ensured we progressed as a people, we need to see the event for what it is. Black History Month is a starting point on a road whereby celebrating past successes we can move forward with the confidence of further progress – it is not an end unto itself on a journey to enlightenment.

A meditation on equality

I’m a great believer in the power of reflection. I meditate every day and throughout February, Black History Month is a trigger for focusing my thoughts on diversity and equality and for visualizing a tomorrow shaped by the lessons of yesterday. I ask myself if I’m using my position to encourage greater understanding and inclusivity. Am I speaking up on the subjects that matter and serving as an amplifier for those who otherwise might not be heard?

I’ve worked hard and with dedication my entire life to succeed professionally and personally. And now that I’m in a position where I lead by thought and by deed, I recognize that part of my job description is to be a role model, to be proof positive that talent and hard work will help you accomplish almost anything. I’m here to continue forging the path that the generations before me started to shape so that it’s clearer and easier to follow for the generation to come.

And here I’m lucky because as well as illustrious icons of the past, our country is now full of examples of contemporary  black role models from whom I can draw wisdom and direction such as Robert F. Smith. His decision to pay the Student Loans of Morehouse College’s Class of 2019 made him one of the defining men of the year. But his unbreakable will, even as a teenager, is what inspires me. He wanted an internship at Bell Labs and his persistence saw him accepted, even though he wasn’t a college student. Within his first year with the company he’d developed a game changing reliability test for semiconductors. And that was the first step he took on a journey that continues to motivate me today. 

A clearer path to success

Still for the next generation of role models, leaders and inspiring individuals, the first steps on their path to  self actualization will be Black History Month. It will give them the motivation and the perspective needed to keep going. But to continue to grow and to continue broadening their horizons they need to continue learning and experiencing once school has finished for good. Likewise, we as the custodians of this generation have a responsibility to keep passing on the lessons we have learned and to share our own stories of inequality and of achievement.

For people in power, this responsibility goes further. It may seem that action at an institutional level has stalled. But to look to the government and only the government is to forget we are all empowered to make a positive change. Nowhere is this more apparent than within business. Increasingly people are looking to companies to seize the opportunity and lead by example.

Live your values

Whether it’s racial inequality, environmental protection, LGBT rights or sustainability, our businesses need to stand for something and they need to clearly articulate these values. And crucially, we need to demonstrate through our actions that what we say is true.

For example, at Sitel, we are committed not just to our people and celebrating their diversity, but to the communities in which they work. We have to leave this world in a better state than when we found it, and this applies to culture and equality as much as it does to the environment that supports this culture.

We cannot and never should forget our past. But, if we can all achieve that, then when our grandchildren experience Black History Month for the first time they will look at their surroundings – their friends, their communities and at the media – and will struggle to believe these stories of our past are true.

written by Mike Small CEO, Americas
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