Truth written in the sand.

Standing by or standing up?

Creating more diverse, inclusive and accountable organizations requires intimate, conscious, individual action.

There have been too many headlines about mass shootings, death counts and hate crimes with devastating images of people running for cover. I know I am not alone in the compulsion to want to turn them off, if only for a moment… to get my children to school, organize myself, my mind, my day, and my team.

But as a chief communications officer, public relations professor, mother and Black woman, I can’t just turn them off. It’s my job to listen. I must comprehend counted lives lost and mass mourning every morning as I click, scroll, surf, flip and screen the demeaning — searching for meaning.

But meaning without traction is merely a plan without action.

Leaders are relied upon to reflect on social reckonings calling for a position, statement, action or response. In these moments, the first Arthur Page Principle becomes a key anchor — Tell the Truth. To do so requires directing that question within yourself, long before asking it of the organizations we represent.

Are you telling yourself the truth? Are you standing by, or standing up?

These are questions I often ask myself. The answers depend on places and spaces shaped by individual actions over time. Those individual actions form a collective culture — and thus each of us plays a role in shaping spaces that either cultivate diversity or suppress it.

Telling the truth.

I’ve worked for some of the most renowned companies on the planet and traveled to nearly every continent. Despite first-world advantages and first-class accommodations I often found myself standing by, instead of standing up. I sometimes stood by when someone’s voice went unheard because of status, gender or race. Often, I did not stand up or speak up when I had the answer to the problem at hand, because I was fearful about taking a stand.

Moments when I was a bystander in the face of power dynamics that overshadowed my spirit are ones I most regret. I regret not telling myself the truth; because in not standing up or speaking up my actions contributed to worsening the very culture I was striving to improve.

I was recently in a meeting of diverse leaders of color. The group may have concluded there was not much more we could do to change the culture when a woman spoke up. She said, “I am 50 years old and, for years, when others made macroaggressions towards us, we shook our heads, exchanged a glance and shrug that said, ‘Oh, that’s just them.’” She went on to say, “I don’t want to spend another 50 years doing that.” She was speaking her truth — our truth — and in so doing calling us to have a collective courage to identify ways to improve the culture.

As organizations focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, many efforts designed to scale will fail. Inclusion happens by telling yourself the truth. Cultural transformation happens when you then find the courage to speak that truth.

Each day, in conference rooms and classrooms, we have opportunities to tell the truth — and shape the culture we all need and deserve. In so doing, we move from individually standing by to standing up together.