The Litmus Test: Would Donald Sterling Work Here?

I heard Tim Wise speak yesterday regarding race, gender, and the bagful of what gets summarized as diversity and inclusion.

Wise was forceful, funny and spot-on. Sample lines: “If race is a card (e.g. “race card”) it’s a two of diamonds” and “Some execs like to colorize their organizations the ways Ted Turner colorized old movies.

For social issues we’ve had an interesting last 18 months; the Trayvon Martin verdict, NFL player Ray Rice‘s knock-out face punch to his now-wife, the enormous breakout of marriage equality rights in states across the country for same sex couples, the brutality of Michael Brown‘s death (still stunning that the cops would leave a dead body on the pavement for four hours) and the riots that followed in Ferguson, and the Donald Sterling of the National Basketball Association affair. You could even throw in CEO Desmond Hague’s puppy kicks, an act that got that got him sacked.

What passes for standards have changed, and they’ve changed quickly. The new “what’s now OK” standards that have replaced them are still being formed but you can use surrogates – things that stand-in for real events – to guide your own behavior.

My new test? Would – insert the name – work or live here? And as a parent, would somebody like Donald Sterling send his kids to this program or school and enjoy it?

If the answer is yes, then it’s my clue to take a long and hard look before signing on.

Tim Wise’s speech made it clear that you only get to live this life once.

Might as well make it a good one.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.