It’s just over two years since the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. While concerns of violence and police brutality against Black Americans have existed for many years, this moment catapulted it to national attention, creating a ripple effect throughout society. As people crowded the streets to mourn the loss, businesses were taking stands to support Black Lives Matter—some for the first time—and creating promises for a better tomorrow. Corporate America made $50 billion worth of pledges in an effort to mitigate damages sustained by people of color in the workplace and in local communities. In a groundbreaking research study conducted one year after George Floyd’s death, Seramount reviewed more than 100 companies to track what promises were being made and how corporate employees were reacting to the overwhelming support for anti-racism efforts. In From Pledge to Progress: Corporate America One Year After George Floyd’s Death, we discovered that one out of six Black employees remained doubtful that real progress was going to be made. This year, we’re holding companies accountable for what they pledged to in our new report, Pledge to Progress: How Far Have We Come?
Progress has been slow. Most of the needed changes to recruit and advance underrepresented talent will take years to achieve—and most companies were realistic with their timelines last year with some saying it would take up to seven years to fulfill their promises. In our new survey of 100 US-based companies that made pledges in 2020, we found that 74 percent shared updates; 91 percent shared progress about their donations to racial-justice organizations, meeting representation goals, and community support initiatives; and 64 percent partnered with human rights or social justice organizations.
These numbers demonstrate that most companies are taking transparency seriously. Transparency is important because it demonstrates to the employees, stakeholders, and consumers that the company is making a commitment to DEI and is holding itself accountable for achieving its goals. When organizations habitually share this data, it confirms that their corporate marketing is not just lip service, which results in increased trust in brand perception by all.
Seramount spoke with three DEI champions about these company pledges: Matthew McCarthy, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s; Karen Boykin-Towns, Vice Chair of the NAACP; and Nancy Cantor, Chancellor of Rutgers University Newark. All three are members of the Pledge to Progress Board of Advisors and each had suggestions for corporations on how to move the needle forward. Here are their big-picture solutions:
- McCarthy said many companies have been increasing their workforce around DEI needs, including creating space for Chief Diversity Officers. This, he believes, will create more acceptance for other companies that are still on the sidelines to embark on a racial equity journey themselves. He notes that the more people who come in as diversity experts and advocates, the more the scale will tip in favor of inclusion and equity.
- Boykins-Towns said that the focus on systemic racism has seemingly diminished over the past two years with many executives not actively engaging in a public way. This public silence has her questioning whether companies will remain steadfast with their pledges, and she hopes that the echo chamber that’s been created is simply because they are working internally to make their moves come to fruition.
- Cantor urges organizations to take a systematic approach to their challenges in addressing racism by engaging with external experts or creating advisory boards to help their forward movement. Transparency, she added, is only part of the formula—companies need to move from a checklist to sustainable commitments that are embedded into the nature of the corporations through the creation of social capital networks, partnering with community groups, and other external displays that will continuously hold the businesses accountable for their progress.
Moving the Needle Forward
As a call to action, 28 leading US retailer brands have signed the Mitigate Racial Bias in Retail Charter. Initiated by the national nonprofit Open to All and Sephora, brands that sign on commit to take steps to ensure a more welcoming environment for all by reducing racially biased experiences and unfair treatment for shoppers in retail. The Charter was inspired by a study commissioned by Sephora, the Racial Bias in Retail Study.
The Racial Bias in Retail Study revealed that racially biased and exclusionary treatment is more prominent for BIPOC consumers (three times more than White consumers) while in stores. The Charter aims to implement tactics that will reduce and mitigate racially biased interactions from the shopper experience. Signing the Charter means that retailers are acknowledging that biased and unfair treatment exists and impacts the shopping experience. Non-retail institutions can also join by becoming supporters of the Charter and taking the Open to All pledge.
Become a Diversity Best Practices member to access Seramount’s Pledge to Progress reports and hundreds of other resources by contacting [email protected].