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Companies Show Concrete Actions After Pledging to Fight Racism

Several major corporations have stepped up with concrete actions after the killing of George Floyd in late May when they pledged to fight systemic racism.

racism 5273779 640For major brands such as Nike, Twitter, Target, General Motors and the National Football League taking action meant giving their respective employees a paid holiday on Aug. 28, while JPMorgan Chase, Capital One and other banks closed branches early, The New York Times reports. On that Friday, thousands participated on a March on Washington to demand police reform and racial justice, NPR reports.

Many actions have centered around jobs, such as Adidas and Reebok promising to hire black or Latinx recruits for at least 30% of openings. Adidas owns Reebok. Facebook promised to double its black and Latinx workforce by 2023 and to boost black workers to leadership roles by 30% in the next five years. The social media giant also pledged to spend at least $100 million yearly on marketing firms, construction companies and other Facebook suppliers that are black-owned.

Other companies stopped technology initiatives that were deemed as unfairly targeting African Americans. For Amazon, that meant freezing police use of its facial recognition technology, Rekognition, while IBM said it would no longer engage in development or research of such technology over concerns of potential human rights and privacy transgressions.

SoftBank, a Japanese conglomerate, vowed to launch a $100 million fund to invest in minority-led entrepreneurs and companies in the U.S. PayPal introduced a $500 million fund to back black and minority-run businesses, and to set aside $15 million to improve its diversity and inclusion efforts at the firm.

Shortly after the police death of Floyd, Mark R. Kramer, cofounder and a managing director of FSG, a global social-impact consulting firm, wrote in Harvard Business Review that corporations need to take definitive actions against racial inequality.

“We cannot pretend that most major corporations in America—and their shareholders—have not benefited from the structural racism, intentional inequality, and indifference to suffering that is behind the current protests,” Kramer wrote. “Corporate America and the Business Roundtable have an obligation to go beyond tweets and quotes by committing to an agenda that will advance racial equity in meaningful ways.”

Anti-racism personnel policies and racial-equity training, pay equity, making Election Day a paid holiday, paying a living wage, paid parental/sick leave and full healthcare coverage are among commitments companies need to embrace, Kramer notes. “These commitments won’t eliminate structural racism, quell protests, or stop continued violence against the Black community, but they are changes within the power of every company that will make a profound difference,” he writes.

And while many companies that have made bold promises and commitments to creating more inclusive workplaces and to supporting racial justice, it is crucial to maintain that momentum over the long haul, Stephanie J. Creary, assistant professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, writes for Strategy+business.

“In addition to having to resist the tendency for business priorities to naturally shift to activities more focused on the bottom line, we are in the midst of a pandemic,” Creary writes. “As the devastating health and economic realities of the coronavirus continue to sink in, senior leaders will become mired in business contingency planning. With that comes the risk that the spotlight on racial justice will dim and issues of racial inequity will continue to plague their company.”

To guard against this, Creary says senior leaders should commit to four principles:

  • Being transparent about policies and progress
  • Practicing compassion when talking about race
  • Adopting strong strategies against injustice
  • Not apologizing for commitments to equity

“For senior executives, the message is clear: Don’t allow the momentum to stop or even slow—continue to tell the story,” Creary writes. “It may be challenging to consistently embrace an identity as an optimistic, courageous, and values-driven leader, but doing so will be critical for advancing any movement toward racial justice in the workplace.”

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