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Leon Kaye headshot

Juneteenth Is Now a Federal Holiday: Yet Companies Can Still Do Far More to Push for Racial Equity

By Leon Kaye

The designation won’t solve the problems far too many Americans who feel as if they have to work twice as hard to move two steps forward, only to be fall a step back again. Nevertheless, the fact the president signed the Juneteenth federal holiday into law shows that progress on racial equity is possible.

As the Reverend Markel Hutchins recently wrote, “To a large extent, Juneteenth represents how the starting line in the race for freedom and justice in the U.S. has been pushed back for Black people.”

It will definitely be worth watching those side-eyes to see how many companies approach the holiday next year – business leaders’ constant talk about diversity, inclusion and equity, only to tell its employees, “nah, it’s not a holiday for you” will make for awkward optics a year from now.

That decision about whether or not Juneteenth will be a holiday for companies’ employees aside, the private sector can and should do its part to ensure racial equity is the goal, not a buzzword. Rev. Hutchins certainly has his ideas, which largely sums up what all of us, and our organizations could do. Based on our coverage of the fight for racial justice over the past several years, we here at TriplePundit have put together a few suggestions as well.

First, be authentic about your work in the first place: Words aren’t enough.

Recently, 3p’s senior editor, Mary Mazzoni, spoke with Gary Cunningham, the president and CEO of Prosperity Now, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on economic mobility for people of color and low-income citizens.

“I would argue this is the first step, not the last step,” Cunningham summed up as he discussed companies’ public statements and financial commitments to advance racial equity since last year’s murder of George Floyd. He continued to lay out four concrete steps every business leader can take to align their companies’ deeds with action.

For another point of view, read Cicely Joseph’s take on how companies can integrate racial equity across the entire enterprise:

“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.”

A former vice president of corporate responsibility at Symantec Corporation (now NortonLifeLock), Joseph offers a four-pronged diversity strategy that she says can help companies meet such goals. Depending how far you feel your company has come along on race issues, this 2016 interview of Joseph is also worthy of a browser bookmark.

Everyone should have fair access to tech

Face it, in a 21st-century economy, access to technology ranks up there with electricity and water. There is a correlation to the lack of broadband access and poverty (and also healthcare): Despite all the hype over 5G, many things, such as searching for a job and studying remotely, don’t work well on a smartphone.

Companies can help on this front – or lend their capacity to organizations that are working on this challenge. For example, CEO Action for Racial Equity (part of a larger group, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion) announced this spring that it is seeking to close the ongoing digital divide by advocating for public policies that would narrow that gap. The coalition’s call to take action on this challenge comes 20 years after some observers predicted the advent of the internet and proliferation of home computers could lead to even more of a societal divide based on class, education and race.

Rethink your philanthropic donations – or philanthropy in the first place

When a crisis occurs, many companies still fall back on that timeless tactic: cut a check. That approach isn’t necessarily wrong, though often the problem is that those dollars don’t get funneled down to the groups and people who need that money the most.

One suggestion would be to rethink where those philanthropic dollars go – especially with the findings of one 2020 survey, which found that revenues of the Black-led organizations are 24 percent smaller than the revenues of their white-led counterparts. To that end, the Racial Equity Philanthropic Fund, part of the global non-profit Echoing Green, sets out to take on that imbalance.

Companies can even go a step further – as in providing resources to develop leadership within communities of color, which in the long term could help nonprofits and other organizations have a voice and as the saying goes, have a seat at the table.

Be sure any environmental commitments include everyone

Your company’s social justice and environmental commitments aren’t silos – they should be one and the same. After all, many communities still feel as if their point of view on environmental justice are not being heard, from poorer neighborhoods and Indigenous communities.

Whether those pledges apply to the global supply chain or here in the U.S. ensuring that your company’s operations don’t have a disruptive environmental impact on overlooked communities is the floor – not the ceiling.

“The simple answer is that the social change millions of people are seeking right now is inextricably linked with climate justice,” 3p’s Kate Zerrenner wrote last year.

That 2025 or 2030 racial equity promise is only an echo: there’s opportunity to be a bold voice

Last year’s convergence of the global pandemic, the economic crises and the protests for racial justice showed that people aren’t satisfied with promises – they wanted action. And although there are some signs of progress, as in the recent success of women (including two Black women) CEOs, citizens aren’t sitting around waiting for meaningful change. That is particularly true of Black citizens.

“…a growing number of Black Americans aren't waiting for the C-suite to welcome them and are founding their own enterprises instead,” Mazzoni wrote after the November election. “Black women in particular represent the fastest growing entrepreneurial population in the U.S.: The number of companies owned by Black women has grown by 164 percent since 2007, and they now launch more businesses than any other group.”

But whether they seek to climb the corporate ladder or launch their own ventures, barriers still remain: Black entrepreneurs, for example, are still largely underfunded, summed up by the story of this black business owner in Cleveland.

The triple bottom line is that companies have the expertise, money and clout to push forward on racial equity. Those five- or 10-year promises won’t cut it: Plenty of work needs to be done now, as far too many people have been held back for too long.

Racism has long hurt people, it’s affected the planet and yes, it has had an impact on profits. “If educational attainment among Black women had kept pace with that of white women from 1960-2019, the U.S. would have generated an additional $107 billion in economic activity,” S&P Global concluded in a recent report.

Image credit: Jennifer Lo/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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