If Corporations Really Want to Address Racial Inequality, Here Are 9 Things That Actually Make a Difference

A few articles of interest regarding racial inequality and options to address it. While largely focussed on Black inequalities and disparities, broadly applicable to most minority groups.

Starting with the most concrete by Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation. While some of the recommendations pertain to the private sector, some are more broadly applicable:

Since protests over the killing of George Floyd erupted across the country, I’ve received numerous calls from corporate CEOs who want to know what they should do, and where can they quickly donate $10 million dollars to advance the cause of racial justice?

The first thing I do is remind them of Martin Luther King Jr.’s caution that philanthropy must not be used to obscure the economic injustices that make it necessary. The frustration and rage we’re seeing across the country aren’t just about a racist system of policing.

It’s also about original sins–a genocide of Native Americans and enslavement of Black Africans whose stolen land and labor built this country’s wealth, enriching countless white people and their descendants in the process. It’s about the predations of modern-day capitalism that have allowed a privileged few to hoard the lion’s share of the nation’s wealth, effectively consigning Black folks to the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

This time the usual corporate playbook–issue a statement, gather a group of Black leaders for a conference call, give a hefty grant to the Urban League, resume business as usual–isn’t going to work. Here are 9 things every corporate leader can do to improve Black lives.

1. Remake your C suite

Change starts at the top. Do you have African-American board members? Black executives in your leadership team? If you do, are they token appointments, or do they have real power to recommend changes that would make your company more racially equitable?

2. Hire and advance more Black people

As leaders of large corporations, you have the power to transform Black lives immediately, simply by hiring and promoting more of us. Blind tests show that when identical resumes are submitted for the same job – one with a white-sounding name, the other with a Black-sounding one – the white applicant receives a callback 50% more often. Taking racial inclusion seriously means telling your managers that they cannot go forward with a hire or a promotion, at any level, unless the candidate pool is racially diverse.

3. Get involved in the Fair Chance Hiring Initiative

One legacy of the “tough on crime” era is that about one-third of American adults now have a criminal record, mostly for minor crimes that nonetheless hamper their ability to get a job. Black people are hugely overrepresented in that group, in significant part because of the kind of over-policing that sparked today’s protests.

That’s why the Society of Human Resource Management has urged employers to take the Getting Talent Back to Work Pledge as part of the Fair Chance Hiring Initiative by employing qualified job applicants with criminal backgrounds. Five years ago, the Ford Foundation committed to hire 10 formerly incarcerated business associates every year, and they are among our most dedicated employees.

4. Pay your employees a living wage

The federal minimum wage–$2.13 per hour for tipped workers and $7.25 per hour for others–is not a living wage. In 2016, nearly half of government public assistance went to people who worked full-time but still fell below the federal poverty line.

Black workers make up about 11% percent of the workforce, but 38% of Black workers who now work for the minimum wage would get a raise. Raising the pay of the workers at the bottom of your scale would disproportionately help people of color.

Commit to paying your workers a living wage of at least $15 per hour, and more in higher-cost parts of the country.

5. Provide a safe and healthy workplace

Valuing Black lives in a pandemic also means doing everything possible to create a safe workplace. Lack of adequate health insurance coverage are big reasons Black, Latinx and Native American people have contracted the coronavirus at a disproportionally higher rate than white Americans, with Black people dying of COVID-19 at a rate of almost 2.5 times the rate of white people. Does your company manipulate the schedules of your workers to fall just below the threshold for health coverage? Does it label people independent contractors even if they spend the bulk of their days working for you? If so, this is what advocates mean when they talk about structural racism.

6. Provide paid sick and family leave

Black workers often cannot afford to take time off to care for a newborn or sick family member. The lack of paid sick leave is another reason so many people of color have suffered higher rates of illness and death from COVID-19. If there were ever a question about whether paid leave is a moral issue, the pandemic should have laid it to rest.

7. Reconsider executive compensation

You might be asking, “but where am I going to find the resources to give my workers more?” Here, CEOs would do well to look in the mirror. According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEO compensation has grown 940% since 1978, while the salary of the average worker has increased only 12%. The economy would suffer zero harm if CEOs were paid less.

We know this, because many of those same executives are steering their excess wealth into philanthropic foundations, which have proliferated in the past two decades as their compensation has skyrocketed. While that charitable instinct benefits some of my foundation’s favorite causes, it would be better for the economy and for racial equity if more of that largesse were directed toward workers.

8. Advocate for a more progressive tax code

Standing up for Black lives means investing in the essential building blocks of social equality, from adequately funded schools to universal health care and affordable housing. These things require government action at scale.

Moving money from police budgets should be just the start. What we really need is a progressive tax code that will reduce income inequality, shore up our crumbling infrastructure, create a proper public health system and provide the social safety net that people need in a crisis. Five months into a pandemic that has shuttered the economy, Canada is subsidizing wages at 75% of full salary, while Americans are left to queue at food banks, wondering whether the next unemployment check will be their last.

Instead of deploying your lobbyists only on issues of narrow self-interest, detail them to advocate for tax reform and the expansion of social programs for poor people.

9. Advocate for shareholder reforms

But I hear you saying, “I have public shareholders to whom I’m accountable. Supporting tax policies that work against my company’s bottom line will only drive down our share price.” Yes, and this is why the current model of shareholder-driven capitalism that puts quarterly profits over people is bad for the long-term social and economic health of the country.

The Business Roundtable acknowledged as much last year, when 181 CEOs signed a statement revising the purpose of a corporation as one that benefits customers, employees, supplies and communities – not just shareholders. This was an important first step. Now, companies must turn that resolution into action, by committing to the kinds of tangible changes in practice and policy that will reduce inequality.

The uncomfortable truth is that if what you’re changing in your corporate practices doesn’t affect your bottom line, you’re not doing enough.

So to my friends in the Fortune 500: while the millions in onetime donations are appreciated, a permanent commitment to reducing racial inequality through changes in your own practices would be more meaningful. Outsourcing the work of racial justice isn’t sufficient when a broken system of capitalism has produced indefensible levels of wealth for owners and daily insecurity for workers. The corporate sector has the responsibility–and the ability–to act now.

Source: If Corporations Really Want to Address Racial Inequality, Here Are 9 Things That Actually Make a Difference

On the more abstract and process side, two examples starting with the call by Mireille Apollon, Sébastien Goupil and David Schimpky of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO:

Earlier this year, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, put out a call for feedback on efforts underway to achieve the objectives of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).

Given the dramatic events and protests that have marked the year so far, one could say that little has been done to advance the spirit of this important Decade. Unfortunately, it remains too-little known among nation states and institutions.

United Nations international years and decades are not celebratory; they are calls to concerted action on issues that need attention over a long period. The International Decade for People of African Descent expresses an urgent need for states to eradicate systemic racism and ensure recognition, justice, and development for Black people and communities.

For some time now, the UN has done its part to sound the alarm and remind us that our world faces a crisis of racism and racial injustice. In 2001, it convened the Durban Conference, which was intended to unite the world around fighting racism, but was overshadowed by strife among the participants and the 9/11 attacks. The conference nonetheless ended with the adoption of a vigorous program of action to be implemented by member states to fight racism and discrimination.

This conference was also the origin of flagship initiatives, such as the creation by UNESCO of the International Coalition of Sustainable and Inclusive Cities, which are across the world. This network includes our own Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities, whose principal objective is expressly to fight racism and discrimination.

The conference also led to the creation of a Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, which looked at the situation in Canada in 2016. Their well-researched and thoughtful report should be mandatory reading for every Canadian. It concludes:

“Despite the reputation for promoting multiculturalism and diversity and the positive measures taken by the national and provincial governments …, the Working Group is deeply concerned by the structural racism that lies at the core of many Canadian institutions and the systemic anti-Black racism that continues to have a negative impact on the human rights situation of African Canadians.”

An important step was taken in 2018, when Canada recognized the International Decade for People of African Descent, and announced significant funding programs and the creation of an Anti-Racism Secretariat. But let’s return again to the question from the high commissioner: how much progress have we seen over the past five years?

The Decade has been embraced by many Black organizations and activists, and there have been remarkable strides in Nova Scotia, which last year launched a historic action plan related to the International Decade. The Michaëlle Jean Foundation and the Federation of Black Canadians convened historic summits to mobilize Black communities and propose concrete actions.

Our Commission has undertaken new partnerships, including working with the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migrations on two special editions of Canadian Diversity dedicated to the voices of African descent leaders, thinkers, and activists. In addition, we are working with the UNESCO Chair on the Prevention of Radicalization leading to Violence and Project SOMEONE on a recently launched toolkit to tackle racial and social profiling.

That said, the International Decade remains largely overlooked. The past few weeks have demonstrated that anti-Black racism is alive and well, and not just south of the border. Black Canadians are right to demand real action, and governments and intuitions everywhere need to respond. We need to implement policies and significant measures that promote diversity and inclusion, and address racism and discrimination in all their forms.

Let’s have the courage in 2020 to go beyond grand words and promises. This is the time for action. The way forward is clear, we just need to take it.

Source: A roadmap already exists to advance the rights of Black communities

Lastly, similarly efforts by DND and the CAF to address anti-Black racism are heavy on process:

Addressing anti-Black racism in the ranks of the Canadian military is a matter of national security, with recent bad press likely to dampen recruitment, says the head of the Federal Black Employee Caucus.

“For a long time this work has been piecemeal and people kind of do it at the corner of their desk, but now there is such a higher level of importance that [is] being put on it and getting it right,” said Richard Sharpe, founder of the Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC).

The Department of National Defence convened a meeting on July 27 to have its management “listen and learn directly from visible minority defence team members about the lived experience and systematic barriers that they and other colleagues face on a daily basis,” according to a July 28 statementfrom outgoing chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance and national defence deputy minister Jody Thomas.

The meeting came after a June 19 letter that Gen. Vance and Ms. Thomas sent to DND members apologizing for the delay in addressing the outpouring of response to the police killing of George Floyd and reports of systematic racism within DND and the Canadian Armed Forces.

Those members of DND who presented gave three recommendations for the Canadian military to implement: establish a secretariat for members of DND to report on racial discrimination, make clear who is responsible for implementing policies and processes to tackle racism, and align DND with the rest of the public service to collect disaggregated data and renew the Employment Equity Act.

“I don’t want to fawn all over them, but I think they’ve been doing a very good job of addressing some of these issues—at least at the senior levels of the organization—head on,” said Mr. Sharpe, who took part in the July 27 meeting. “I appreciate the fact that we had a very frank and open discussion about race and anti-Black racism.”

He said changes to the Employment Equity Act are “long overdue.” The act, which was passed in the 1980s, outlines four classes of people that receive special protections: persons with disabilities, women, Indigenous people, and visible minorities.

“It refers to Black and racialized people as visible minorities and our experiences are masked within that visible minority term,” Mr. Sharpe said.

During the meeting, Gen. Vance and Ms. Thomas wrote, the leadership of the Canadian military heard about the need to “re-imagine and re-design,” so the new policies work for those without power within the structure of DND.

“The experiences they shared exposed persistent and deeply painful occurrences of aggressively racist behaviours, micro-aggressions, and failures of leadership to address both,” Gen. Vance and Ms. Thomas’ statement read.

The statement also referred to the creation of a DND Black Employee Network, something Mr. Sharpe called “really important.”

He noted that FBEC has been pushing for the establishment of Black employee networks—which create a safe place to gather to establish recommendations and have their own voice within institutions to push for change as a distinct group—across the public service.

“So with DND committing to do this, I think it gives great space for this to happen and a focus that we’ve never had. There’s never been a focus on Black employees in the public service,” Mr. Sharpe said.

The DND Black Employee Network is made up of both military and civilian members, who can “come together to share their experiences and discuss ways to respond to anti-Black racism within the Defence Team,” according to a DND spokesperson, who added that the group’s mandate is provide space for Black members of DND and the Canadian Forces to “explore, discuss, and create ways to tackle anti-Black racism.”

It will be made up of departmental volunteers who will act as a consultative body for senior DND and military leaders.

“It really does continue to feel like historic times here, with all that’s been happening, and there’s been movement on this work [that the FBEC] has been pushing for two years,” said Mr. Sharpe.

Given the new territory of DND’s initiative, Mr. Sharpe said it’s difficult to establish concrete timelines, but added he’s heard from DND leadership that they want to enact changes “very quickly.”

“This is a national security threat for DND. …The bad press, the reputational damage impacts on the ability on the organization to recruit people,” he said. “So I think they’re trying to get this stuff in place as soon as possible, addressing any kind of reputational damage that they may be experiencing due to the ongoing incidents of racism within the ranks and intolerance in the various defence [branches].”

Canadian Forces College professor Alan Okros, an expert on diversity in the military, said the networks provide a way for individuals to have a voice and have their concerns illuminated.

“In the current context, there is more of an interest at the senior leadership level in listening to [advisory groups] and hearing what’s going on,” he said.

Gen. Vance and Ms. Thomas said in their statement that National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) is “fully seized with addressing racial discrimination” within DND, adding that he “expects bold, decisive action” from both DND and the Canadian Armed Forces.

Mr. Sajjan told CTV last month that during his early days in the Armed Forces he realized “how intense racism can be.”

“I remember one person … saying to me, ‘I let you join my military.’ Just that position of power and privilege that he was throwing in my face, it just upset me so much,” he said.

Prof. Okros said the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and Canada have given an increased impetus to diversity and inclusion work that started with Marie Deschamps’ 2015 report on sexual assault in the Canadian military, which led the Canadian government to launch Operation Honour to tackle sexual assault and misconduct.

“It’s moved it up a notch in terms of the level of attention and focus on it,” he said, adding that Gen. Vance and Ms. Thomas have made it clear this is how they want to lead.

Prof. Okros said now that the senior leaders have held a meeting to listen, the big question is: what have they heard and what is going to be done?

A DND spokesperson said implementation timelines and funding have not yet been determined.

“As we work towards establishing the appropriate framework and resources for this critical initiative, we are continuing to be open and transparent with the entire Defence Team,” the spokesperson said.

The recommendations being put forward are “good first steps,” Prof. Okros said, adding that there will be individuals who will be expecting more to be done to fully achieve what’s required.

“I think they’re definitely going to be interested in moving as quickly as they can,” he said. “It likely is going to result in some staged or staggered implementation, recognizing that in some of these cases there are legal issues involved and it takes time, and there’s a requirement to be prudent if you are going to make changes that have legal consequences.”

“Creating the secretariat, clarifying roles and responsibilities are things that can be moved forward fairly quickly,” said Prof. Okros. “I think part of what the next steps are is going to depend on having some legal review and some policy review to make sure they get it right.”

Gen. Vance and Ms. Thomas called the July 27 meeting “just a start.”

“We will be meeting with the other defence advisory groups to hear their stories on discrimination and systematic barriers. We know there is so much more to do, and that we will be judged based on our actions and results, not our sentiments and promises.”

Source: ‘It’s a national security threat’: DND launches anti-Black racism initiative

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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