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Leon Kaye headshot

10 Things to Know About Businesses’ Role in Addressing Social Justice

This summer has shown us companies have little choice but to join the march for social justice - and these business leaders shared the why and how.
By Leon Kaye
Social Justice

With Episode 2 of this year’s 3BL Virtual Forum in the rearview mirror, we thought we’d let the words of last week’s speakers shine on their own. Last Thursday was devoted to how companies are responding to the call for racial and social justice in America — and yes, it got personal, and in a very inspiring way.

While we’re on the topic of social justice, we’ll spend much of the final episode of the Virtual Forum, Thursday October 22 at Noon ET, on how companies are doing their part to ensure everyone who’s eligible to vote in the upcoming U.S. elections can cast their ballots. Register if you haven’t already — we are putting on this event at no cost.

3BL Forum addressed social justice in the workplace on Oct. 15

It takes more than a public statement to take a stand on social justice

“Words matter. Money and financial commitments matter. But they’re just a starting point for the hard work that needs to be done on the movement for racial and economic justice.” — Lynne Filderman, Executive Producer of the 3BL Forum and CEO of Curation on Purpose.

On being a Black American and having the personal intersect with the professional

“To a person of color, issues of race, racist ideas and racism are not remarkable. What, in fact, I believe is remarkable in this season is the way that people are engaging in a different way. For me, when I think about my lived experience, I have the experience of coming from relatively humble beginnings, what people may classify as a low socioeconomic status, but I today get to sit in the halls of leadership and power in corporate America, and so I like to say I live in many communities.” — Shundrawn A. Thomas, President of Northern Trust Asset Management

Clean energy, the climate crisis and underserved communities

“While we are really excited to see leadership [on the climate crisis], we also want to make sure those communities that don’t have the resources to invest in the next wave of clean energy are still able to access them. That’s what we’re up against — really trying to make sure under-resourced households, low-income households and renters are able to access those same things just as wealthier households or corporations and companies are able to.

This isn’t just something like systems and structures that we’re working within. It’s even just barriers within your day-to-day life. Renter households, for example, are not able to make those decisions about energy investments because they don’t own their home, and that is a systemic issue. That is a racial issue.” — Ben Passer, Director of Energy Access and Equity at Fresh Energy

Understanding the meaning of ‘white privilege’ in the business context

“Privilege is such a polarizing word — I never knew that or realized that. I think when most whites hear ‘privilege,’ they think of money, but this is not about money. You have the privilege of leadership, you have the privilege of making policy, and that’s across any color line or culture line.

“You have the power to make change, but also you have the power and the privilege to take a pause and then really make impactful, sustainable change. Everyone came through the gate ready to run and saying: ‘What do we do? George Floyd was murdered. We have to do something.’ And I’m like, ‘Slow down, take a pause — what makes sense for your company, your company culture, your growth?’ [White people] have the power to make the change, you have the privilege to take that moment to pause and figure out what’s the best thing to do.” — Leslie Short, Founder and CEO of The Cavu Group

Opportunities companies have to push forward on social justice

“Corporate America is kind of the last thing that we’ve unleashed to dismantle racism. We’ve seen efforts in government, and we’ve left it up to government. But corporations are extremely powerful, and the private sector is extremely powerful. When you unleash these forces, that’s truly going to get us to the place we want to be, and that’s a place where we have diversity, equity and inclusion in every single thing we see and do.” — Orson Aguilar, Principal of Policy and Advocacy for UnidosUS

What it means to move from the sidelines to being in the center of the action

“I don’t want to minimize the serious issues that our society must wrestle with, but I don’t believe we’re actually as polarized as some would like us to believe. I believe there is a broad consensus around our country that people ought to have access to health care, that people ought to have the ability to go and vote, that climate change is a thing we need to deal with.

“I think we’ve been led to believe by those who want polarization to serve their narrow political agenda that there’s this huge divide, but I don’t think that exists. I’m hopeful that we will find a way to move forward together and that it will create a sense of stability within our country that will allow us to address some of these critical issues.” — Chris Miller, Head of Global Activism Strategy at Ben & Jerry's

Yes, there’s a pipeline of talent. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

“I’ve worked in so many sectors over the years, and I started in about the mid-1970s. One of the things I heard then that I still hear now is, ‘Well, you know, if there were simply more [people of color] in the pipeline, people would be in positions within organizations, and they would be at the table.’ That was back in 1974 — it’s impossible that by 2020, and into 2021, the pipeline hasn’t been filled. It’s discouraging, it’s exhausting in some respects, but at the same time, I will say that I’m forever hopeful.” — Jennifer Smith Turner, Novelist, Board Member of Newman’s Own Foundation and Board Member of Chief Executives of Corporate Purpose (CECP)

What this summer has meant for many of our fellow citizens

“For me, it’s been exhausting, it’s been disheartening. But what I try to do is double down in the ways I can uniquely move the ball forward, even figuring out ways to use the comparative power and privilege — even as a Black man but a man nonetheless, and coming from a particular educational background — that I have to really move our company forward for folks who don’t necessarily enjoy some of the [privileges] I enjoy.

“Community is important right now, and if companies can try to build and create community as brands, that’s a critical part of taking a stand as well because these issues chase us into the workplace. When I work here, I don’t stop being a Black man and seeing what happened to George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. So, the workplace has to find a way to say, ‘You know what, in this part of the world, we’re making something different for all the folks that work here.’ I think people in roles like mine can be a critical player and try to create that.” — Chequan Lewis, Chief Equity Officer, Pizza Hut

On equity and how work can further the movement for racial and social justice

“Think about equity on two different levels: You can think about equity as ownership interest, but you can also think of equity as equal access to opportunity. I like to say my work gives me two opportunities to drive this all-important focus on equity. When you’re in a leadership position and when you’re working with others and have influence with others, we can actually create more equitable opportunities. And the wonderful thing about the country we live in is that opportunities abound, but a tough reality is access to that opportunity is not equitable. So, I have the opportunity, day by day, to create more opportunities.” — Shundrawn A. Thomas of Northern Trust

Bottom line: We must be able to talk this out

“When we are in the workplace, we don’t leave our diversity, we don’t leave those experiences that define who we are at home. It’s so important that we’re able to have those dialogues at work and be part of that inclusive culture — and taking the best parts of ourselves.” — Cecily Joseph, Chair of the Board of Directors at Net Impact and Advisor of the Initiative for Equity and Social Justice at Presidio Graduate School

Image credit: James Eades/Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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