Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Cecily Joseph headshot

Integrating Racial Equity into Our Sustainability Work

Racial equity and justice is one such area which demands our attention, yet it comes with some underlying barriers that we need to address.
By Cecily Joseph
Racial Equity

Sustainability professionals continue to be expected to respond to a growing list of topics, while simultaneously recognizing the intersectionality among them. As leaders who are helping our organizations navigate the complex ESG landscape, we can’t afford to ignore or minimize pressing issues. Racial equity and justice is one such area that demands our attention, yet it comes with some underlying barriers that we need to address.

Our teams can better reflect our global society

First and foremost, we should make it a priority to diversify our own sustainability organizations. While some of our work consists of implementing diversity initiatives across entire organizations, it’s essential that the work starts with us, and our own teams reflect the outcomes we would like to see at scale. Bringing a larger number of people with different backgrounds and experiences to help shape our sustainability strategy and stakeholder engagement is critical to the work we do now more than ever. Let’s look beyond the typical sustainability and CSR applicants to those in other sectors and industries (e.g nonprofits, including community organizing, and government).

Our new virtual work environment offers us the ability to attract talent from areas we perhaps previously hadn’t been able to consider -both across the U.S. and internationally. And, the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) field is representative of many diverse BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) backgrounds. Talent in this space could be easily plugged in to participate on teams as well as lead sustainability and CSR organizations, as many of the same skillsets such as change management, communication, strategy and coalition building are transferable.

Racial equity can be integrated into sustainability education

We also need to introduce more education on racial equity into our business schools, continuing education workshops and seminars, and conferences. Racial equity and broader DEI should be a cornerstone of our sustainability education and an integral pillar of our ongoing work. The need for this racial equity educational focus is not so much around why racial equity is important. We must educate our future leaders to have a clear understanding of what it is we are really talking about, and how we as sustainability leaders can build this into our work and implement efforts that advance a more racially equitable organization and society.

One such example of racial equity education is happening at Presido Graduate School (PGS), a graduate school dedicated to educating individuals who are working for a more just and sustainable world, where I serve as adjunct faculty. Over the past year, we reached out to our community to engage in dialogue on racial equity, including holding monthly student meetings. We hosted events on how philanthropy and ESG are being used to dismantle systemic/structural and institutional racism, and launched a Racial Equity in Action blog series.

PGS has now introduced an online course called “Integrating Racial Equity into Our Sustainability Work,” which is meant to provide a foundation for sustainability and social impact leaders. All incoming MBA and MPA students will be required to take this course and it will be made available to the broader faculty, staff and larger student body as well. The elements of the course include an overview of familiar sustainability frameworks that are already integrating responsibilities on diversity and racial equity such as the SDG’s, the UN Declaration on Human Rights, SASB and the UN Global Compact to name a few. It explores the rising investor focus on ESG and its corresponding implications for diversity and racial equity. The course also provides a brief overview of the history and current state of racial equity in the U.S. as well as considers the business case for diversity, its societal value, and how we can move beyond performance measures to insist on lasting systems-level change. Finally, and perhaps of most importance, the course introduces students to existing frameworks for integrating racial equity in the workplace, which can be leveraged by sustainability leaders to build and advance racial equity programs inside of organizations.

The value that sustainability leaders can bring to advancing racial equity and dismantling racial injustice could prove transformative. Racial equity, and more broadly DEI, are not stand-alone issues. Rather, they are intertwined with all of the work we do in creating value for our organizations, society and the world.

Image credit: 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