Opting out is not an option: Talking about race and privilege with Accenture’s Global Ethnicity Lead
- Posted on October 14, 2020
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
This summer, Avanade launched our Global Taskforce on Race, Ethnicity, and Inclusion. Some of the first actions of this taskforce will be the introduction of two mandatory trainings on race and unconscious bias as well as hosting global town halls to help our team become more comfortable, confident and competent having conversations about race. In our all-employee global broadcast in September, Regional Executive and Taskforce Lead Suzanne Dann sat down with Accenture Global Ethnicity Lead Gavin Young to have a discussion about the weight of this year, the concept of privilege, and tangible efforts both individuals and organizations can take to change things for the better.
Suzanne: You took on the role of Global Ethnicity Lead about a year ago. And since then, a lot has changed with the global pandemic and all the subsequent social and economic impact – but also this heightened focus on racism and discrimination in the wake of George Floyd’s murder here in the U.S. What has that been like from your perspective?
Gavin: Honestly, it’s been an emotional storm. We buried my father in January of this year. Shortly after, Ahmaud Arbery was chased and murdered in Georgia. The coronavirus pandemic took hold global shortly after, and then the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. And these events have had a cumulative effect, and they’ve been incredibly heavy.
But I’m mindful as well of my young son and the world that I’m bringing him into, and how he’ll be perceived and treated as a young Black man. It gives me the passion and motivation to continue this work, to have these conversations, and it gives me the sense that I don’t get to choose to opt out of this struggle. I’m continuing what my father struggled for and what generations before him struggled for, so this is not an optional thing for me.
Suzanne: My sincere condolences on your loss, and I really appreciate the feeling you have around not opting out. In your recent LinkedIn post, you talk about the term “white privilege,” which can be uncomfortable. Can you share your take on privilege and how we can use that for positive change?
Gavin: You used the word uncomfortable – I think that’s absolutely right because no one wants to believe that they have something that they didn’t earn, but that’s basically what privilege is. Everyone wants to be able to say, “I worked hard for what I’ve got,” but listen, I’m around 6-foot-2, and I did nothing to earn that. But it is a privilege. When I’m in the supermarket, I’m lucky enough to be able to help people who are trying to reach the top shelf. The only thing that would require me to feel guilty about that unearned privilege is if someone was reaching for the top shelf and my response to them was, “I don’t see height.” That would be to ignore my privilege and not use it for good. I think our allies recognize that they have a privilege and a power that comes with that. And in recent protests, I have seen allies stepping up, I have seen the crowds that are a mixture of all races, and I have been pleased to see that people using their voice to amplify the voices of others.
Suzanne: You mentioned allies, and I know so many of us are trying to figure out how we can get involved and make a change. But switching from individuals to companies, you mention that most companies are less than 1% Black in leadership positions. And unfortunately, we are in that same boat, and that is not a proud place to be. But how can we address that moving forward?
Gavin: The first thing is that guilt is not a productive emotion. Many companies are in the same boat – it’s a large one. The first critically important thing to do is set goals. We need to measure our progress against those goals and hold our leaders accountable to meet the targets we set. The active and passionate sponsorship of our underrepresented groups is also vital. People don’t progress, especially to senior leadership, without that sponsorship. They also find it more difficult to progress to those levels if there’s bias in talent processes, so it’s crucial that we have regular unconscious bias learning that weeds out any of those biases in our talent processes. We have to create an environment that is actively anti-racist and comes at anti-racism from the perspective of learning rather than accusing or shaming. Because when we’re helping each other with our language – which we will all get wrong at some point – we’re helping each other just to be better. Finally, very importantly, it’s the responsibility of everyone. The messages that come from CEOs come from boardrooms, but most people who work at a company have no contact with the those in the boardrooms. They do have contact with the people around them, at their own level, so it’s essential that everyone realizes this is their responsibility as well.
Suzanne: So measurable goals, sponsorship, and removing the bias, and constant learning. It’s great advice, Gavin. And it’s terrific that you’ve given us something concrete that we can all rally around. I couldn’t agree more; we all need to be engaged and activate locally to make positive change.
The Inside Avanade blog will continue to highlight the efforts of the Global Taskforce on Race, Ethnicity, and Inclusion throughout this coming year. Watch out for our new series, Avanade Voices, showcasing different perspectives from our employee networks, launching soon.