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Cecily Joseph headshot

How Companies Can Integrate Racial Equity into Their Business NOW!

By Cecily Joseph
Racial Equity

The commitments to diversity, racial equity, inclusion and now their added companion, justice, flow liberally from corporations. In the wake of the recent horrific events surrounding the murder of George Floyd that unfolded recently, companies are racing even more quickly to publish their support for change. And they should. Corporations can have profound impacts on the most pressing issues facing our world from climate change, to food insecurity, to addressing the digital divide, and it is their responsibility to do so.

A blueprint for action on racial equity

I, like so many of you, have spent many hundreds of hours trying to convince my business partners about the value of diversity and the need for its integration across the business at every level. We would have seemingly endless discussions on the business case, correct terminology, mine our company for data (when the lack of diversity at every level was quite obvious) and roll out numerous initiatives which never seemed to make it past the initial few obligatory workshops. Then we would start up the next year, slightly different focus, yet little if no progress to be made.

As we all take a closer and more intentional look at how we are going to make progress in this fight for racial equity and justice, I would like to offer some thoughts on how a company should go about addressing racial equity in the near term, a blueprint of sorts.

It starts at the top

The CEO needs to be the “real” chief diversity officer. When a company has a serious goal, it lives at the CEO level. That is where annual revenue projections and other high-level business goals sit. There should be annual goals with clear, measurable objectives concerning diversity rolled out at the highest levels of the organization. The CEO should be able to articulate the goals and business case to internal and external stakeholders. All employees, across all levels of the company should be able to connect what they do in their day jobs to these goals and be expected to deliver against these goals.

Resource allocation

When a company supports an initiative, it follows up by investing money and people resources into such action. I would encourage companies to benchmark and create realistic budgets and headcount allocations to help get the important work of diversity done.

The four-pronged diversity strategy

There are four parts to a successful, integrated diversity strategy:

Diversity hiring, promotion and compensation-this is about the numbers. I encourage companies to set aspirational hiring goals to increase diversity (no these are not quotas and setting goals is legal). An example would look like this “we will increase our percentage of Black sales representatives by 5 percent, year over year.” To support this effort companies will need to evaluate their recruiting practices and how promotions, as well as raises and bonuses, are made to ferret out bias and more fully integrate equity.

Building an inclusive culture-if you want your diverse talent to stay at the company and to also have them engage fully you must do the work of creating a culture where everyone feels included and feels as if they can bring their best self to work. This should mean that everyone feels that they truly belong at the company and don’t need to “be” someone else when they show up. Committed efforts in management training, micro-aggression and bias training, and values and culture are required here.

Investing in diversity and equity in the value chain-this is about how the company advances diversity and equity within its value chain including suppliers, customers and the community at large. Building a diverse supply chain has a positive impact on the growth of diverse/underrepresented businesses community economically and could ensure a more competitive supply chain overall. Let’s also engage diversity and equity in our customer interactions to more fully show up as a true business partner and so we also are in tune with what our customers really want and need.

And finally, our broader community investments via philanthropy and sponsorship should not only reflect our corporate values and commitments to diversity but should also assure companies are addressing societal issues related to racial equity at the core. Companies should use philanthropic dollars strategically in addressing racism and social injustice.

Use your corporate voices to promote racial equity-use your corporate brand to take a stand. The biggest contribution a company can make on behalf of diversity and in the fight for racial equity and justice is to engage in the public dialogue. This could include sponsoring or signing onto a key piece of legislation or joining a coalition of companies to advance an initiative. Even just making a public statement to support racial equity is important (but be sure to include some real steps being taken by the company).

Finally, it’s imperative that companies not only set goals around diversity and put the above strategy into action, but also hold themselves more accountable for the progress they are (or are not) making. Implementing a comprehensive diversity program should not just be lip service. Solving for racial equity is hard work and requires a multi-faceted approach. This type of leadership demonstrates a company’s true commitment and authenticity to the efforts which will be required to truly achieve a more racially equitable and just society.

Image credit: Julian Wan/Unsplash

Cecily Joseph headshot

Cecily currently serves as Chair of the Net Impact Board of Directors and Advisor, Initiative for Equity & Social Justice at the Presidio Graduate School. Cecily is the former Vice President of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec Corporation. 

She is an ongoing champion for diversity & inclusion, having also served as Chief Diversity Officer and pioneering numerous programs to increase diversity and equity within the technology industry and broader society. 

Read more stories by Cecily Joseph