BEYOND PROMISES TO PROGRESS
Black CEOs and C-Suite Officers Speak Out on Diversity
Since George Floyd’s murder, much of Corporate America committed itself to improving diversity, equity and inclusion after the senseless killings of many Black Americans by police. However, despite highly visible social posts, advertisements, trainings and diversity plan announcements, visible signs of meaningful change have not been realized for Black people. Few would deny that there is a compelling case for achieving racial equity in Corporate America. Black Americans have suffered the consequences of systemic racism for more than 400 years and evidence of this can be seen in existing disparities between workers and executives of different races in all parts of the business sector. For many Black leaders, the last year and a half has been simultaneously invigorating and exhausting. “Invigorating” because a critical mass of corporate leaders, board directors, investors and government officials — Black and non-Black — have committed to addressing the issues; yet “exhausting” because many Black leaders have spent much of their careers (and retirement) pressing the gas pedal on the movement towards racial equity.
An Inability — or an Unwillingness?
Many of the tactics and strategies for achieving real change have been known for years. Executives from across the spectrum of industries have acknowledged that improving diversity, equity and inclusion is a business imperative. Yet, much of Corporate America has long exhibited an inability to follow through on promises to improve racial equity. But should we draw a distinction between inability and unwillingness? Because of existing racial disparities, a variety of recommendations have been proposed to increase the representation of Black employees in leadership positions. These include “systems-based” perspectives that advocate for transforming
company structures and processes over tactical oneoff approaches and external initiatives designed to increase board members’ engagement in racial and equity work. While these approaches are promising, what is lacking is a multi-level framework of strategies to help Corporate America improve racial equity and a roadmap for instilling accountability for implementing these strategies and tracking their effectiveness.
A Roadmap for Real Progress
The report provides a roadmap for making real progress — and the time for implementing it is now. Many of the tactics and strategies discussed here, from having the CEO be truly responsible for the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion plans and results, to including more board oversight and governance, stronger ties to compensation, improved succession planning and more focus on employee engagement, vendor programs and philanthropy have been part of best practices for years. So why aren’t companies using these tactics, or doing so in an effective manner? A small number of corporations have made some progress, but most have not. As one interviewee noted: “We know what to do. It is foolish to think we know how to do everything else, but not this. We have to have the will to act and act decisively.”
We do not underestimate the challenge of this undertaking and what it’s going to take to get it right. Therefore, The Executive Leadership Council is doubling down on its commitment to build more momentum on diversity, equity and inclusion. The stakes have never been higher.
• More diversity at every level of the company, and especially at executive, C-suite and board levels, is critical.
• Companies must use their influence to improve communities of color and go beyond direct employment.
• Unrelenting wealth disparities continue to eat away at the very fabric of our society, and we need better solutions and better policies.
Corporate America has built its success on setting and meeting high bars. Meeting the bar identified in the report should be no exception. We cannot let this moment be of minimal or no consequence. It is our hope that the paper will serve as a tool and call to action for all leaders making the necessary changes to move their organizations forward.