#diverse AF? How Binging #black AF got me thinking about diversity in a post-pandemic world

#black AF. There are lots that’s not right about it, but as quarantine content I enjoyed it. Did I wince occasionally? Hell yeah. Are some of the episodes hella uneven? Yuuup. And fuuuck… six kids? Ain’t nobody got time for all that…so the character development suffers. But there are a couple of things that Kenya Barris really captures in the show:

  • Black upward mobility in Hollywood/sports and entertainment culture
  • The struggles of beigeness- whether just light-skinned or biracial identity, and
  • White gaze- which all black and brown people suffer under and which rears its head at the most random times and with the most random people IRL.

Race is complex in America. Class is also complex. Exploring that intersection through the lens of absurd levels of privilege and dubious levels of blackness is good content.

I like to imagine that if they shot season two in NYC it would look a lot like my life…if you replace Encino with the South Bronx, brunch at the Four Seasons with more scenes in bulletproof Chinese joints, and we got comfortable with extremely sparse luxury product placements and waaay more baby mamas. Unfortunately, “white gaze”, is bi-coastal…and neither my inherent beigeness nor Ivy League education has proved sufficient armor to ward it off.

But watching #black AF, and reflecting back on a couple of meetings I’ve had with startups over the past week have forced me to ask a tough question:

Has diversity become an afterthought for leaders of a post-pandemic workforce?

According to a 2019 World Economic Forum report, entitled The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming, “diversity in the workplace is an asset for both businesses and their employees, in its capacity to foster innovation, creativity, and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do.”

If companies are all in survival mode, do they have the luxury to consider these benefits of diversity? Or does it retreat to a higher level of Maslow’s hierarchy while we grapple with safety, food, and health? This is what my gut is telling me. That much like innovation, diversity is a luxury item, considered by most to be a “nice to have” rather than a “must-have” in a post-pandemic workforce. If I’m right about the business hiring calculus shifting, it will have far-reaching impact on not only how companies are equipped to serve increasingly diverse marketplaces, but also on an entire crop of diverse startups who are currently pitching their ability to deliver diverse customers to the enterprise and their applicability to diverse audiences. Aside from MWBE set-asides, are we entering an era where, post-pandemic, enterprise will become less, rather than more diverse? If this is the play and the playbook, how does that affect products and services targeted at black and brown communities?

Does a lack of diversity internally result in more faux pas, more products that come off as tone-deaf outside the majority community?

As businesses rebuild post-pandemic, Diversity should be a top concern, as the results of a more diverse workforce are proven:

“A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. This finding is significant for tech companies, start-ups and industries where innovation is the key to growth. It shows that diversity is not just a metric to be strived for; it is actually an integral part of a successful revenue-generating business.”

In terms of diversity’s impact on innovation, my business partner, Harry Alford, has written extensively on this topic. We know that ensuring diversity should be important within innovation, within venture, and within enterprise in general. We’ve seen the research, and we KNOW it should be. I’m just not sure that in this new world post-pandemic, that it WILL be. It feels like in our haste to restart the economy, finding the best, and ensuring that the best represents diverse outcomes will be sacrificed on the altar of expediency and status quo.

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