Newsletter: Making Change Stick

systemic problems require systemic change

It’s been a year since George Floyd’s murder, and so much has happened. A presidential election. An insurrection at the Capitol. The conviction of Derek Chauvin. Vaccines providing light at the end of the covid-19 pandemic tunnel. In many ways it feels like a different world from the one in which I wrote to you last June. Yet, on the systemic challenges the Floyd killing highlighted, key questions remain, most notably: where do we go from here, and how do we sustain the commitments made over the last year?

The best answers I have seen to these big questions reflect Maya Angelou’s long-standing call to action: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” That simple idea has important implications for us as individuals and as leaders. A year ago, in nine minutes, the world’s understanding of systemic racism in America was forever changed, motivating widespread, peaceful protest and comprehensive pledges to improve our institutions. Tragically, we now know better.

Doing better has proven more nuanced. Many individuals have thoughtfully invested time to learn more about how to be effective allies, and companies have embarked upon initiatives to assess themselves and create more diversity, equity, and belonging. From more inclusive recruiting pipelines, to robust coaching programs to support and retain diverse professionals, to more representative board rooms, we have seen meaningful progress. Yet, setbacks like efforts to limit voter participation feel foreboding, reminding us that change is fragile.

How do we do better consistently, over the long term? For leaders, I suggest two things: keeping the faith and doubling down. I have had countless conversations over the last year with people who were reinvigorated by the focus on racial justice but worried that it would be a passing fad. I completely understand that cynicism and struggled with it myself as numerous people were killed by law enforcement during the trial over George Floyd’s murder. Nonetheless, we must restrain our skepticism, because it too easily justifies inaction. Instead, choose hope and take the actions yourself and advocate for the accountability in institutions that are cornerstones of lasting change.

If you or your organization has found a concrete way to fight systemic racism over the last year, please use this anniversary milestone as a prompt to double down on what worked. For instance, many of our clients listened to their employees of color and created more objective advancement criteria. Their next step will be designing training and support programs to ensure that diverse employees build the skills they will need to get promoted. At Mountaintop, we developed an online business skills program for students at HBCU law schools and launched it successfully at Thurgood Marshall School of Law. We are compounding that success by rolling the program out to other schools.

Systemic problems require systemic change. Where have you made progress, and how can you double down to ensure it endures?


Precious Williams Owodunni | President & Founder of Mountaintop Consulting

This letter was originally published in Mountaintop Consulting’s monthly newsletter. You can read the full newsletter here.

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