In the last couple of weeks with the fallout from the brutal and senseless police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, companies in retail, advertising, technology, media, entertainment, sports, finance, healthcare, and other industries have posted great messages on LinkedIn and other social media platforms about supporting Black Lives Matter and committing to diversity and inclusion. It’s easy to release a PR statement, but where is the action? Now is the time to see them walk their talk. Supporting a race of people is more than a hashtag or a temporary black square on your Facebook page.
We are already seeing how some of these Black Lives Matter statements ring hollow. Many companies have a history of racial discrimination and exploiting people of color and have failed to hire, promote and fairly compensate their Black employees. The comments in their posts tell you a lot—current and former employees sharing stories of being overlooked, overworked, underpaid, and abused. Hypocrites and exploiters are being exposed. Leaders are being fired or forced to resign.
Authenticity matters, even more so in 2020. Companies have to decide NOW which side of history they will be on. It could be the reason they thrive, or the reason they go out of business. The token responses don’t cut it anymore. This is the time for companies to be the leader in changing the status quo, recruiting and promoting Black professionals, and offering inclusive workplaces.
With nearly 50 million Black people in the United States, Black consumers spend more than $1 trillion a year, with one-tenth of the wealth of white Americans. African Americans continue to outpace spending, giving us a large share of the buying power in this country. But we still don’t have the titles or the voice to drive positive and inclusive change in terms of fair and healthy products, services and treatment.
I’ve asked every organization I’ve worked for why they don’t hire more Black people, and the answer is always the same: “We can find Black top talent” or “We tried so hard but didn’t get a return on the investment.” Hearing this consistently for over 20 years is not just frustrating; it’s maddening. This can’t be their excuse anymore, especially when we see the number of Black college and Master’s graduates steadily increase.
Even the companies who do a decent job at recruiting employees of color have a problem retaining diverse talent. We need to know how companies are making their workplaces more inclusive. What training and development programs do they offer people of color? How are managers held accountable for their Black employees’ success? How are they leveling the playing field?
Some statistics from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, via the Center for Talent Innovation:
- African Americans make up 10% of all college graduates, yet there are only four Black CEOs in the Fortune 500, which is fewer than the number of Black CEOs 10 years ago.
- Only 3.2% of executives and senior managers are Black.
- 58% of the Black professionals surveyed said they have experienced racial prejudice at work.
We have all figured out that real change comes from the top. Companies need people of color in senior leadership roles. Having Black representation on boards is key. So is replacing white management when they hesitate or make excuses.
Companies need to set specific and measurable recruiting and retention goals. Recruiting leaders and managers should face consequences for not meeting those goals.
They must also share their diversity numbers and pay equity metrics. One company told me they don’t publish diversity numbers because they don’t compare themselves externally. What a load of nonsense! How else will they attract more diverse talent and hold themselves accountable?
I applaud companies who are investing in social impact and education programs that work to close the racial inequality gap, but how are companies addressing these disparities in their own offices?! Are they hiring some of the participants of these initiatives? Are they employing them as vendors and professional service providers? Are they investing in their current employees? Throwing money at things won’t solve the problem if you refuse to take the steps to clean up your own backyard.
If corporate America truly wants to affect change, the formula is way more straightforward than posting Black Lives Matter and chasing likes on social media: hire, train, promote, grow, and repeat.
Tiffany Hogan is a Diversity & Inclusion consultant with over 20 years of experience in the Technology, Higher Education, Retail and Banking sectors. She helps companies create and execute global D&I strategies, develop creative recruiting sources and strategies that support diverse candidate attraction, and manage employer brand communications.