Enterprising Women Spring 2021

SPEAK OUT by Charlene Wheeless Scratching My Head Over DE&I I am a Black professional, a Black woman, and for my entire career I’ve supported and advocated for DE&I. I must confess, though, that over that time I’ve become disheartened by the progress that has been made – or lack thereof. I first heard about “diversity” in business as a problem early in my career. I was at one of the smartest companies in the world, and even they were grappling with how to address “the diversity problem.” In those days, “inclusion” had not made it into the standard lexicon of business. What business does best is solve problems. Today’s companies are pioneering everything from space exploration and tourism to alternative energy sources to life-saving medicines and treatments—most recently developing COVID-19 vaccines in record time. We create products before people even know they need them. With a long history of incredible innovation, ingenuity, and solving the most challenging problems, why haven’t we solved the issue of a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to people of color? Here is one answer: business, government, and now society, are trying to solve the wrong problem. DE&I programs are well-intentioned, but are they enough? The rate of progress today would say no. When you focus for years and years on the wrong problem, you are left with a floor littered with good intentions, plans, and efforts that fail to deliver on expectations. It is time to address the elephant in the room – the problem we all need to solve together is the continued existence and perpetuation of systemic racism and injustice in society, in government and in our workplaces – and maybe even our homes. Deliver equity and justice for all and there won’t be a need for DE&I programs. There is a saying that when white America catches a cold, Black people catch the flu. I don’t know where the expression originated, but it makes an interesting point – that whatever negatively affects white people can have devastating effects on Black people. Black and brown America is still dying of COVID-19 at nearly double the rate of White Americans. When crack cocaine addiction decimated Black communities, laws were put into place criminalizing its possession. As a result, thousands of Black people were put in jail – many for life. When White people started dying of heroin overdoses brought on by opioid addiction, it became a national crisis. Government programs were set up and billions of dollars poured into community programs to help White people get clean. To learn more about this problem, watch the Netflix documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption and Conspiracy I’m not making a political statement, just sharing information. In 2019, the CDC reported that maternal death rates for women over 30, who are Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native, are four times as high as for White women even though most pregnancy- related deaths are preventable. The deaths of Black people by law enforcement are its own centuries-old problem. From the volunteer slave patrols of the 1600s to the errant police officers of today, Black men’s lives have been disposable. According to Seth Soughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and a former police officer in Tallahassee, Florida, whose research has focused on the use of excessive police force, Slave patrols were designed to protect White wealth and status, not for public safety. Our former president said during the Black Lives Matter protests that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” – a clear Melitas / Shutterstock.com 12 enterprising Women