It's Time for Corporate Leaders to Go Further in the Fight for Racial Justice

June 10, 2020

 

Welcome to Black America 2020: COVID-19 has taken the lives and livelihoods of more black Americans than of any other race. Amy Cooper invoked the police to threaten Christian Cooper in Central Park,  and three white men in Georgia almost got  away with murdering Ahmaud Arbery.  Then, the horrific killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd exhausted and horrified audiences. Inequality in America is too often fatal, but it has finally become impossible to ignore.

 

 As of today, we've seen protests  in all 50 states and across the world, while the call for change rings in police precincts, legislative houses, across industries and also up corporate ladders. As companies face public pressure to speak up, consumers are making it clear that they want to know that the companies they use not only share their values, but also live their values.

 

As a lifelong civil rights activist and black entrepreneur, I'm thrilled to see this reckoning among corporate leaders but it's time for them to go further, by acting with the intentionality the moment demands. Any company that fails to take immediate concrete action for racial justice will face a long-term toll. Words in strong corporate statements must be paired with strong deeds, like truly investing in creating a diverse talent pool at every level of the company structure, and elevating an entire cohort of people of color to positions of leadership as executives and board members.

 

I've seen the talent landscape, and there are plenty of people in the job market who are well qualified to fill these positions, and it's up to corporate America to reach out beyond their age-old networks to harness it. Committing to actionable and long-term change can't be half-hearted, and this moment makes clear that Americans want real accountability and lasting change.

 

We can think of these demands as two tangential tracks of important work: addressing the enduring effects of racist policy and leveraging success to achieve change.

 

This is not unlike our country's historic legacy of redlining -- the discriminatory practice of denying or limiting mortgage and financial services to communities of color -- which involved strategically preventing black Americans from building wealth for their families and their communities through home ownership. Addressing the effects of racist policies requires investing resources -- time, energy and capital -- into the black community, a segment of our community which has been historically, strategically deprived of worthy investment.

 

The people have made clear that we are witnessing not a moment, but a movement. Businesses need to position themselves not only so that they may rise to the occasion, but so that they are deeply involved in and participating in the long overdue wave of changes that we're starting to see. Businesses cannot in good faith post infographics about the need for police accountability without also holding themselves accountable in their own practices. They need to be open and willing, as Verizon was when I worked with them, to speak publicly -- in word and deed -- about what it means to value black lives.

 

It's been my life's work to help companies achieve significance once they've achieved success, to help them channel their enterprises into serving the greater good. American businesses must understand their role in the fight for justice and equality in this country where they've built their successes. There are only two sides in this fight, and future success for companies will depend on their being on the right side of it.

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