Chief Executive Insights

Questions Directors and CEOs Must Consider with Regard to DEI to Move Their Organizations Forward

Race is one of those topics that impact the organization at various levels, yet conversations about race require a willingness to take a risk. As a director or a CEO, you take risks regularly. This risk, however, can help you to create a more productive, inclusive, and innovative work environment—making it a risk worth taking. 

DEI Helps Companies Achieve Above-Average Financial Returns

Companies with gender, ethnic and racial diversity are at least 15 percent more likely to experience above-average financial returns. They also know that companies within the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to do the same.

Statistics show that when a white person is asked questions about the state of race in their organization, their response is very different from the response of a person of color. If we are going to make lasting change, we need to listen to those who are having the experience. In this case people of color.

Knowing The 5 Levels of Racial Conditioning Can Lead to Greater Understanding

Centuries of enslavement, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and continual violence have left their mark on humanity. Today, we are dealing with 5 levels of racial conditioning. 

  1. Institutional
    We institutionalize something by turning it into law. Laws are the ways ideologies become the rules we must all follow. These rules govern and control the ways people behave in a society. Some examples of things that have been institutionalized are land, housing, education, medicine, punishment, money, food, transport, marriage, and much more.
  2. Systemic
    Systems are set up to support what is institutionalized. Examples of those systems are:
    # Policing system – Law enforcement, public safety
    # Court/Judicial system
    # Housing system – United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
    # Medical/health care system
    # Transportation system
  3. Internalized
    People born, living, and working under these systems internalize what is institutionalized, accepting it as “just the way things are,” and they act out of what is in their environment. They police their neighbors even when, in their hearts, they know it’s wrong. The behavior becomes rote; we call this unconscious behavior, stemming from internalized biases from living in a racialized system. People internalize what they experience. They also internalize repeated actions and reactions, and they then interact out of what has been learned, which they now believe to be normal. The dysfunction becomes normalized.
  4. Personal
    Because racism is internalized, it becomes unconscious. People do and say racist things without conscious awareness of what they are doing; this is what we call implicit racism or implicit bias because, as a culture, we have normalized the dysfunction of racism. We try to compensate with political correctness, but not saying the wrong thing is different from not thinking it and not feeling it.
  5. Interpersonal
    People can’t help but act, react, and interact with each other out of what they have internalized. What is in the environment is what they know. Today, interpersonal racism shows up as macro- and microaggressions between coworkers.

    # Examples of micro-aggression: Complementing a US-born Asian woman, who has been speaking her native language (English all her life, by saying, “Your English is so good.”
    # Example of a macro-aggression: Firing an African-American anchor woman because it takes too long to ger her hair done.

Questions Leaders Must Consider
I am asking CEOs across several industries the following question: The “Corporate Diversity Report,” produced by the United States Senate, indicates there is much room to improve in racial representation at all levels of corporate America. What are you doing in response?

As the organization’s leader you must ask yourself and various people in your organization many questions to stay ahead of the issue. It is not a matter of whether or not your organization will confront the topic of race, it’s a about how effective you will be when you do confront it.

There is a risk. 

Know that as you take the risk, your employees are taking a risk right alongside of you. There can be no retaliation for their response if you do not get the expected answer. 

  1. When it comes to race, how do you think our organization is doing in
    # Hiring?
    # Mentoring?
    # Promoting?
  2. Does your organization have a racially diverse board?
    # Are your vendors, contractors, and partners ethnically, culturally and racially diverse?
    # Are your advertising and promotion reflective of the people you serve?
    # How resistant is your board to making the necessary changes to have a more inclusive board?

People don’t know what they don’t know. When they know better, they do better.

In this climate of fear and anxiety, you will increase productivity, profits and help your team members create a safer environment when you confront this issue directly. People are wasting a lot of time talking about race whether you take control of it or not.

Take the bull by the horns, lead the charge, and strengthen your organization.


Written by Milagros Phillips.

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Milagros Phillips
Keynote speaker Milagros Phillips, AKA, the Race Healer, has more than 30 years of experience developing & facilitating seminars and difficult conversations. She is a TEDx presenter and has authored four books on race. Her latest book is CRACKING THE HEALER'S CODE: A Prescription for Healing Racism & Finding Wholeness.


Milagros Phillips is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.