First Words, Now Action
These employers are showing they support Black Lives Matter with more than statements.
“I am heartbroken by the deep pain our communities are feeling,”
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in an email to his employees in June, when protestors took to streets across the country after the death of George Floyd—yet another Black man insensibly killed by police. Caught on camera, the tragedy followed months of a pandemic that laid bare deep inequities between Black and white Americans in every facet of life, from healthcare to employment.
Nadella’s email wasn’t enough for 250 employees, who signed a letter addressed to Microsoft’s executives, asking the company to formally support the Black Lives Matter movement. A few weeks later, Nadella followed up with another blog post, listing additional substantive steps the company planned to take, including investing $150 million more in diversity and inclusion efforts, and promising to double the number of “Black and African American people managers, senior individual contributors and senior leaders in the US by 2025.”
Nadella wasn’t alone. Scores of company leaders released statements condemning racism, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and expressing sympathy and solidarity with their Black colleagues and clients. But often, those sentiments were met with skepticism, particularly from Black employees, who pointed to a dearth of diversity, especially in the executive ranks, at their own companies. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in July proved the public wasn’t sold on the sincerity of the statements either; 69 percent said they believed public pressure had been a major contributing factor to companies speaking out about race, while merely 19 percent believed genuine concerns about the treatment of Black people in the country had motivated the messages.
“Actions give our words truth. There has been a lot of well-intentioned talk for decades, but we have to confront the role the business community has played in not going beyond nice statements to take action that drives change,” says Shannon Schuyler, chief purpose and inclusion officer at PwC US. “The best way business leaders can help drive equity is to truly make sure all of our people have the same opportunities at every stage of their careers. This
means breaking down barriers that are currently holding back our professionals, sponsoring people into more senior-level roles, hiring diverse people and holding ourselves accountable to deliver results.”
“I want employees to allow these conversations to happen.”
The professional services firm has been hosting conversations on diversity since 2016. The sessions became more necessary than ever in 2018, after Botham Jean, a Black accountant for PwC in Dallas, was killed by an off-duty police officer in his own apartment.
Like PwC, more companies have hosted listening sessions this year, which they say have been crucial for helping non-Black employees understand the pain their Black colleagues have experienced—not just right now, but over a lifetime navigating systemic injustices, microaggressions and, in some cases, naked racism. Experts caution, however, that employees of color can’t be the only ones driving these essential conversations.
“Many employees at Intel and across the world are hurting, balancing the challenges between home and work, especially employees in Black and marginalized communities, and we have no intention of making our Black employees shoulder the burden of these difficult conversations,” says Barb Whye, Intel’s former chief diversity and inclusion officer and VP of HR and social impact who was recently promoted to corporate vice president. “The burden of this work has to be placed on the systems that create the outcomes of inequalities. I ask every single employee at Intel to be an inclusion officer. I want them to hold one another accountable, to allow these conversations to happen, to listen, to learn and to be inclusive.”
“We can help the younger generations see what possibilities look like.”
Shortly before Black Lives Matter protests swept the country, Intel announced a new goal of increasing the number of women in technical roles by 40 percent and doubling the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior leadership positions in the next 10 years. The company had already achieved its earlier goal of full representation two years ahead of schedule, with a workforce that reflects the percent of women and underrepresented minorities available in the US skilled-labor market. But, like most organizations, white men are overrepresented at the top.
A diverse executive suite is about more than optics. If employees of color don’t believe a path to promotion is possible at their job, they’re likely to quit. A recent Working Mother Research Institute report found that 52 percent of Black women are considering leaving their companies within the next two years. Almost half (49 percent) of Black women said their race will make it more difficult to advance at their company.
That perception is bolstered by cold, hard data: There are currently zero Black women leading a Fortune 500 company. Despite numerous surveys that have found Black women begin their careers with higher aspirations than their peers, they make
I ask every single employee at Intel to be an inclusion officer. I want them to hold one another accountable, to allow these conversations to happen, to listen and to learn to be inclusive. —Barb Whye, Intel
up only 4 percent of management positions, while white women hold almost a third (32 percent) of all management positions.
“The reality is that people don’t start at the same starting line. But in the corporate world, it’s often assumed. Everyone is expected to run the same race,” says Thasunda Brown Duckett, CEO of Chase Consumer Banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and one of the most senior Black women in finance. “We need to continue to feel empowered as leaders so we can help the younger generations see what possibilities look like, and that we need them as leaders at the table.”
Thankfully, setting concrete diversity goals is one of the most significant ways organizations have pledged to do better. Wells Fargo announced a goal of doubling its number of Black leaders—currently 6 percent of senior management—in five years. Live Nation pledged to double the overall percentage of Black leadership across US divisions and to attain a minimum of 30 percent racially and ethnically diverse leaders in the US by 2025. Google committed to improving leadership representation of underrepresented groups by 30 percent by 2025. And Accenture announced in September that they plan to more than double the number of Black and Latinx managing directors by 2025.
Goals are a good start, but it’s accountability that’s imperative, says Deborah Tsai-Munster, vice president at Working Mother Media’s Diversity Best Practices. She’s seeing quicker and more meaningful changes from clients than ever before at DBP, which gives companies the tools and resources they need to build more-inclusive workplaces. “I don’t think it’s lip service. They’ve made real changes within their organization,” she says. “The question becomes how sustainable and how systemic will those changes be.”
“Accountability is a key part of what compels an organization to make progress.”
That’s what inspired HSBC USA to create a new US head of inclusion and culture, who will report to Maureen Gillan-Myer, head of HR, and work closely with president and CEO Michael Roberts on a number of new initiatives. “Michael and I recognized that accountability is a key part of what compels an organization to make progress,” GillanMyer says. “We’ve had so much effort in D&I, but we’re not pleased with the results, and it’s frustrating because we’ve put a lot of time, investment and people toward it. But we’re just not moving the numbers enough. We knew we needed to elevate the role, and expand it to focus on more than our internal employee base, such as: Do we have a diverse set of customers who we’re providing business and support to? Do we have a strong supplier diversity program that we continue to enhance? And are we giving and supporting underserved and underrepresented communities?”
Tsai-Munster wants to see more of that. “I would love to see D&I not as an HR-driven effort, but a business-driven effort. According to our DBP benchmarking, 97 percent of participating CEOs meet regularly with their CDO to review D&I objectives and goals. But we aren’t holding our leaders accountable, we’re not compensating for it, and we’re not funding and sourcing our D&I organizations properly,” she explains. “The majority of organizations have goals in place, but if they don’t meet those goals, then there are no repercussions.”
One fix: Tie D&I goals to compensation. Microsoft is doing just that, announcing that the company will deepen its practice of evaluating senior leaders’ progress on diversity when determining their rewards and promotions. Wells Fargo has also said that senior leaders will have their pay packages modified depending on how well they have increased representation of diverse employees in the operations they oversee. Tsai-Munster points out that three years ago, 29 percent of the companies that participated in the DBP Inclusion Index—which helps organizations understand gaps in demographic representation and provide a strategic road map to find and implement D&I solutions—tied D&I goals to compensation. “Fast-forward three years, we now have 45 percent tying to compensation,” she says. “I anticipate that that’s going to go even higher.
“The time to be bold is now,” she continues. “Not only are companies’ employees listening, but their consumers are listening too. For the Gen Z population entering the workforce, social justice and racial equity are their top concerns. They are looking to work for and spend their dollars with companies that are paying attention to those same things.”
I would love to see D&I not as an HR-driven effort, but a businessdriven effort. —Deborah Tsai-Munster, DBP