Unlock the brakes, Old White Guys!

It’s time for Old White Guys (OWG) to take their foot off the brakes on social change and lean into the actions that will move us toward social and economic justice. These actions will create more opportunity, faster growth in our economy, and a brighter future for everyone. This isn’t a Pollyanna vision, but rather a steely eyed look at how we move forward together.

In my previous column, I made the case that there are three legs to the stool that will support our efforts toward economic and social justice. Peaceful protest provides energy and a sense of unity; policy documents the changes we want to see; and those in power control how fast these changes will go into effect. Like it or not, most of the levers of power remain firmly in the hands of OWGs. They control the speed of any long-term change.

Now, I’m reaching out to my fellow OWGs to make the case for taking our foot off the brakes and moving smartly forward. Moving forward is good for business and good for our communities. You can take a leadership role or you can coach and facilitate the efforts of those working on positive change. We can influence and catalyze these changes to all our benefit.

Most of us are pretty set in our ways. Words like curmudgeon, rigid, or ossified fit as descriptions because we like the world our own way. We make the rules and set our routines for minimum disruption. When those disruptions occur, we can usually wait them out without much discomfort. We’re not all bad guys, just comfortable in our routines.

That’s no longer good enough. The first nine months of 2020 catalyzed and intensified changes already in motion. COVID stress exposed the weaknesses in ourselves, our operations, and our communities. The split between the “haves” and the “have nots” became more visible and was defined in racial terms. The essential worker paradox also confronted us. We became aware of people performing critical roles but paid at the bottom of our scales. As if that wasn’t enough, technology adoption also accelerated to deal with the pandemic and now is transforming all of our routines.

All of these changes create a new level of stress and disruption, even for OWGs. This time, most of us won’t be able to wait out the changes in our comfort zones. We have two choices: We can use raw power to slow change or use our power to heal divisions and align positive initiatives.

It’s time to reawaken our idealism. We need to think about what’s possible and not just what’s easy. We should be thinking about how we can change the world, not just securing our lives. It’s time to shake off our cynicism and bet on the good will of others. We can dust off our dreams and ideals, asking ourselves “Why not?”

Our OWG status puts us in great position to harness youthful energy and guide it to productive paths. We can provide our perspective and persistence while emphasizing the need for strong institutions that act in accordance with our shared values. OWGs can accept the need for change to build resilience and strength in tumultuous times. We need everybody to make this effort successful for the long run.

Here are three good reasons to get out of your comfort zone and catalyze change:

First, it will spur a faster recovery. Many parts of the economy have recovered and many have not. The lagging sectors continue to struggle because of a lack of consumer confidence in the safety of those operations. The recovering sectors lack the trained workers necessary to spur a full recovery. Positive change will make it easier for displaced workers to reengage.

Second, change will open new opportunities. The pandemic exposed many problems waiting to be solved in a meaningful way. OWG entrepreneurship can help initiatives quickly align with these problems and OWG perspectives can shape these efforts most effectively. The flux created by COVID provides the opportunity to align entrepreneurial opportunities with social change. That alignment sets us up for long-term success.

Finally, these changes put our organizations on firmer footing. Diversity provides more expertise to address difficult situations. Inclusion efforts help our employees engage more effectively by bringing their whole selves to their job and making them more comfortable to step up to challenges. These elements coming together help companies perform better, makes them more flexible, and provides the resilience needed in these turbulent times. Ultimately, these same elements set up companies as employers of choice, providing them access to the best talent in the market.

OWGs, the time to move is now. Many of us are taking steps to learn, support, and engage with the people making positive changes happen. There’s more work to be done and we won’t finish it without your help. Make a difference! Join these efforts and demonstrate how capitalism and social justice are not mutually exclusive.

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