We are living in unprecedented times, as protestors come together despite the risk during a pandemic to combat the issue of police brutality after the killing of George Floyd. However, we must acknowledge the unrest is beyond one murder by police; it is the tipping point of many atrocities deep rooted in private and public governance. As these issues of racial inequality resurface into media view, CEOs and corporations are being called to share their support of the movement and denounce institutional racism and police brutality.

Systematic racism is engrained in many aspects of society, the workplace included. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination at the workplace, it is still prevalent.  

A survey from Glassdoor found about three in five U.S. workers experienced discrimination based on their age, race, gender, or sexuality. They also found that 42% of U.S. workers have witnessed or experienced racism at work. Another study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that a third of black and Asian workers feel their workplaces do not hold constructive conversations about race. CTI also found many black workers feel they cannot share their life experiences at work and are more likely to feel isolated.

It is my belief, after a three-decade long crusade creating multicultural corporate responsibility campaigns for Fortune 500 companies, that corporate leadership must lead the way for social mobility across the nation. The pathway for Corporate America to build systematic equity for all people of color in our society requires key areas of action:

  • Implementing timely guidelines for corporate leadership that challenge the cultural intellectual racism that historically is at the root of the current social crisis. A top priority to open doors to the board room and executive team to a diverse leadership is key, as underrepresentation in corporate boards and executive management is stagnant in the workforce.  McKinsey data shows companies with high diversity are 43% more likely to outperform.

  • Branding and management that go beyond rhetoric and hashtags are crucial. Social mobility programs for underrepresented communities should be guided by models of corporate social responsibility. Fostering a sense of reciprocity with the very people that contribute to a corporate brand, image, and profitability that impacts societal change is essential.

  • Challenging the status quo requires opening doors and building an infrastructure of public/private partnership with actionable steps invested in the local communities — grassroots that ground and support the “grass tops.”  COVID-19 unveiled an economy on thin ice. The U.S. is facing an unemployment rate of 20%, with the most impact felt by the working class and communities of color. Corporate support designed to provide access to jobs, health and nutrition, education, and technology to multicultural communities is the way to move our society forward.

Race is a sensitive topic that some consider taboo to discuss, especially in the workplace. Nevertheless, these conversations are necessary, and it is important to approach them correctly since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2032, people of color will be a majority of the working class and the U.S. Census predicts that by 2044 minorities will be 50% of the U.S. population. Moreover, it is necessary for a company’s leadership to be trained so they can lead from a position guided by diversity of thought and corporate social responsibility. 

Below are some further points to consider in your workplace:

  1. Schedule time to address racial bias. Address covert racism, microaggressions, and unconscious bias in speech. Acknowledge racial privilege and how it affects work dynamic.

  2. Educate your workers on the history of racism and how it affects relations today. Open a discussion about the diversity of the cultures amongst the group so others can learn about cultural differences.

  3. Allow for your workers to voice their concerns and be responsive listeners. Track issues that are brought up repeatedly and ask how they can be solved.

  4. Commit to action. Do not just say your workplace values include diversity and inclusion among workers, create the path to achieve inclusiveness. Be unapologetic in your message and voice disgust with racism and what it breeds. Communicate against injustice heartedly and stand with all members of your team.

“We’re witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership, the political class, the economic class, the professional class, that’s the deeper crisis,” Harvard Divinity School professor Dr. Cornel West.

Gloria Rodriguez,
President and CEO, Comunicad, LLC