4 Ways CEOs Can Show Authentic Racial Equity Leadership

A host of leading companies have issued bold statements and significant financial commitments to advance racial equity in 2020. Now the hard work really begins. “I applaud the tremendous efforts that companies have made and their tremendous commitment to racial equity,” said Gary Cunningham, President and CEO of Prosperity now, a Wasington, DC-based nonprofit focused on the economic mobility of people of color and those with low incomes. “I would say this is the first step, not the last step.”

Cunningham was one of five leaders to appear on stage during a BL Forum on March 3: brands take a stand – LIVE! Event focused on racial equity and justice. We caught up with Cunningham, a respected expert on entrepreneurship, job creation and racial equity, after the event to learn more about how businesses can take that first step and make measurable progress. to advance racial equity in their workforce and the communities in which they do business.

“The key here is authentic leadership – in other words, walking the walk, not just talking the talk,” he told us. “It’s easy to say you’re anti-racist without changing the way your organization works. He then detailed four concrete steps every business leader can take to align their actions with their words – and make sure those actions make a real difference.

Embed racial equity and justice in everything you do

If your business has a stake in the economic success of the communities in which you operate – and it does, if it plans to sell products and services in the future – then eliminating racial inequalities is at the heart of your business. mission. If your business has a statement of values ​​or goals rooted in a positive impact on society – and you should, because consumers increasingly expect it, so eliminating racial inequalities is at the heart of your vision. To be a genuine leader, start by clarifying these connections and talking about them often, Cunningham advised. Keep your eyes and ears open. Embrace the change. Celebrate the things you do well and recognize areas that need improvement.

“This work is more than just a slogan or a statement, and by that I mean that this work should be reflected as part of the values ​​of the company or organization. It must be integrated from suite C to the ground floor, ”he declared at 3 pm. “Make sure you talk to your own employees, are open to opportunities and work with a diverse board and workforce,” he advised. “These are critical issues to be authentic in this space.”

Understand that you are not the expert in this job – and partner with those who are.

“Very often I have seen companies and business leaders act as if they are very smart and can solve problems that they can understand and know how to solve complex problems of racial and ethnic inequality,” he said. Cunningham said. “Just because you are an expert in a certain area does not mean that you have the understanding or the lived experiences of those who have suffered from economic inequality. Therefore, trust the advice of people who can help you learn, help you bring your work into the community, and help you understand the depth of the issues you are trying to contain.

Ellen McGirt, editor-in-chief of Fortune, recently took a closer look at one of these successful partnerships: the GET UP (racial inclusion and social equity) at professional services firm Marsh McLennan. Developed in conjunction with groups such as the John Lewis Center for Social Justice at Fisk University, RISE will bring second-year black and Afro-Latin MBA students and graduates into the business for learning and client work. , in tandem with an immersive social justice program.

Newly appointed Head of Inclusion and Diversity Nzinga “Zing” Shaw said she has the resources to be successful and is optimistic about the future of the program, but the results are still in. years. “This is not an ‘investing in diversity’ initiative,” she told McGirt in the latest edition of its RaceAhead newsletter (if you are interested in how race issues intersect with business, be sure to subscribe if it is not done yet). “The measure of success would ultimately be that in five to 10 years many of these fellows will move up the ranks of Marsh McLennan and more broadly across the industry spectrum.”

Other recent highlights include Apple’s work with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to establish a learning center in Atlanta and a developer academy in Detroit, and the investment of more than $ 10 billion. Goldman Sachs dollars in social change organizations, an initiative he says will “run by black women, advised by black women [and] in partnership with black women.

Measuring success

As the old saying goes, you can’t handle what you don’t measure. “A lot of times when we talk about this racial equity work, there’s no measure behind what success looks like,” Cunningham observed. “I’m saying take the same steps you use in your business and apply them to your race equity work. Setting goals. Set standards.

In a December article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, Elizabeth J. Kennedy, Professor of Law at Loyola University, discusses how companies can leverage employee data to create fairer workplaces and measure progress along the way, and the consulting firm does not lucrative FSG recently outlined 23 evidence-based practices that advance racial equity in the workplace.

More and more resources are also available to help companies and other organizations quantify and qualify their progress: for example, the Boston Consulting Group’s Leadership Diversity and Inclusion Assessment Tool (DIAL) analyzes comparative data on diversity and inclusion to help companies identify the most important metrics.

Adapt your approach

“It’s important to target your approach to actually reach the people you’re trying to impact,” Cunningham said. He used the Paycheck Protection Program, intended to help small businesses keep workers on the payroll amid coronavirus shutdowns, for example. “It’s a great program that is universal, but it hasn’t reached communities of color,” he observed. “The same can happen in your business if you don’t have the knowledge to develop a targeted program that reaches the groups you want to reach. ”

This means developing equity programs that benefit those who are often overlooked, while being keen to communicate how these programs can benefit anyone from any background.

“Think of it as a focused goal with a one-size-fits-all approach – which means we want our approaches to help everyone in the business, but we know that not everyone is located the same in the business. business, so we want to target that in a way that it actually works, ”Cunningham explained. “Thus, employees who are not part of this BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] community can still see why the solution is important. Without them being able to see each other in the photo, you will continue to have a ditch and what they call a “white backlash” to your wellness programs. “

Later this month, Cunningham and 3p will take a closer look at corporate and government policies that can significantly narrow the racial wealth gap. Subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it!

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