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Creating a Corporate Prescription to Fight Racism

Photo: Courtesy of Clay Banks

Torin Ellis

Diversity Strategist & Risk Mitigator, Torin Ellis Brand

Will this be the year that corporate leaders take a gigantic step toward breaking the siege of racism over our nation? Given the review of a lingering pandemic, social unrest of last summer, and political animus in January, corporate leaders know clearly that they must play their part in the road ahead. 

Many have expressed their responsibility through corporate statements (here are a couple from Apple and Ben & Jerry’s). Others have determined the need to flex their muscles by shifting philanthropic and political giving. This is all vital, and no doubt a start, but so much more is still needed. 

After decades of articles, blog posts, empirical studies, white papers, and the like extolling the bottom-line impact diverse teams bring, the chorus of intensity is finally being heard beyond the soundbites gleamed from flimsy diversity reports and press releases. The atmosphere is demanding a momentum that requires more than just another well-crafted, unconscious bias training or blacked out avatar. Here are three tips to inspire millions of ambitious leaders, board members, and employees to push for a shift in culture and progress:

1. Issue a declarative statement from the highest company, franchise, or organization leader

Too often white men and women tend to feel the mere mention of diversity-anything will result in their being admonished in some way (fragility). Black and Brown men, women, LGBTQ+ people, non-gender conforming people, people with hidden and invisible disabilities, and others tend to tire (fatigue) from another conversation. The collective “heard-it-all-before” sigh from those who’ve been on the frontlines of this struggle for generations. 

In this moment, leaders must take a declarative position that vibrates among employees. It must be abundantly clear the organization will, at every value point, put resources behind building an equitable and inclusive culture. Then, hold yourself to those commitments and communicate actively and transparently to your team on progress (and misses).

2. Relocate resources to include headcount, dollars, technology, and time

Shift dollars and personnel allowing for the gaps in internal diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts to be addressed in a way that allows processes and systems to achieve optimization. If stuck on where to start, engage a consultant that can navigate the coordinates and set the journey in motion. 

Solutions should be robust and center around the people in your organization, meaning the entire employee population, no matter what business unit, department, or role they hold. There is no place for the paralytic pause in taking action.

3. Have unwavering accountability of hiring managers, senior leaders, and individuals

There must be accountability at every level if a positive and seismic shift in narrative is to happen. This can/will look different in each organization. For example, BlackRock and Hilton brands connect aspects of DEIB to the compensation structure of certain leaders. Other organizations are compensating employee resource group volunteers, nurturing a different inspiration and reward. The point I’m making is that after reading the Citibank report “Closing the Racial Inequality Gaps (Sept. 2020)” nothing screams louder than tethering some form of accountability to each employee. 

I believe leaders that are of the box-checking approach toward culture and programming are slowly losing their power, ridding workplaces of band-aid like solutions of the past. Human resource departments are functioning more like businesses over cost centers, and that sits well with those chasing institutional transformation. The Coalition For Inclusive Capitalism suggests the majority of a typical company’s real value is now reflected in intangible aspects like innovation, culture, trust, and corporate governance, all of which center around people.

This is not a conversation just for big tech, Wall Street, or the power corridors of Washington DC — this is for America. I recognize there is no fairy dust for racism; I’m of age. I grew up in the corn belt of Iowa. I served time in the military. I spent five years in corporate America, building one of the most successful sales teams within the company. 

There’s no room to allow difference and otherness to be a psychological impediment — not in this moment. The time for corporate America to lead on the issue of diversity and inclusion is now.

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