It’s no secret that individuals, especially Black Americans, are dealing with a mixture of emotions and thoughts during these troubling, unstable and terrifying times of civil unrest and racial inequality. Across the nation people are feeling a combination of frustration, anger, fear, disgust and impatience in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and more. For some, the recent tragedies have also sparked feelings of empowerment, passion, motivation and a deep drive to do what is right. Either way, individuals are making their voices heard and are stepping up to right the wrongs that have unfairly impacted the Black community for years. But individual people are not the only ones who need to take action here.
Companies and corporations across the nation need to step up as well.
They need to advocate for diversity, they need to commit to actual changes, and they need to be a part of the shift in how marginalized groups are treated in this country. And while social media posts are nice and words of support matter, we all know that actions speak louder than words, and unfortunately in 2020 words are not enough. Words cannot prevent unnecessary deaths and acts of police brutality. Words cannot protect at-risk communities from violent actions against them. And words cannot right the decades of wrong committed against people of color.
Yes, words are a start. Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel once said that “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Neutrality is not acceptable in the face of deeply seeded hatred and inequality. Silence is a luxury we cannot afford.
But companies need to not only speak up, they also need to take action, and it needs to start now. It’s not enough to just say the right thing or offer diverse product offerings targeting a diverse consumer base. Yes, those efforts matter. But there is a difference between written support or superficial sentiments and genuine allyship with purpose. And the Black Lives Matter movement needs allies and action more than ever.
Some companies are taking action. In recent weeks a number of companies across the globe have pledged their support for the Black community and have spoken out against racial injustices. From big box stores, retailers and brands like Target, Walmart and Nike, to tech companies like YouTube, Amazon, Reddit and financial institutions like JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America, companies are putting their money where their mouths are and committing to change.
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian recently stepped down from his role on the board of Reddit in an effort to set an example for other leaders in positions of power. His actions are in an effort to open up more opportunities for Black candidates, and to be able to one day tell his Black daughter that he did not sit back and do nothing in the face of racial injustice. “I have resigned as a member of the Reddit board, I have urged them to fill my seat with a Black candidate, and I will use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the Black community, chiefly to curb racial hate, and I’m starting with a pledge of $1M to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp,” he stated on his website and Instagram page.
Apple pledged to make donations to organizations including the Equal Justice Initiative, “a non-profit committed to challenging racial injustice.” Walmart announced that it will contribute $100 million over five years to create a new center for racial equity. Gap brands pledged a total of $250,000 in donations to the NAACP and Embrace Race on behalf of the brand that includes Athleta, Old Navy and Gap.
This list is by no means all-encompassing, but it does show you that various global brands and corporations across industries are taking action when words won’t be able to do enough.
So, what can corporate leaders do to join the fight for diversity and equality? Do their actions need to include a public statement, or a financial donation, or a bold move to prove their support and allyship? It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all plan for how companies should address systemic racism, but there are definitely some steps that organizations can all take to help not only show their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but their commitment to diversity and equality. It starts with conversation and extends into actions at every level.
Openly talk about race and get educated
The days of sweeping tough topics under the rug and avoiding uncomfortable conversations are gone, and that goes for individuals as well as larger corporations. A lot of people are nervous to broach the topic of racism and don’t even know where to start in terms of racial dialogue.
But that doesn’t mean that it is okay to avoid the topic and pretend that inequality and injustice doesn’t exist. Quite the contrary. Get educated. Learn everything you can about the history of systemic racism and white privilege, how you may have knowingly or unknowingly been a part of the problem, and what you can do to become a part of the solution.
Remember that the goal of being an anti-racist isn’t to be colorblind and not see color, but rather to accept, appreciate and learn from all races and people of all backgrounds. Talk about what racism looks like. Talk about how you can encourage diversity and support racial inclusion. Ensure that all employees of all colors have an equal opportunity to share ideas, advance in their career paths and have access to job training and open positions. Make your workplace a safe space to share shortcomings, expose inequities and work hard as a company to overcome any implicit bias and exclusionary scenarios.
The conversation has to start somewhere, and it might take time to unpack the systemic racism or lack of diversity you are trying to address. But remember that any conversation is better than no dialogue at all.
Commit to hiring diverse company leaders and employees
Simply saying you support diversity and you value diverse employees is no longer enough. You need to actually hire company leaders that reflect the increasingly diverse population of our country. Many companies rely on referral programs for new hires, which is problematic because in those scenarios unconscious bias can taint your judgment of a potential team member or can make you more lenient when evaluating a current or potential employee. Basically, if a candidate reminds you of your younger self, or a family member, friend or former employee, you might be more likely to hire them. This phenomenon clearly goes against the goals of hiring a diverse workforce. If we’re all hiring people who look just like us, then we’re contributing to the lack of diversity we’re trying to overcome.
It’s crucial that companies make a significant effort to hire using objective criteria when interviewing a diverse pool of applicants. And that doesn’t just apply to entry level positions — it’s as important, if not more important, when filling senior level jobs and leadership roles. Consider investing in blind hiring practices or removing names from resumes and CVs to avoid any unintentional but implicit bias. Look closely at the teams within your company and self-evaluate how diverse they are. If the teams making hiring decisions and determining company policies are not diverse, it’s pretty unlikely for a company to attract a diverse talent pool, and so the cycle continues.
Corporate diversity must be reflected at the top. And from what we can see from national statistics, it is often not reflected at the top (or anywhere). According to CNN, in 2018 Black professionals held just 3.3 percent of all executive or senior leadership roles, which are defined as within two reporting levels of the CEO, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If organizational diversity will ever accurately reflect the world we live in, then companies need to make a concerted effort to hire Black employees, and mentor those workers to help them advance in their careers into positions of leadership.
Provide mentorship programs and encourage equal advancement opportunities for all employees
Host monthly inclusion events. Organize workshops and discussion groups and open forums where employees can share their concerns, goals, experiences and objectives. Set up mentorship programs to coach and guide young talent and ensure that all employees have equal access to training and advancement in the workplace. Set up sponsorship programs where senior level employees are committed to advocating for the career growth of new or junior employees.
The key to long-term change and lasting positive effects that benefit all team members, not just privileged white employees, is a dedication to supporting the progression, growth and access to opportunity for everyone, especially marginalized people. This commitment to diversity and equality must come from the top, and it must be reflected in both company policy as well as established programs that benefit all employees.