By Jesus Torres
In this new era of addressing systemic racism, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri have become “woke.”
Go ahead and ask them if black lives matter.
The callous murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has forced us to confront our shameful legacy of racism and oppression. While past instances of police brutality led to mass protests, they were often framed by the media as a problem between the black community and law enforcement.
The brutality of Floyd’s murder changed this dynamic overnight and brought to our collective consciousness Martin Luther King’s passage from his letter from Birmingham Jail, “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And it goes beyond the issue of police brutality, as this tragedy has generated a broader national debate on issues such as racial disparities in housing, health care, education, wealth, and in the justice system, among many others.
The business community is grappling with how to address systemic racism in this new environment. Big corporate brands shared their commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement with brief messages of solidarity. Others have pledged to create “social justice” funds to give back to undeserved communities.
As well intentioned as these efforts may be, these reactionary corporate funding strategies are simply transferring responsibility to addressing systemic racism to others rather than looking inward at their own structure that may perpetuate inequality. Real change needs to happen within organizations themselves. It is hard to reconcile a tech giant like Amazon stating their commitment to racial justice when, as of February 2019, their management team is all white. Its board of directors only recently appointed two women of color after employee protests.
The Latino Corporate Directors Association recently completed a study showing that Latinas hold 1.1 percent of corporate director seats in Fortune 1000 companies based in California, the lowest of any minority in a state where Latinas make up 39 percent of the female population.
Businesses should not engage in “reactional diversity” but should be intentional with their efforts. Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are business imperatives because diverse companies, according to a 2015 McKinsey study, are more financially profitable. The study showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity have financial returns that are 35 percent above their industry medians. In a global marketplace, having a diverse workforce will provide unique insights and sensitivities in areas like marketing, product development and customer care.
Some organizations hire chief diversity officers. However, the loudest voices for diversity have to come from executive leadership. Culture starts at the top and these leaders must set the tone and a vision for a more inclusive workplace.
Further, some organizations make the mistake of placing their diversity programs in the HR department. An inclusive company is not only focused on having a diverse workforce, but creating a robust supplier diversity program, an equitable philanthropic strategy and inclusive marketing and public relations messaging.
Having processes and systems in place help mitigate unconscious biases that plague our workplace and hurt productivity. Most importantly, organizations with an intentional diversity strategy establish an environment where employees of color feel safe and valued. An environment where race, ethnic background, or the way someone speaks is a unique asset, not something to be suppressed, and/or managed, which many are forced to do. Such an environment will enhance employees’ sense of humanity, fostering a more inclusive work environment.
There is hope that we are living through a turning point in race relations. It is time for genuine action, starting with an inward look at ourselves for a better America.
• Jesus Torres is a diversity consultant and CEO of LEAD Public Strategies in Camarillo.