I read a post recently on LinkedIn that went viral, from that of a white, male CEO acknowledging his white privilege in being able to get to where he’s got to.
In the comment section, he is rightly challenged on the fact that acknowledgement is one thing but where’s the action and how has he used his privilege to help others from deliberately disadvantage communities. He has referenced his company scorecard and the fact his company is explicitly anti-racist.
My hat is off to him because he does seem to have the best of intentions…from his privileged position of power 😉 And we do indeed need more people – white cishet men and women in particular – to even see the privilege, power imbalance and inequalities that remain and which they have and continue to benefit from.
But I remain wary…
So how can you tell whether a leader is genuine in their claims of anti-racism and equality, or is being performative (even if unconsciously)?
Allow me to introduce you to the Omnis CEO Test…
At my former startup, Omnis Education, we had a super progressive anti-racism policy. You can see what our own progressive anti-racism policy looks like at Mission Equality here – the Omnis policy was similar.
I’d like to draw your attention to a specific clause in it:
If significant harm is done (this measure will always come from the person who experienced the impact of the racist behaviour/action) by any leader, associate or affiliate of Mission Equality the perpetrator will be asked to cease working for Mission Equality with immediate effect.
In practice, what this means is that any person within the company could be asked to leave if they cause such significant harm that the harmed person feels unsafe with them continuing to work there and identifies the level of harm caused as such.
Any person could be asked to leave. Think about that for a minute…
When the former CEO of Omnis (I say former because the company is no longer in existence; you can see why here) caused significant racist harm – first to my now co-founder, Sharon, and then to me (though her racist harm had been at least weekly to me for months), she should, according to our policy, have left.
In fact she was given the option to but declined. But of course she did. Instead, I was the one who resigned because it clearly wasn’t a safe space for me to remain as COO (despite owning the majority of shares, being on the board and a co-founder…white privilege and power counts for far more).
Not only did the CEO continue to blatantly ignore and flout this company policy, she doubled down on her actions and ultimately ended taking the entire company down, and in the process blamed me for it.
So here’s the real test for any white CEO claiming to be committed to anti-racism and equality and building their company on the foundations of it…
- Are you confident and trusting enough to have an anti-racism policy like this?
- If you do, would you follow it and implement it, no matter what or who it needed to be applied to?
Because yes, that means I – as the original ‘CEO’ and co-founder of Mission Equality – could be asked to leave my own company. And would I? If I’d caused that much harm…Absolutely.
[Note: In order for that to be a possibility, it requires a number of things to be in place for the company to continue to thrive, which I’ll be writing about another time].