Christina Shim | Palladium - Jun 25 2020
For Corporations, with Power Comes Imperative to Fight Racial Injustice

Philadelphia, United States. Photo Credit: Chris Henry

In the weeks since the killing of George Floyd, we’ve witnessed an awakening. Individuals worldwide have come together in shows of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, with solidarity marches happening in the smallest towns and across major cities globally. Racial justice groups have been flooded with millions of dollars in donations, and of course, global giants like Amazon, McDonald’s, and Walmart have all voiced their support for a protest movement that has captured global attention and galvanized the American public.

This movement has risen against the backdrop of a global pandemic that, in the United States, is disproportionately impacting Black lives and livelihoods. The inequity of COVID-19’s impact has not gone unnoticed; according to an international study by Edelman, 67 per cent of respondents believe that those with less education, less money and fewer resources are bearing a disproportionate burden of the suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice in the pandemic. These socio-economic challenges are reflective of the systemic failures impacting Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

Now is the time for real change – if not simply because it’s the right thing to do, then because people are demanding it. Corporate America, and indeed global giants, have made statements and committed funds, but their efforts ring hollow in the ears of stakeholders who have become disillusioned by posturing without progress. In too many companies, social impact and corporate social responsibility reporting are considered public relations issues. Annual statements are made, but words aren’t enough from corporations that touch every facet of our lives – their reach is too immense not to play a meaningful role. True progress on social issues requires corporate action, and with that action, monitoring and reporting on impact.

Here are three considerations for corporations looking to leverage their position to address racial injustice and inequality, and why it’s in everyone’s best interest that they do so.

"In too many companies, social impact is considered a public relations issue."

1. Focus on Impact

While encouraged by the outpouring of funds to racial justice groups, donations have come in so unexpectedly that some organisations have begun redirecting donors. It’s important that organisations step back and consider the impact of their donations, and what it is they’re truly trying to achieve. Capital injections without strategy, meaningful key performance indicators, and reporting will fail to make meaningful change.

Tackling the root causes of systemic racism and racial injustice requires a focussed assessment of current state, a targeted outcome, and a roadmap for realisation. Racism isn’t for racial justice groups to solve; it’s for all of us to solve – and in particular, those groups and organisations that have historically enjoyed a position of relative power in society. In that context, one could argue that corporations have the most significant opportunity to make real change in this space, given the sheer breadth and depth of their influence in our capitalist model. With such power and influence, major corporations not only have the opportunity to effect change, but an imperative to do so.

Markets run the world, and the challenge has been laid down for every organisation – the key is to focus their impact and align it with a measurable, long-term strategy.

2. Start with Policy

More than a single statement or set of guidelines, true change will come when diversity and inclusion is part of the fabric of an organisation’s culture. By beginning with a review of existing policies, organisations can assess where they can make the most positive change. Combining these policy reviews with listening exercises that involve all stakeholders is an incredibly worthwhile activity. From recruitment to vendor and supplier agreements, marketing, and communications, diversity and inclusion should be a feature of all policies and embedded in day-to-day processes.

By evaluating where we can embed policies within the business, we can focus on concrete actions, measurable indicators, and witness multiplier impact. Consider the impact of imposing diversity targets (such as around equal pay, pay transparency, unconscious bias training, etc.) within a business and demanding the same targets from suppliers, vendors, and partners. Walmart famously imposes sustainability requirements on its suppliers – imagine if corporations with similar bully power did the same for racial progress, driving the entire ecosystem in which they operate beyond compliance and government regulation toward meaningful, widescale change.

"Racism isn’t for racial justice groups to solve; it’s for all of us to solve."

3. Move Beyond Box-Ticking

Truly embedding diversity in an organisation means celebrating different backgrounds, and valuing the opinions and experiences of all. Diverse voices are needed at decision-making tables across the corporate landscape, bringing unique perspectives to a rapidly changing world. More than a box ticking approach to ensuring visible representation, we need to ensure that we’re supporting stakeholders at every level, and the best approach is ensuring the backgrounds of our leaders and decision makers are representative of the environments in which we operate.

Inequity at the highest levels means we are missing out on expertise and perspectives. Fostering more inclusive leadership can help ensure strong corporate strategies that benefit all stakeholders.

But according to Palladium Board Member and former head of USAID Alonzo Fulgham, this isn’t only about affirmative action.

“It’s about creating an environment that gives people a chance to compete fairly,” he told a group of Palladium staff in a conversation with our CEO. “We don’t need people to feel sorry for us; we need people to give us opportunities to compete. There are incredibly qualified people out there, and you need to give them the environment and opportunity to grow.”

Racial justice is part of our new reality, and companies are being held accountable by their employees, customers, the communities with which they work, and even those shareholders who understand the value of long-term strategy. This sea change is marked by an awakening among white people to their ownership of anti-Black racism in America, who, as leaders of the powerful corporations to which so much has been ceded in our capitalist model, have an abject responsibility to run their businesses accordingly.

Christina Shim is Regional Director and head of Palladium's Commercial Innovation Practice, based in New York. Contact to learn more.