Civil, Civic, and Equality Movements
There was a time when organizations taking a stand on social issues was considered taboo or bad business. The massive global protests of 2020 underscored that silence is no longer an option—and change is a question of when, not if.
Even amid the pandemic, mass demonstrations roiled the streets in a number of countries, as people protested police violence and systemic racism. The 2020 protests are part of a wider trend spanning the past decade—covering nearly every continent and a whole host of societal issues.
Such issues pose serious risks for organizations in terms of business disruption and loss of trust. But silence—and avoiding the calls for equality—is now more likely to backfire. Nasdaq, for example, has proposed new listing rules that would require all companies listed on Nasdaq’s US exchange to publicly disclose consistent, transparent diversity statistics regarding their board of directors and have (or explain why they do not have) at least two diverse directors, including one who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+. At the same time, consumers and citizens are increasingly turning a spotlight on organizations big and small, scrutinizing everything from hiring practices to marketing campaigns to stakeholder relations.
Years of data also show that diverse leadership leads to increased profitability, greater innovation, and more effective governance. Yet companies have made little progress in truly diversifying their ranks. According to one survey, just 1 in 25 C-suite executives in the United States is a woman of color,8 and 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are Black. PMI’s own research shows just 33 percent of respondents say their organization has a culturally diverse senior leadership team.9 COVID may be adding to the problem: more than a quarter of organizations reported putting all or most diversity and inclusion initiatives on hold because of the pandemic, according to a study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity.10 That’s a mistake.
For Black architect Pascale Sablan, moving the needle on diversity is about attacking injustices from within through design justice—an understanding that architecture isn’t a positive thing to all people.
“Architecture, city planning, and urban planning can be very oppressive to certain demographics and from an economical standpoint. Understanding that architecture has injustices embedded means you have to activate and create projects that change the narrative and right those wrongs,” said Sablan, senior associate at S9Architecture and founder and executive director at Beyond the Built Environment LLC, New York, United States. “There’s architecture that hurts and architecture that kills and architecture that damages. We need to identify those components, eradicate them from our built environment and replace them with architecture that heals. Justice in the built environment will allow for diversity and inclusion to occur. It’s not enough to just have diverse designers. You need to make the built environment respond to a diverse community.”
For example, Sablan is currently working on The Bronx Point, which aims to flip affordable urban housing on its head with a resident-first design that elevates community spaces with amenities like the first brick- and-mortar hip-hop museum. But it was one of the smallest features that turned out to be the biggest wins: when future residents requested barbecue grills be added to the scope, Sablan persuaded the project leadership to expand the scope and accommodate the request. “The capacities of our homes can be so small that the ability to gather as a community and share a meal is often difficult.”
8. “The number of black CEOs in the Fortune 500 remains very low,” Fortune, June 1, 2020.
9. A Case for Diversity. PMI, June 2020.
10. “Don’t Let the Shift to Remote Work Sabotage Your Inclusion Initiatives,” Institute for Corporate Productivity, March 31, 2020.