Editor’s Note: The following piece was written by 29 diversity executives. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
Racial unrest in the United States motivated many of you to issue heartfelt messages, statements of solidarity and/or conduct employee town halls and listening sessions with Black and Brown employees. You expressed your commitment to ensuring racism-free work environments, frequently calling for a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
You reached out to your internal communications and legal teams and have your diversity offices working overtime. You are connecting with your boards of directors and other leaders, discussing the current protests, developing short-term approaches to quell the palpable anger, sadness and frustration your employees are feeling, and you are establishing a list of actions your organization will take to respond to the calls for racial justice. To eradicate disparate treatment, and stop the psychological, economic and emotional damage will require more. Much more.
As a group of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) practitioners, we have some recommendations for corporate executives. Collectively, however, we must share our consternation that it took thousands of protests, sparked by unconscionable incidents of racial animus to garner the attention of many of Corporate America’s leaders.
We have previously attempted to include the topic of race in our IDEA strategies. And, while noting that many executives and employees express a general discomfort talking about most diversity topics (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, ethnicity), we have observed that in many organizations there is a real discomfort talking about race; choosing to lump the unique issues of Black people under the broader diversity umbrella to avoid having a candid conversation. Clearly, denying, minimizing or ignoring racism is no longer an option and we are hearing a resounding message from the many voices that are speaking out globally — from your C-suite to the entry levels of your organization. The message? The daily racism your Black employees live with is killing them — literally and figuratively.
We urge you to develop and implement a strategic action plan, measure outcomes with incentives and/or consequences and hold your leaders accountable for creating a more equitable and anti-racist work environment.
While we stand in solidarity with all marginalized communities, this call for action specifically speaks to systemic racism experienced by Black people. We recommend the following actions:
1. Commit to and build a global IDEA strategy. Fully support your organization’s inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility strategies, statements and commitments, including sharing ownership of measurable goals and accountability metrics.
2. Learn the history of racism and talk about it. Undertake a personal course of study and require all of your leaders to learn this history. Incorporate anti-racism education into your portfolio of leadership, management and employee education, and conduct discussion sessions. Agree to plans that encourage, sustain and reward mindset and behavior change.
3. Scrutinize company policies, practices and procedures. Look for ways existing processes encourage and perpetuate unequal and inequitable treatment of Black employees. The baseless claims against, and disparate scrutiny of Black people we see reported to the police (e.g., The White woman who called the police on a Black man in Central Park, the two Black men arrested at a Starbucks, etc.) occur in the workplace as well; in talent and performance discussions, handling of employee relations matters, assignments, promotions, etc.
4. Create a culture in which Black people feel safe. Solicit input from Black and Brown employees and champion a “speak up” work environment. Take action to create and reinforce psychological safety across the organization so that these employees feel they can speak candidly without repercussions. Acknowledge that doing so, for many employees, will be difficult due to years of mistrust and fear of being labeled as angry, militant, not a team player, etc.
5. Make a real investment in change. Give your inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility departments the voice and the financial and people resources they need to effectively lead. Too often, these departments are buried within human resources, have limited budgets, are thinly staffed and, in many cases, receive limited support from their HR, legal, communications, procurement and philanthropy colleagues. Set clear expectations and accountability with the leaders of those five functional areas about the level of transparency you want, and the amount of risk you are willing to take to accomplish the strategy to eradicate racism and improve IDEA in your organization.
6. Stay the course. You will no doubt receive messages from some departments, divisions, employees and perhaps external stakeholders opposing any more focus on race. You must trust your decision to focus on addressing racism. You must stand on what is fair and just; doing your homework to arm yourself with the understanding and facts to build support for your efforts and elevate IDEA strategy.
7. Be an exceptional corporate citizen. Take a public stance against systemic racism. We consider Ben & Jerry’s approach an example of best practice. Partner with, and donate to community organizations dedicated to anti-racism. Examine all of your giving and government affairs efforts to ensure that you are not supporting organizations that are advancing racist ideas or policies. We know it will take commitment, grace, and frankly, grit, to undertake the recommended actions to further and sustain IDEA in your organization.
As social justice advocate and founder of the Equal Justice Institute Bryan Stevenson said: “Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet.” Will you be that somebody? Commit to doing more than issuing a statement or scheduling a town hall. Commit to beginning and/or continuing to take bold action. Commit to real long-lasting and sustainable change. We stand ready to partner with you.
Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, president and chair, National Council of Negro Women
Angela Roseboro, chief diversity officer, Riot Games
Bo Young Lee, chief diversity and inclusion officer, Uber
Barbara Whye, chief diversity and inclusion officer, VP Social Impact and Human Resources, Intel Corporation
Barbara Williams Hardy, chief inclusion, diversity & health equity officer, Stanford University
Damien Hooper-Campbell, chief diversity officer, Zoom
Darlene Slaughter, vice president, chief human resources officer, March of Dimes
Dawnita Wilson, vice president diversity & inclusion, JBG SMITH
Howard Ross, co-founder/principal consultant, Udarta Consulting
Jeffery Wallace, president and CEO, LeadersUp
Jennifer Brown, Jennifer Brown Consulting
Mary Frances Winters, president, The Winters Group and author, You Can’t About that at Work and Inclusive Conversations
Margaret Regan, president and CEO, The FutureWork Institute
Michael Davis, co-founder and global DEI consultant, Globali365
Melonie Parker, chief diversity officer, Google, Inc
Michael Leslie Amilcar, CEO, Cook Ross Inc.
Nichole Barnes Marshall, vice president, chief diversity officer, L Brands
Dr. Sheila Robinson, CEO Diversity Woman Media
Dr. Shirley Davis, president, SDS Global Enterprises, Inc.
Steve Hummerickhouse, executive director, Forum on Workplace Inclusion
Tamika Curry Smith, former vice president, Global Diversity & Inclusion, Nike
Tania Sessions, president, TaniaMSession
Deborah Dagit, president, Deb Dagit Diversity LLC
Christine L. Bryan, director of Marketing & Development, Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh
Eric Watson, executive consultant, Kaleidoscope Group
Lynn Banaszak, president, Caileigh Lynn McDowell Foundation
Lynn H. Harris, president, MOSAIC Coaching & Consulting, LLC,
Mijon Tholen, chief inclusion & strategic innovation officer, Amnesty International USA
Rosalyn Taylor O’Neale, principal consultant, Cook Roos, author, 7 Keys 2 Success: Unlocking the Passion For Diversity
For other signatories, visit www.ideacoalition.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified two of the contributors.