The legacy of racism in the U.S. is both systemic and structural. Here’s a 21st century example: A 2019 Pew Research Center study found that only about two-thirds of Black households had broadband internet access, compared to almost 80 percent of white families. Smartphones have helped narrow the gap a tad, but some things — like doing research, applying for jobs or emailing a doctor — are accomplished better on a laptop with a broadband connection.
To that end, CEO Action for Racial Equity (part of a larger group, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion) recently announced its commitment to close the 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.
But such policies are not just about access to digital resources, job boards or video tutorials. Lives are at stake, literally.
Technology, racial equity and the lack of healthcare access
As telehealth becomes even more mainstream, especially after this year-long global pandemic, we have yet another reminder of how COVID-19 has widened the societal gaps that have long existed. With that gap in technology access, added to the fact that Black citizens work disproportionately in jobs deemed as “essential,” then another problem could worsen — as in the fact that the life expectancy gap between Black and white people has increased over the past decade by 40 percent, from 3.6 years in 2010 to 5 years as of 2020.
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To that end, CEO Action for Racial Equity is also calling for policies that would allow for expanded access to telehealth services, made possible largely by more affordable internet services. “Instead of simply taking a look at pre-existing policies that we could align our support to, we are starting with an issues-first approach,” said Roz Brooks, the coalition’s policy lead, who is also the U.S. Public Policy Leader for PwC U.S.
A “do tank,” not a think tank
CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion is a group of almost 2,000 global executives leading the world’s largest companies across 85-plus industries. Professionals who work with one of the group’s signatory companies have an opportunity to lend their efforts to CEO Action’s racial equity agenda. Depending on the company, these employees can work full-time with CEO Action for Racial Equity for a year or two while their companies continue to pay their salaries.
The opportunity to use their skills — whether they work in information technology, legal or marketing — to pursue social change while staying on the company payroll has clearly resonated with employees across many industries and companies. About 250 professionals are currently working with CEO Action for Racial Equity.
This setup results in an organization with the mentality of a startup, explained Roy Weathers, vice-chair of policy and societal engagement at PwC and CEO of CEO Action for Racial Equity, during an interview for 3BL Forum last month. Weathers described these professionals’ work as contributing to what is more of a “do tank” than a think tank.
Image credit: Good Faces/Unsplash
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.