Optimism and race aware people services

Mellody Hobson stand on stage delivering her talk at a TED conference

There is a large and growing realm of research about race-aware human resource and team building policies. What it all points to is that so-called “colour-blind” policies don’t work – they protect racism.

Take for example the research by Harvard Business School’s Michael I. Norton and his colleagues. They showed that attempting to “overcome prejudice by ignoring race is an ineffective strategy.” They found that in many cases doing this perpetuates bias.

This was also the finding of a project at Columbia University (PDF) as part of an educational policy brief where they found that “efforts to ignore race via ‘colorblind’ or race-neutrality policies” resulted in repeating bias and patterns of discrimination, not remedying them.

Google has been making an effort to be more race aware in order to confront the patterns and hidden cognitive bias at play in their staffing and retention policies. As part of this effort, they track and publish stats about their diversity and, especially, their lack of diversity. To their credit, they continue to tackle these issues in the open and they’re helping others do the same.

The emotional intelligence competencies that these initiatives all have in common include reality testing, social responsibility and optimism. Reality testing and social responsibility are perhaps more evident than the optimism – but you can’t read the research without getting a sense for their commitment and optimism for doing things differently; for making things better.

This optimism is also evident in a TED Talk by Mellody Hobson, where she argues that open talk about race is good for business as well as society. Her contagious optimism is grounded in that she is “ruthlessly realistic.” She has to be.

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