BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Bringing Your Whole Self to the Table

by Yuwanda Black

Part of the celebration of Black History Month is recognizing those who made a difference. You cannot make a difference unless you bring your whole self to the table. Entrepreneurship perfectly illustrates this.

The recent scandals in corporate America ó Enron, WorldCom, Andersen, etc. óare rife with examples of those who brought less than their whole self to the table. What is this "whole self" I keep referring to?

A little story: When I was in college, I took an African studies class. One of the lectures focused on compartmentalization. The professor used religion for illustrative purposes.

She noted, in Western society, many of us go to church on Sunday and embrace the values of family, brotherhood and community. Yet, in the Monday through Friday business world, these values don't exist. We even have a widely used idiomatic expression to explain it away, "It's not personal, it's business."

In contrast, she noted that most African societies don't have "religions" per se. They have "belief systems." These beliefs are carried out in every aspect of life ó they are not compartmentalized. In other words, the same rules that apply on Sunday, apply Monday through Saturday.

Our current system of capitalism promotes a culture of "produce at all costs." Slashed jobs, around-the-clock production and few, if any, benefits to workers are the cost of competing and profiting. What does this mean for the average worker? Working longer and harder, for less money, with fewer benefits.

What does this mean for family life, the community, the promotion of good will among neighbors? Less time to bond with one's child; less time to imbed values that promote staying out of trouble, respecting others and contributing to society (eg, volunteering).

A business should enhance, not detract from, the fabric of a community. This begins with the business owner who decides which policies and practices his enterprise will promote. As a small business owner, you may be thinking, "But I'm in business to make money." However, promoting the values you embrace on Sunday are the very ones that will make you money.

When you bring your whole self to the table ó all of your values, ethics and morals ó you are contributing to your bottom line. How? Workers with such options as flex time, job sharing, decent benefits, etc., are less likely to leave. This contributes to your bottom line by reducing training costs.

Promoting a culture that values every part of your employees' lives makes them more loyal. This is reflected in how they service customers. And, satisfied customers are loyal, repeat customers.

Consider this: In the 1991 report, ìWhat Do Employees Really Want? The Perception vs. The Reality,î published by Korn/Ferry International, the workers in the study said that their priorities are: 1) first work/life balance (as many as 86% said this); 2) job security; and then 3) financial rewards. Note that money is not first.

Entrepreneurs owe it to society to bring their whole selves to the table. If not, we must wonder about our contribution to the erosion of family values, ethics and character building.

"When I started EthnicHomeDecor.com, I decided early on that EHD would not ship on Saturdays and Sundays. Even though it is an online enterprise, being a seven-day-a-week company runs counter to the culture I want to foster."

The fight for equality and civil rights required our leaders to bring their whole selves to the table. Ponder where we as African Americans would be had Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, et cetera left their "Sunday" values behind Monday through Friday.

So, for Black History month, let's salute those who had the courage to bring their whole selves to the table ó and strive to do the same ó for it is the only true path to freedom of every kind.
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May be reprinted with inclusion of the following: Cassandra & Yuwanda Black are co-owners of EthnicHomeDecor.com, an online retailer of soft home furnishings with ethnic themes. Visit http://www.EthnicHomeDecor.com for full details.
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