Diversity is not a new word in the corporate lexicon, but upcoming books hint at a shift in how seriously it’s being taken. Indeed, before the murder of George Floyd touched off a widespread racial reckoning, improving diversity in the workforce was a nice-to-have at best, adjacent but not primary to most companies’ core principles. Publishers are seeing a new drive to embed DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) efforts in corporate DNA, and to provide blueprints for achieving these goals.
The Call is Coming from Inside the House
Some editors saw a shift in the books being pitched in the wake of the summer of 2020. Whereas previous works simply made a case for a diverse workforce and aimed to educate managers on why embracing differences was good for the bottom line, the authors of these books assume that their audiences are already on board.
“Lots of proposals that I used to get were about ‘why diversity is important’ and ‘why it should be on the agenda,’ ” says Lucy Carter, publisher at Kogan Page. “Well, it’s already there, right on top of the agenda. People want to know what to do about it.” Her acquisition The Key to Inclusion (July) “is about how you make diversity a core part of your overall business strategy, just like developing a budget.” Edited by Stephen Frost, who led inclusion programs for the London Olympics and taught inclusive leadership at Harvard Business School, the book also includes sector-specific guidance, offering advice for how to implement inclusive practices in industries such as tech, finance, and media.
While social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have shaped much of the discussion around DEI efforts, Kogan’s upcoming Positively Purple (Oct.), by disability activist Kate Nash, reminds business leaders that building an inclusive corporate culture also means ensuring the workplace is accessible for disabled employees. The book notes that about 10% of workers have a visible or invisible disability. Beyond overcoming physical barriers, Nash writes that much of disabled employees’ comfort at work boils down to company culture. Among her advice to managers, she recommends listening to employees with disabilities to learn how to best support them, and advocates for leadership to proactively raise awareness of how employees can request workplace accommodations.
Matt Holt, editor-in-chief of an eponymous imprint at BenBella, also senses a change in the way companies are approaching DEI initiatives. This time feels different, Holt says, because for many companies the call for change is coming from internal staff. “Things are coming to a head. Corporations recognize that they need to do this because their workforces are demanding it.” Holt’s acquisition Reconstructing Inclusion (BenBella/Holt, Oct.) by Amri B. Johnson, CEO and founder of the Inclusion Wins consultancy, argues that for many years, most corporate approaches to DEI settled for cosmetic change rather than systemic change. Johnson goes back to the drawing board in his book. He breaks down the concepts of diversity and inclusion into core principles, and shows companies how they can weave them into their organizational processes. This approach provides a framework that is both actionable and sustainable, Holt says.
While management is responsible for encoding DEI into a company’s core values, individuals at all levels of the workforce need to play a role in creating a more inclusive environment. Several upcoming books speak directly to staff, providing a guide to collective action toward change and navigating the corporate gauntlet as a member of a disadvantaged demographic.
In Shared Sisterhood, which Harvard Business Review Press is releasing in October, coauthors Tina Opie, a consultant and Babson College management professor, and Beth Livingston, University of Iowa management and entrepreneurship professor, warn that while companies may be making strides toward gender equity in boardrooms and closing pay gaps, progress remains relatively elusive for women of color. Opie, who is Black, and Livingston, who is white, “really live out what shared sisterhood means; they’re just so tight,” says Melinda Merino, editorial director at Harvard Business Review, describing the energy between the two women that appealed to the publisher. The authors insist that women must act collectively so that all women can advance professionally, rather than just a few. “It’s a really radical idea that they’re teaching. Gender equity won’t be fully realized without racial equity,” Merino says.
The growing demand for these books reflects the fact that most companies accept they will have to fundamentally alter their structures to move closer to a meritocratic ideal. Drilling into workforce data reveals that one sector of the workforce consistently faces more obstacles than any other: Black women report substantially less interaction, substantive or informal, with senior leadership than any other group, according to Lean In, a nonprofit advocating for more equitable workplaces.
The importance of such interactions and how they shape success are the crux of a pair of books forthcoming from Berrett-Koehler written by Black women who have risen through the corporate trenches to leadership roles. In Intelligence Isn’t Enough by Carice Anderson (Oct.), and Please Sit Over There by Francine Parham (Aug.; see our q&a with Parham), the authors draw upon their personal experiences to warn that a Black person can’t rely on their formal education alone to advance in the workplace. “Both of these books talk a lot about the unspoken rules that one needs to learn to navigate in order to advance,” says Steve Piersanti, founder and senior editor at Berrett-Koehler. “There aren’t that many role models in the organization, and Black women are not given the same road map as their white colleagues.”
But how do you do it?
Reflecting the sense of urgency to produce results, many upcoming titles skip the high-minded mission statements in favor of practical game plans. PW lauded Deanna Singh, founder of the social enterprise organization Flying Elephant, for doing just that in its review of Actions Speak Louder (May), whose advice it called “concrete and actionable.” Singh first walks readers through a series of self-examination exercises to define their social identities and figure out ways they can leverage a position of privilege to benefit everyone in the workplace. She then homes in on strategies for organizational operations, like recruiting, hiring, and onboarding, that enable DEI to take root and mold the workplace into one that is less harmful for people who may carry generational trauma from historical injustices.
Setbacks are inevitable, so it’s best for companies to view their commitment to greater inclusivity as a journey rather than a finite program, asserts Ella Washington in the Harvard Business Review release The Necessary Journey (Nov.). Washington opted to demonstrate some of the pitfalls companies encounter along the way through 10 stories of success and failure at organizations including Slack, Kaiser Permanente, and PwC.
This season’s business titles guide those who want to make a difference through what may seem like uncharted waters. “Stories are how people learn,” says HBR’s Merino. “Washington makes an emotional connection in each chapter through a story of a company at a different point along their journey. Readers see leaders moving beyond saying, ‘Okay, this is something we should do,’ to, ‘This is something we need to do.’ ”
Mina Kelemen, a writer in Houston, has covered business, travel, and other nonfiction books for PW since 2018.
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