We know Black History Month is supposed to be a time for renewed focus on the achievements and contributions of America’s Black community. But similar to how many in the LGBTQ community feel about Pride Month in June, this time is marked by more cringing than celebration for many people.
To their credit, some companies are trying to do the right thing, starting to take a hard look at their hiring practices and launching plans to do right for the Black community as well as for all people of color — and many of these programs started well before Black History Month.
But the actions of many corporate executives, and the communications professionals who support them, result in gestures during this month that evoke more face-palms than honest conversations.
“Right now, Black History Month is more about corporations telling us how they appreciate Black culture instead of showing us,” Earnest Owens recently wrote for the Washington Post. “Reparations, reallocation of resources, and honest and transparent reassessments of current racist power structures are more desirable than copy-and-paste greetings sent by Siri.”
For example, we see this ongoing disconnect in the retail sector. There’s no shortage of data confirming that more vulnerable communities across the U.S. are already being underserved during the nationwide vaccine rollout. But many retailers, which overall hire people of color in vast numbers, aren’t doing much to protect their workers.
The public statements many companies are issuing this month also don’t match the reality in the C-suite. Since 1955 there have been only 19 Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, or barely 1 percent; pretty soon, there will only be three. As for Black women executives, Ellen McGirt of Fortune sums it up, noting that they “tend to get shunted away from positions of real impact and end up in career cul-de-sacs that eliminate them from consideration.”
This problem festers in many a boardroom, too. the marketing messages that bombarded us over the past summer in the end generally obfuscated the fact that months later, little has changed in corporate America. To Mark Ritson, a brand consultant and former marketing professor, the answer to this challenge lies within. “If you care about black lives, you don’t get inspired by an Instagram post,” he wrote last summer. “You get inspired by Black faces in the boardroom. Companies need to become the change they are tweeting about. Walk the walk before you tweet the tweet. Though that second step really isn’t necessary.”
Be sure to sign up for our weekly Brands Taking Stands newsletter, delivered to your inbox each Friday.
Image credit: Shelby Ireland/Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.