After the assassination of George Floyd and the wave of protests and demand for change across all industries grew, more and more executives and leaders have been trying to figure out ways to address the elephant in the room: racial equity and diversity in their organizations and destinations – or rather, the lack thereof.
It has not surprised me to see that for many the immediate response is simply to throw money at the problem. And to be fair, restructuring organizations so as to minimize, if not completely eradicate, institutionalized racism is expensive. It requires the breaking down and breaking apart of set standards that have long been tolerated and accepted as the norm, but which have stood in the way of progress.
On the travel media front, we’ve seen an uptick in interest for BIPOC faces and voices to represent campaigns and front industries and platforms to prove that an effort is being made. And I applaud a lot of this because it has given an opportunity to an incredibly long list of professionals and creatives that were simply ignored and overlooked for far too long – not due to a lack of qualification, access, or availability, but because inclusivity and diversity are achieved with focused intention, the motivation for which hasn’t been prioritized mostly until now.
And these efforts are not limited to travel media. We are seeing this shift across the board, with some groups having a clear, confident handle on what equity and inclusion entails, the hard work involved, and the long road ahead, but there are others still struggling to see beyond the fact that it is not enough to have a Black or brown body among them. For equity and inclusivity to truly exist the entire system has to change. And that is a much harder pill to swallow.
I have firsthand experience on how dysfunctional and disheartening it is to exist in a system where leadership says you are welcomed but has committed zero effort to change the overall system itself. This is why it is so false to assume that the only thing any of us needs is jobs or promotions or higher pay.
Yes, equity does include equal access and equal pay determined equally and fairly on merit across the board. Yes, often these efforts require an infusion of financial investment into communities and for individuals who might feel unmotivated to consider opportunities otherwise. And yes, it would be amazing if the $2,200 pay disparity for being a black female and a $1,500 pay disparity for being a black male, didn’t exist (source). But it is not just about money.
The one thing I see many leaders and executives ignoring in these often well-intentioned shifts in their organizations or communities is the importance of our quality of life which also includes feeling safe in the spaces in which we live and work, and being supported by the organizations we partner with as well as by our peers and neighbors. It is also important to address the embedded issues that lead to the microaggressions that BIPOC people experience daily and which negatively impact both our emotional and mental well-being.
I recently read this story of a racist incident experienced in an elite Texas suburb known for its desirable schools and growing diversity. The school board had the foresight to address the issues by “unveiling a plan that would require diversity and inclusion training for all students as part of the K-12 curriculum while amending the student code of conduct to specifically prohibit acts of discrimination, referred to in the document as microaggressions.” What followed was an aggressive and hostile push back by the mostly white community and this has been enough to make the Black parents want to move. Because while economic equality and financial opportunities are part of racial justice, they are not, and never will be enough.
And that is the long road to racial equity and diversity. It’s not just about hiring a few front BIPOC bodies to represent your brand or destination, it is about doing the work to change the system or destination so that BIPOC bodies exist organically, authentically, safely, and happily.
It means not just doing the work to diversify industry segments, but changing the industry as a whole.
It means committing to using your voice and your power to demand change and hold accountable those who seek to stagnate progress through racist and hostile means.
So yes, let’s continue to invest in efforts that uplift and employ a more diverse talent market. And yes, let’s continue to invest in growing structures and spaces that are inclusive. But let’s also recognize that anti-racism is not limited to small tokens of representation. It requires voices and the presence of power that communicates clearly and courageously, without hesitation, intimidation, or pause, that racism is not tolerated anywhere, ever. You cannot say you are committed to racial justice, equity, and representation when it comes to your brand or organization, but be silent in your community and among your peers when you see it happening. You can not hang-up your commitment to anti-racism at the office door, only to allow it to thrive and exist in and around your home.
It is to that standard by which all of us should be judging the brands with which we want to work with, partner with, collaborate with, and promote. It is to that standard by which we should judge a destination we want to visit, or invest in, or move to.
Yes, we would love the work, and yes, we would love the pay. But more so, we would love your courage and commitment to the road we must take to really effect change, even if that road is long.