Article first published in BRINK on July 1, 2020.
Real change requires real actions — the data shows us that empathy is not enough.
Moved by the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery, many companies are loudly reaffirming — Black Lives Matter. Email inboxes and corporate blogs have been flooded with heartfelt messages from companies expressing outrage at the inequity, fear, brutality and hate that permeates the lives of Black people in America and elsewhere. At the same time, CEOs are reaffirming their commitments to creating workplaces built around the ideals of diversity and inclusion. A commitment to normalizing and driving equality and racial justice is now a corporate imperative, offering a clear opportunity to be introspective and listen to the challenges of Black employees in the US workforce and beyond.
It is a positive sign. But will it drive lasting change?
Addressing the Say/Do gap
Some believe that we are seeing a watershed moment in US history. According to a Monmouth University poll released in June, 76% of Americans now say racism and discrimination are “a big problem” in the US — a 26% increase since 2015 — mainly due to the shifting understanding of white people.
But longtime observers will tell you we have seen such hopeful moments before. That in fact, the history of civil rights and equality in America has been a long and frustrating cycle of promises to do better, followed by very little real or sustained action for change.
This is particularly true in business, where there has long been a significant and discouraging “say/do” gap between the values companies express publicly and the impact of those values on real behavior and equality.
According to Mercer’s recently published Let’s Get Real About Equality report, 81% of organizations say they are focused on improving diversity and inclusion, yet less than half (42%) of US organizations surveyed have publicly documented commitments to racial or ethnic equality. Furthermore, only 23% of them review performance ratings by race or ethnicity to ensure against any adverse impact, and only 38% review engagement survey responses by race or ethnicity to understand any differences in experience.
With this disconnect, organizations cannot measure or understand how an employee’s experience and ability to succeed in the organization may differ based on race and ethnicity, and whether diversity and inclusion initiatives are having an impact.
According to the Mercer | Sirota global normative database, representing over eight million employees globally, Black employees are 14 percentage points less likely than white employees to agree that their company has created an environment where people of diverse backgrounds can succeed. They are also 10 percentage points less likely to say they work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and 7 percentage points less likely to say they can report unethical behavior without fear of retaliation.
Taking actions for greater impact
This isn’t to say that any organization sets out to be deceptive or insincere. However, it does suggest that the levers companies are currently pulling are not necessarily the ones that can make a sustained impact. Organizations can avoid common practices that tend to fall short by taking these critical steps:
What are the practices that drive real change?
Strategically working to develop an inclusive and equitable workforce for Black employees means hardwiring your organization:
Change can be daunting — but if there was ever a year to act decisively, it is 2020. We have achieved nearly impossible things this year by fast-tracking programs and policies to battle the threat of COVID-19. We must also seize this opportunity to address the enduring threats of racism and inequality through deliberate actions in the workplace.
Companies have the power to make this time different. We must use it.