The murder of George Floyd one year ago brought a wave of protests calling for police reform and social justice, along with an avalanche of corporate commitments to become more equitable, diverse and inclusive.
Below, CommonHealth ACTION president and CEO Natalie S. Burke shares her thoughts on what lessons leaders have learned from Floyd’s death, how they should apply those lessons and what companies are fulfilling their commitment. As an advisor to institutional executives, government and philanthropic leaders, communities aspiring to change, and everyone in between, Burke has decades of experience working to develop people and organizations to produce health through equitable policies, programs, and practices.
What are some important lessons business leaders should have learned in the year since the murder of George Floyd?
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, many business leaders made public commitments to foster racial equity within their four walls and racial justice throughout society. For many, within a few months it became clear that they were not prepared to take authentic action. They lacked the internal capacity to create a culture that values racial equity; they had yet to cultivate the collective will necessary to foster equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business; many lacked the language necessary to lead conversations about institutional or interpersonal racism; and very few had engaged in a personal journey to understand how race and racism factored into their life experiences and leadership – regardless of their own identity.
As a result of those challenges and ongoing pressure from their workforce and the public, some business leaders have now committed to a company-wide racial equity journey rooted in action-oriented anti-racism, not merely a temporary HR initiative. They understand that the journey requires ongoing discomfort, difficult conversations, and assuming risk – but they also know that standing against racism is a moral and a business imperative driven by public sentiment, shifting demographics, competition for an increasingly diverse workforce and long-term revenue goals.
How have, or should, those lessons be applied?
Many leaders now know that to fight racism successfully requires engagement of their entire workforce, not only people of color. It requires leaders to engage the hearts and minds of people throughout their organization. That has led many of them to invest in ongoing, company-wide learning regarding equity, diversity and inclusion that extends beyond training and has led to the development of communities of practice — groups that create space for people to learn on an ongoing basis and to explore solutions to racism and other inequities in their workplace. In addition, c-level business leaders are increasingly interested and investing in executive coaching that specifically focuses on equity — for themselves and for their leadership teams.
Over the past year, more leaders have pushed their companies to learn the truth about the experiences of people of color within and outside of their organizations. They have started to collect and review data that transcends diversity and inclusion to include a focus on issues of power and the impact of their policies and practices on people of color. Many business leaders now know that rooting out racism and bias requires internal policy changes and formal accountability for the implementation of those policies. In some instances, they have started to explore corporate citizenship through the lens of racial equity and anti-racism.
Which companies and organizations are good examples of how those lessons have been applied, and why?
While many of the changes needed to further the cause of racial justice will focus on culture and take place over time, some companies have made financial commitments that have the potential to generate more immediate impacts. J.P. Morgan Chase committed $30B over the next five years to address the racial wealth gap by funding Black and Latino small businesses. Goldman Sachs committed $10B to support the advancement of Black women over the next 10 years. Other entities have invested in supplier diversity such as Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to spend $2 billion per year on enterprises owned by people of color, women, LGBTQ+ and other traditionally under-resourced and under-represented groups.
These examples are significant because they have allowed for an important shift in the flow of capital, but also, these companies are taking steps internally to address racial equity, diversity and inclusion within their workplace and within their workforce. They have decided to use a myriad of tools available to them, knowing that there is no one answer or quick solution to racial injustice or inequities. There is no box to check, so instead they are on the journey.