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Book review: 'The Necessary Journey - Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion' by Ella Washing

Originally posted on Impact Investor

By Christopher Walker

In brief


  • This is the best book on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion I have read. Packed with real world, practical advice

  • Told as a series of stories it is constructed to lead business leaders on the “necessary journey” towards integrated and sustainable transformations of their companies

  • From the big players like PWC to the innovative start-ups there is plenty for impact investors to take on board

Whilst there have been many passionate business books spawned by George Floyd’s murder, ‘The Necessary Journey’ stands out as providing detailed and insightful solutions. Indeed, this is the best book on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) I have read, and, in my profession, I read a lot of them.


Dr Ella Washington’s command of her subject is built on firm intellectual foundations. She is not just a professor at Georgetown, but a trained organisational psychologist. Her DEI strategy firm, Ellavate Solutions, has also clearly brought her plenty of real world experience.


The entertaining but informative prose is an easy read, and the decision to make this a series of stories an inspired one. As Washington says “stories are a compelling tool, perhaps the most powerful one, to connect the human experience”.


A necessary journey


“This is what DEI is like” the author counsels business leaders. “You don’t just deploy a program and call it a day. You look out, find a starting point that aims at your destination, set out on a journey, deal with what comes at you, and adjust along the way.”


In Washington’s world, that journey goes through five distinct stages. Awareness, compliance, tactical, integrated – where DEI becomes part of everything a company does internally and externally – and, finally, sustainable, where DEI efforts are best in class and remain sustainable.


Washington has had access to some very senior and very inspiring business leaders, and she lays out their stories to illustrate these different steps.


PWC


One of the most interesting is that of PWC’s US CEO, Tim Ryan, and his chief ‘purpose and inclusion officer’ Shannon Schuyler.


Theirs has been quite a journey. Not least when an off-duty Texas police officer walked into the wrong apartment, thinking it her own, to find black male Botham Jean and promptly shot him dead. It was his apartment, where he’d been relaxing and watching a football match after a busy day at work at PWC.


Unsurprisingly, this was a “visceral, devastating, moment” and Ryan sent a company-wide memo beginning with the words “emotions are raw”.


PWC’s own journey is impressive. From their LGBT role model programmes in 2004, through their black-centric leadership Vanguard Initiative in 2010, to a ground-breaking transparency report in 2020. Washington affirms: “The significance of this report can’t be understated. In July 2020, only 4 percent of public companies shared their DEI data. [Now]this low disclosure rate is starting to change.”


Indeed, PWC has reached Washington’s nirvana, her sustainable stage, and we are left with the impression they deserve it. Not least because they “Call People In, Not Out.” Schuyler says, “This isn’t a blame game, and it’s not an apology tour.” Great advice.


DEI for startups


Not all stories are about big companies, and impact investors will be interested in Washington’s advice for startups.


Startups are often founded by a single entrepreneur or a few founders and are “highly mission-oriented places where people wear many hats, have autonomy, and are encouraged to share their most creative ideas.” Nonetheless, “these companies often whiff on DEI, because of a lack of role clarity, including who is responsible for the human capital work.”


“Start-up founders often think their mission is the same thing as their culture, and while the two inform each other, culture must be deliberately built in to be sustainable.”


Diversity of thought


Washington is not afraid to tackle “the tricky topic of diversity of thought”, something she acknowledges most DEI warriors are suspicious of. In a fascinating chapter on the black-owned startup spirit company Uncle Nearest, we meet the founder and CEO Fawn Weaver who has strong views.


“From the beginning, I insisted that the right people be in the right jobs. I’m African American; the first two people that I brought in alongside me were White. I was looking for energy, not colour.”


This commitment to energy and diversity of thought also led Weaver to the conclusion that “it was imperative that my company looked like America. We are 50 percent women. If any-thing, we try to over-index on Black, Latinx, and LGBTQ populations, but the goal is to mirror America. I think one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful, we’re doing something that other spirit brands haven’t figured out how to do.”


One of the many refreshing insights Washington brings us in this excellent book.


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