The Coronavirus pandemic, as any other bigger crisis, has pointed to many broader socio-political challenges and problems. Specifically, impacts of the current pandemic brought to light substantial economic and racial inequalities, with the latter gaining yet more prominence after the killing of George Floyd.
Two years ago, in the wake of vivid racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, I wrote about the need for CEO activism, implying the pressure global businesses are experiencing in voicing their opinions and taking their stance on important socio-political issues. Naturally, the current resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement is no exception to the aforementioned pressures.
Inspired by nationwide protests in the U.S. and Europe, businesses and organizations around the world have publicly denounced racial inequality and called for the end of systemic racism. Voices of corporate America are heard loud and clear: Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed on his Facebook page that ’Black Lives Matter’ and shared a number of ideas for improving Facebook’s policies; Twitter changed its profile picture to black and added the “#BlackLivesMatter” hashtag to its bio; Ben and Jerry’s called for ’dismantling of white supremacy’; Amazon displayed a Black Lives Matter banner on its homepage… Beyond taking a rhetorical stance on the issue, it seems that many businesses have recently committed to taking action as well, be it donating money to social justice organizations, launching corporate racial equality initiatives, or engaging in long-term actions to improve black communities.
Yet, along with the buzzing anti-racial statements, promisesand commitments, there is also a fair bit of backlash and criticism regarding what is perceived as hypocrisy. For example, the leading social media companies are criticised for their own products that give voice and impact to racist and partisan provocateurs, while Amazon has been slammed for its recent firing of Black warehouse worker Christian Smalls and its ties to law enforcement via surveillance cameras. Most vividly though, it seems that none of the global corporations can support their recent enthusiasm for racial equality with corresponding racial diversity at their senior leadership and board levels.
Or course, none of this criticism implies that publicly supporting the Black Lives Matters movement is a useless effort. As a recent MIT Sloan Management Review piece suggests, organizational leaders should speak up to reassure employees on their stance on this important matter. Moreover, becoming part of the solution requires deeper understanding of the issue at hand, which calls for more knowledge and educational efforts within organizations. What the criticism about hypocrisy implies though, is that global leaders should also act on their promises and ‘walk the talk’.
Indeed, racial bias in the workplace, be it inequalities in hiring, pay or promotion, can be quite subtle and difficult to notice. Hence the long-standing issue of systemic racism. In this regard, the authors of the MIT Sloan article also highlight the importance of introspection with regard to the processes and policies within the organization, which can potentially discriminate against some while benefiting others.
Finally, ‘walking the talk’ is also about the larger purpose and willingness of businesses to engage and practically support this important cause, making it a matter of corporate social responsibility. For example, there is a community called B Corps, which envisions every business to focus not only on profit but also on purpose, and therefore using its business and the global economy, in general, for good. Certified B corporations are the ones who embrace the idea and already boast a verified balance between purpose and profit. Currently, the global community of socially responsible businesses constitutes 3422 companies across 150 industries in 71 countries. Naturally, there can and should be more.