Showing Up for the Brothers: Black Corporate DEI Execs Detail How to Advocate for Black Men

A dynamic panel of top corporate DEI executives and experts gathered at BLACK ENTERPRISE‘s Black Men Xcel Summit to offer strategies and solutions for Black men looking to excel and advance at major corporations.

Moderated by Maurice Jones, president & CEO of OneTen, “The New DEI Agenda: Who’s Advocating on Behalf of Black Men?” session leaned on the expertise of Ken Lear, Vice President of Real Estate Operations at AT&T, and Jean C. Accius, Senior Vice President of Global Thought Leadership at AARP.

Lear, who serves as the only Black male to directly report to AT&T’s CFO, started the discussion by stating his report on the state of Black men in corporate America.

“We are underrepresented…,” Lear began. “We have an opportunity like we’ve never had before and we are not leveraging the opportunities available to us.”

In his statement, Accius added the importance of acknowledging the experiences and needs of Black men. The internationally recognized thought leader on aging, longevity, and equity addressed the data to be a problem as it impacts the business economy.

“For example, we know that Black men have the lowest life expectancy,” Accius explained. “There’s an economic cost to that: $1.6 trillion if we do absolutely nothing by 2030. That’s impacts not just our families, that impacts not just our communities, that impacts consumer spending—over $1 trillion worth of lost consumer spending.That also impacts the company’s bottom line.”

“So, I think, as we have these conversations around DEI, we gotta get out of the narrative, particularly in corporate America, that they are the solution, that we’re the problem that needs to be fixed and really start to focus on what is this about our collective interdependency and how not addressing this from an equity perspective impacts them as well,” he added.

Lear echoed Accius’ point about the data, noting that transparency in the numbers is clear and documented, but there’s hardly any progress.

“What troubles me the most is the lack of progress in the numbers.The numbers have not substantially changed and here we are on the eve of a potential recession,” Lear explained. “Minorities are disproportionately impacted by job losses. We don’t see the same in the Caucasian community.”

The men brought the issues to the forefront. From systemic racism and tokenism to a lack of a pipeline, the needs of Black men are getting lost in companies’ efforts to aggregate them with other sub populations.

As advisors, Lear reiterated the intentionality and conscious efforts for the advocacy of Black men.

“It starts with self-advocacy,” Lear said. “The benefit and gift of candid and honest communication about where a person might have blind spots, where they are excelling.Then, let’s share knowledge with one another. Unselfishly, let’s give guidance to one another.”

He continued: “Take chances with people. Give people opportunity and space to grow and fail…”

Accius, who has had mentorship and sponsorship throughout his journey, believes that Black men need accessibility and leaders in his position can open that door.

In defining a sponsor, it is “who has political currency within an organization and is willing to use it on your behalf and speak for you when you’re not in the room,” said Accius.