The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor laid bare to the world the systemic racism that results in death for the Black community. Floyd and Taylor were not the first and were not the last to die at the hands of police brutality.
But their deaths made it clear to the world that systemic racism cannot and should not be ignored any longer. It sparked a groundswell and then unprecedented response from society and corporations on what everyone is doing on an individual, community, and company basis to turn talk into actions.
Thousands of people around the world took to the streets to protest against racism and to show unprecedented support of the Black Lives Matter movement. In response, companies have had to acknowledge and received fierce public backlash for saying that “Black lives matter,” having seemingly not shown true commitment to fighting racial injustice internally or externally.
Following that, companies across the world have pledged money, launched programmes, and have assessed what they need to do to bring about change. Most recently, Citi pledged $1bn (£790m) to battle racial inequality.
Politicians and world leaders seemed to move forward but, in reality, the officer involved in Breonna Taylor's death was charged with wanton endangerment, while the two other officers involved in the case were not charged. None of the officers were charged for their role in her death, which has caused uproar from the family's lawyer as well the communities across the globe.
“Breonna Taylor did not receive justice yesterday, so no one received justice,” said Ramcess Jean-Louis, global head of diversity and inclusion, Verizon Media.
The DIAL Global Virtual Summit is support by Yahoo Finance’s parent company Verizon Media. The virtual conference, entitled ‘A Call to Action & Moving the DIAL for Meaningful and Sustainable Change through Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging’ speaks to senior directors and C-suite executives at the largest organisations in the world to discuss how companies can foster a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
Jean-Louis, Claire Camara, HR director, Co-op and Lord Simon Wooley CBE, chair of the MDP Review, OBV & adviser to the UK government were on a panel entitled ‘Black Lives Matter – now is the time for organisations to prove it,’ hosted by Shoku Amirani, chair of BBC Embrace.
Speaking together, just a day after the news on Taylor, the panellists unpacked where society is at in the fight for racial justice but also what are companies doing to make sure they are making a change, not just talking about it.
The first thing we all have to do is “to hold ourselves accountable and address issues head on,” said Jean-Louis. We all have to “acknowledge where we have failed when it comes to address systemic racism.
Before, it was a footnote in training around unconscious bias. But it’s easy to look at other industries on where the gaps are, whether education and healthcare, but we have to look at the man in the mirror and see what steps we are taking.
“It’s about empathy, advocacy, and action.”
Echoing Jean-Louis and Camara, Lord Simon pointed out that as an activist, he has learned that he needed to “bring wider society along with me.” He said that while we have to “empower communities to vote and make demand predicated on justice,” he has had to educate others to understand that social justice isn’t a “zero sum game.”
“Me and people like me fulfilling their potential, doesn’t mean if I gain, you lose — if I gain, we all gain.”
“We’ve spent a lifetime fighting but never before in our history are we at a point where so many people no longer needed to be convinced that we have a challenge — it’s ‘what do we need to do.’ Before, we were at -10 now we’re at 0. Zero is still significant because the conversation will be how do we build on this journey, unleash talent, and find better ways of doing things. The challenge is that with COVID-19, when there’s an economic downturn, people bunker down to old ways. But this isn’t a moment, it’s a movement.”
Camara said she is using this time to “harness her power” to bring about change and move from “social injustice to justice, exclusion to inclusion, and from the powerless to the empowered.”
Inequality also has a business cost
A new report from Citi (C) this week showed that systemic racism in the United States has cost the economy $16tn over the past two decades. That’s the combined cost of disparities in wages, education, investment in black-owned businesses, and the housing market.
“Racial inequality has always had an outsized cost, one that was thought to be paid only by underrepresented groups,” said Citigroup vice-chairman Raymond J McGuire.
"What this report underscores is that this tariff is levied on us all, and particularly in the US, that cost has a real and tangible impact on our country’s economic output. Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility and an opportunity to confront this longstanding societal ill that has plagued Black and brown people in this country for centuries, tally up the economic loss and as a society, commit to bring greater equity and prosperity to all."
Two months ago, Goldman Sachs (GS) said in a major report that reducing the Black disadvantage in employment, income and wealth could deliver a $400bn boost to US GDP.
Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs (GS), said tackling economic inequality was not only about fairness, it could also bring huge financial benefits.
A benchmark McKinsey report also showed that companies in the top quartile for ethnic or cultural diversity in their executive teams are 36% more likely to experience above-average profitability.
Jean-Louis points out that it’s not about “not fixing the problem for Black people — it’s co-designing the path forward.”
At Verizon Media, Jean-Louis pointed out that the company has a Racial Justice action plan that is co-created by senior leaders of the company as well as the members of the employee resource group (ERG) for the Black community — BOLD.
“I love the fact we are taking bold steps and working with BOLD to put together the Racial Justice super committee. The ERG members empowered us with language to build a foundational blocks towards racial justice,” he said.
He pointed out the power of language can switch mindsets to focus on the core issue. For example, acknowledging the issue is racial justice, not social justice. “It’s the avoidance of using certain language that takes humanity away,” for example, people avoiding saying the “murder” of George Floyd.
Jean-Louis outlined how the path to racial justice means making sure the ERG BOLD co-designs the path forward, which includes them participating in senior leadership meetings with the CEO as well work on action points related to talent acquisition, mobility, and more.
At the Co-op, which has over 70,000 employees in the UK, Camara says that the company has been pivoting to how to greater address racial inequality and what they can do as a business to help society by launching a set of commitments. This includes how they operate within communities, and by allocating spend to purchase goods from a range of groups, increasing that market share to 20-25%.
Camara said: "As Lord Simon said, ‘this isn’t a pie — there’s enough for everyone. Right now, it’s about giving people a voice and bringing this forward into action.’"