Since Michael shared his thoughts with the company last week (you can read his full letter below), there have been many powerful conversations across our teams in response to the murder of George Floyd – and the many acts of violence before and since perpetrated against Black men and women. On Thursday of last week, more than 20,000 Dell Technologies team members from around the world gathered on a call hosted by Reshenda Daniels (you can read her note below) and our Black Networking Alliance employee resource group. We listened and shared our own thoughts, feelings, rage, heartache, and hope in response to the systemic racism that plagues the United States, and many other parts of the world. It was an intense conversation, yet shockingly intimate considering the sheer number of people on the call. It gave me tremendous hope for our company and for our future. But as a society we have a long way to go indeed.
I’ve shared the full text below of two LinkedIn posts from members of our Dell Technologies community, in addition to Michael’s letter to our team originally posted on LinkedIn last Monday. I hope you read them in full. Especially resonant guidance comes from Deonte Thompson, who asks all of us to educate ourselves and others, ask questions, seek to understand others’ experiences, know when to be quiet and listen, and stand up for what you believe in. I hope we can all take a personal pledge to be “dirt movers” like Deonte, as we do the hard work in front of us to change the world.
It’s 3:19 pm and I’m sitting in my home office in quarantine staring at 44 unread e-mails that I can’t seem to open. The walls are starting to feel like they’re closing in on me and what once felt like freedom now feels like incarceration. My mind is distracted because it keeps drifting off to our social climate. I have decided to sacrifice a moment of corporate responsibility to willingly succumb to a moment of social reflection.
There’s a lot that’s going on in the world from the pandemic of Covid-19 to the ongoing pandemic of overt, covert and systemic racism. Interestingly enough, I’m not distracted by any of that at the moment. My mind keeps drifting to a simple question that I can’t seem to answer. The question echoes in my mind like a voice that cries out in an empty room. The question is, “How can I help? I want to make a difference and be part of the solution, but I don’t know what to do.” I’ve been asked this question from people at multiple levels of the workforce ranging from Senior Vice Presidents to Individual Contributors. It’s distracting because it’s one of the most powerful questions that a person can ask. To not have an answer is to not have an understanding. My countenance slowly morphs from distraction to frustration. I’m telling myself, “I’m a black man who understands many of the struggles of my community, why don’t I have an answer?” I realize that there are a million possible responses, but my mind is disturbed because I need meaningful solutions.
I rarely engage in social media discussions relating to race, religion and politics because past experiences have proven them to be unfruitful. However, I had a recent discussion on social media with an old friend who just so happened to be a white female. She posted about her frustrations with all of the rioting and looting. She was tired of people saying “Black Lives Matter” because she believed “All Lives Matter.” The post was so emotionally charged that I decided to respond to her via a private message. I had a point of view but as I typed I felt a need to abandon my point of view and just listen. I decided to ask questions and follow up questions in order to gain an understanding. By the end of the conversation, she told me that I made her think about her position in a way that she has not done so in the past. She wanted to think about the discussion and continue it the next day. I did not challenge her position nor did I agree with it. I simply walked her through a journey of self-exploration that forced her to challenge her own point of view.
At that moment, I gained a little more insight. It started to make sense. This is not a moment of change, this is a moment of introspection. Change will come but we must first challenge our way of thinking, our beliefs and our actions. The answer to the question, “How can I help?” must start with a serious meditative self-evaluation before any meaningful action can be taken. The first step is to take ourselves on a journey from introspection to self-awareness. This is not a time to passionately voice your point of view. It’s a time to silently question it.
When I was in elementary school in the 80’s, my dad took me outside of the house to teach me a valuable lesson. He told me to pick up a handful of dirt from our yard and place it on the other side of the street. I completed the task and returned to him, not understanding why he’d asked me to do it. He then looked at me and told me, “You have just changed the world. The world will never be the same.” It would take me years to really understand what he was saying and decades until it resonated to a point of insight. No matter how insignificant you think your actions are, you have the power to change the world. Changing the world doesn’t start when the world is watching, it starts when you decide to take small, silent, isolated baby steps.
It’s now 3:45pm, I have 51 unread e-mails, my action items are increasing but I have a little more peace and the picture is becoming more clear. We must become students of listening and learning while asking probing questions. By listening, we gain a better understanding which is a prerequisite for empathy. You do not have to agree. In fact, everything that you know and have learned in the past is unimportant in that moment. When you ask questions, with no thoughts of contrary rebuttals, you help others in their own introspective journey.
I read a great article on CNN entitled “A guide to how you can support marginalized communities”. The key points were:
Educate yourself and others
- Do your research, Ask questions when needed, Brush up on history, Influence people in your own group, Teach your children, Own up to your mistakes
- Pay attention, Know when to talk less, Understand others’ experience
- Build networks, Use your privilege to help others, Know your rights when you are videotaping, Voice your concerns to those in power, Stand in solidarity, Donate your time and money, Vote
Educate yourself, listen and stand up. Those are 3 things we all can control. Imagine a world where every person took this approach in areas of gender bias, racism, age discrimination, etc. The world would be a better place with unlimited potential to innovate and progress. I’ve learned that when we try to do too much, too fast, we become overwhelmed by the moment. However, if we focus on taking a handful of dirt from one side of the street to the other then we can maximize the moment.
Where do we go from here? It’s now 4:05pm, I have 62 unread e-mails and I’m getting closer to an answer. It will take the collective whole to look introspectively at their thoughts, biases and actions. Although a vision is set by leadership, it must be enforced and demonstrated by middle management and sustained by everyone. Change will not happen overnight but I’m optimistic that we can change the narrative to one that our children will be proud to read about in the history books. They’ll say, “my parents made a difference.” Not by marching externally but by marching internally. Not by being a decision maker that changed policies and legislation but by being a drum major for change in their thinking. Not by civil disobedience but by moral obedience. There’s nothing wrong with marching and moral acts of civil disobedience but the journey to change starts with the person in the mirror.
What I call being a dirt mover, Dell Technologies describes as “Every little thing is everything.” The answer to how we continue to evolve our diverse culture is found in the development cycle of our products. Learn your customers’ needs and focus on the little things that create an awesome experience.
I do not have the answer to systemic racism but I do have 3 focus areas that can help us in this journey.
1. Be an upstander
- An upstander is a person who speaks or acts in support of a cause. We should show our solidarity by holding ourselves accountable. By doing this we will build a greater awareness of our actions. In order to be an upstander you must educate, listen and stand up.
2. Participate in listening sessions or encourage your organization to have them.
- I recently conducted a listening session for 15 women at my job who may be our future leaders. As a man, I gained valuable actionable insights and also realized that I had blind spots. These are extremely valuable.
- Have a series of small group (10-15 people) listening sessions with black employees to understand their point of view of the issues faced. This session should be conducted by a leader who is not black.
- These listening sessions will serve as an input into brainstorming exercises to ideate solutions that will advance your corporate culture of inclusion.
3. Encourage your organization to provide unconscious bias training.
- Providing the training is only half of the challenge. You must also work with your training department to ensure that the training includes a section for “systemic racism.” I’ve found that its easier for companies to talk about gender and talent diversity than it is to talk about race (especially the issues that African Americans face in corporate America).
- Fight to make this class mandatory for ALL employees.
It’s now 4:31pm, I have 71 emails and I have a little more peace. I have a little more understanding. I have a little more direction and I have a little more optimism. We can’t do everything, but we can do a series of little things together that will lead to great things. This is how movements happen. This is how cultures shift and it’s also how successful companies thrive in the face of controversy. Let’s move dirt together, no shovel required, your hands are good enough.
Yesterday almost 28,000 team members in 78 countries joined Dell Technologies Black Networking Alliance Employee Resource Group to acknowledge and take a moment to reflect on some of the lives unfortunately lost. I had the pleasure of hosting this incredible event with Michael Dell and our Executive Leadership Team. I am proud to work for a company that made time to reflect and take a stance against racism, and pledge to do more as a collective Dell Technologies family, and look forward to the work we will continue together to drive change.
Additionally, I would like to thank all the individuals who helped make this event happen. Your leadership and support is why I am proud to say #iwork4dell. Let’s Stand Strong Together!
Below is a message Michael Dell shared initially with Dell Technologies team members, and then published on LinkedIn to share with our customers, partners, and friends:
To: All Dell Technologies team members
This has been an incredibly difficult time in America – troubling and sad. The murder of George Floyd is an atrocity. We all stand in horror, grieving as a nation alongside his family and his community. To see a man killed, a life ended cruelly and senselessly is something that will haunt me forever. But for people of color in communities all over this country and around the world – that footage is not a surprise, it is all too familiar. The fault lines of our society are laid bare. From the devastating and disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 to the devastating impacts of police brutality, the long-standing racial injustice in America that began 400 years ago is impossible to ignore. And the people who have been ignored are now demanding to be heard. We are listening.
I recently spent some time with a group of black team members – mostly listening. How are we doing? Have we succeeded in creating a company where all our team members feel safe and valued? How can we do more? How can we do better? What was supposed to be a one-hour meeting lasted much longer. I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot, about our team members, our friends and our families. The main thing I heard was we need to create space for tough conversations, have greater leadership accountability and take actions that drive positive socio-economic change for communities of color. I am optimistic about what we’ve built at Dell, of our culture that’s designed to support every team member in reaching their full potential, and of our vision for where we’re going. I’ve always believed diversity is power. It’s how we win and win the right way. We can lead by example and lean into our inclusive culture. We can lead by example and surround each other in love and support when we need it most.
Later this week, our Black Networking Alliance ERG will hold a moment of reflection to recognize and hear from those who are most affected by recent acts of violence. I’d ask that everyone please join with us in this moment. Additionally, our Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Brian Reaves, is talking internally and with our partners to see where additional investment is needed. We need to do things differently now so that we can lead measurable change and truly be an employer of choice for all. I encourage you to get involved. Because for all the work we do within our own company, there will never be true justice or equality until we root out the rotten underbelly of racism that is eating away at the most cherished values we hold dear. Real change requires us all to actively participate in the hard work that lies ahead… the hard work that has to be done for our nation and our world to heal, grow stronger, and for us to move forward as one people with a shared voice.
I am thinking about my role. I hope you are thinking about yours. This is a time to stand strong together. Let’s be kind. Let’s be loving. Let’s stand up for each other and be the change.