Fireside Chat Topics: 4 Questions to answer

For Black History month, one of my previous employers invited me to come for a fireside chat. I was conflicted at first. Firstly, about 2 months ago I told myself that it was over. I had enough of pouring my heart out in front of people to “educate” them or give them a good story to share during the next dinner party. But I am also deeply committed to my community. So could I say no to this Black Employee Network programming their BHM celebrations?

But there may be a way to move forward while staying true to my mission. But I need your help. Here are the 6 questions for that fireside chat and what I am planning to say. Let me know what you think, e.g., “Spice it up” or “chill homie.”

  1. What does good allyship look like?

I have no clue what a good allyship looks like. I know many great allies, and I am grateful to count them in my network. However, allyship is different. It needs to be systematic. A comparison would be the Allied Power during World War 2. To make a dent in systemic racism, we need more than great allies; like in WW2, we need a large committed and organized group of people. We need them to have skin in the game. Think about the progress being made on gender equality. Some people attribute part of it to the first daughter effect, basically dads evolving their views after having their daughter.

2. What’s the difference between leadership and allyship?

There should be no difference between outstanding leadership and allyship. Leadership is dynamic. Leadership understands it takes to get the most of organizations. Leadership is brave and ahead of the curve. Take the example of the CEO of Delta, Ed Bastian; his positions on BLM are bold, and he did not consult his board before going public. His explanation was that if they disagreed with something so essential, he would not work there. This is an example of stronger allyship; if the cause loses, all parties lose.

3. What does an inclusive culture look like?

My best example is from one of my favorite cities: Toronto. This is the first place in the world where I could see ethnic communities organized by neighborhoods and still see an extraordinary level of inclusion across communities. It was a real shock. Born and raised in France, I was taught to fear differences between people. France claims that we are all French first. That we should all assimilate, and this is the best way to live. It is the best way to live for people already in favorable positions. For the rest… it mostly sucks… Back to Toronto. It taught me that recognizing differences, celebrating them and including others not only could work but is the best way forward.

4. On the journey of corporate success, what hurdles or barriers existed compared to white counterparts?

This is the most challenging question. How to prove that Blacks are held back in society and in corporations? The vast majority of white males did the job so far. Large corporations grew despite having mostly white males at the top. They must have done something right. There are also Blacks here and there at the top of corporations. When it happens, people are quick to point out to that person, most likely a man (gender inequality also exists after racial disparities).

I need to take a detour to argue that Blacks are held back. Let’s take the example of the US. A country where there are more CEOs of large corporations called John than there are Black CEOs. Despite representing about 13% of the US population, Blacks are a tiny portion of senior leadership? Anything other than systemic discrimination implies that Blacks are less capable/intelligent/driven/etc…

How do successful Black leaders overcome this? Some are lucky; most work significantly more than anyone else. Take the example of Tidjane Thiam. He had a short tenure at Credit Suisse despite great results. He has an outstanding education, excellent track record in business AND politics.

What’s the verdict? Spicy or chill?