February 1, 2021 kicked off the first day of Black History Month – a month that is meant to acknowledge and celebrate Black people’s contributions to American history. It is the 45th nationally-recognized Black History Month in United States history, and though 1976 feels like a lifetime ago, and the world has evolved beyond recognition, not much has changed for Black Americans since President Ford declared Black History Month a national holiday. Black Americans still face significant discrimination based on their racial and ethnic identity, despite the perceived progress that has been made toward a more equitable future. Racial injustice, discrimination, and social attitudes continue to disadvantage Black people socially and economically.
In 2020, during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, countless organizations pledged millions of dollars and vowed to address racial injustice through internal and external initiatives. However, finding ways to effectively combat centuries of injustice proved challenging for most organizations, due to the complexity of race and how it impacts every aspect of our society. As Black History Month comes to a close, it’s critical that businesses take a more in-depth approach to understanding the drivers of racial inequity in order to enact meaningful change well beyond February.
#1 DIVERSITY: Shift mindset beyond the business case for Black employees and leadership
Embracing diversity is the right thing for organizations to do. In recent years, however, many organizations have tried to frame diversity solely as a business case. Although there are quantifiable reasons to embrace diversity that can be invaluable to organizations’ bottom lines, a purely financial focus can lead to inauthenticity and ineffective diversity initiatives that harm the same communities that leadership hoped to attract, develop, and ultimately retain. Taking a people-first approach to all diversity initiatives is key to creating sustainable change for Black employees and their communities.
Pepsi is one such organization that has put the emphasis on their people and not just their bottom line. Pepsi’s “People” initiative, part of their larger $400M investment in tackling racial inequity, takes a people-first approach to racial equity. Their pledges include:
• Increasing their Black manager population by 30%
• Adding 100 Black associates to their executive ranks
• Expanding recruitment at HBCUs
• Implementing mandatory unconscious bias training
• Increasing partnerships with diverse organizations at core schools
• Developing inclusion training tools
• Pledging $25M to establish scholarships for students transitioning
from 2-year to 4-year programs
#2 EQUITY: Reevaluate your hiring and pay practices to create transparency
Though many organizations advocate for equality and equal opportunity from an employee perspective, many organizations mistake equality for equity. At a high level, equality is a good thing. It ensures that everyone has the same resources and opportunities. However, equality only works if everyone starts on the same playing field from the beginning. Equity accounts for the different backgrounds and needs of different groups of people so that everyone can achieve success. If organizations take the time to frame their talent management processes and employee experience initiatives with equity, not just equality, at the forefront, they can begin to chip away at some of the drivers of racial inequity at work. Some of those drivers include (but are not limited to) pay disparities, health care coverage, succession planning, education and hiring requirements, blind applications, and many more.
Peloton is a great example of an organization that championed equity over equality. The Peloton Pledge is focused on equity not just for their employees, but for their customers as well.
• Increase the hourly wages of their workforce
• Investing $20M in learning and development programs with a dedicated focus on hourly employees
• Make product and content more accessible to underserved communities (via Digital and Connected Fitness platforms). In four years, the business aims to have at least 10% of classes streamed to and taken by members of these communities.
• Commitment to becoming a truly anti-racist organization and delivering on a robust, long term agenda of diversity + inclusion goals, beginning immediately with anti-racism learning opportunities at all levels of the company, a review and report of diversity data, a comprehensive inclusivity audit, and the implementation of bias-mitigating strategies in all key points of the employee lifecycle (hiring, reviews, promotion, and more).