Tips on Navigating Black Lives Matter in the Workplace

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George Floyd. Jacob Blake. As racial tension continues to escalate, more and more American workers are demanding Corporate America to take action. Silence is no longer an option. Customers, employees, and the public are expecting business to use its influence to start effecting changes in the areas that it has power and control. A survey conducted by Fishbowl in June 2020 found that out of 16,812 employees that responded 69.22% expected their company to speak up about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) cause. If companies have not spoken up about BLM, they should respond not only with support but back it up with action items on how they are going to help eliminate systematic racism and oppression.

We’ve heard a lot of companies are unsure of where to start or what they can do to get the conversation going around Black Lives Matter in the workplace. To get a pulse on what to do, we compiled comments, pledges and tips from some well-respected national leaders who we thought provided some useful guidance on where companies can start to support BLM.

  • AIRTABLE. Albrey Brown, Head of Diversity and Inclusion stated in an interview “Consult with your Black employees. When I say consult, I really mean consulting: listening, asking questions about what the culture is like, what their experience is like, but not putting the work on them to actually solve it. The action should be on leadership, in partnership with an expert like a diversity and inclusion or people team member that has the expertise. The first thing that we did when the George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Brianna Taylor stories started popping up in May was reach out to our Black employees at the same time and asking, “We know these things are happening, we know that Black people are being killed by the police, what would you like us to do?” And we took their lead. They said, “We would love for you to put out a statement, we would love for you to support us, we’d love to do a donation campaign to these organizations, and we want to start thinking about having some organized efforts to support Black employees.””
  • PEPSICO. Ramon Laguarta, CEO at PepsiCo announced the next step in PepsiCo’s journey for racial equality: a more than $400 million set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo. The initiatives make up a holistic effort for PepsiCo to walk the talk of a leading corporation and help address the need for systemic change. “Our journey will now focus on three pillars People, Business, and Communities,” said Laguarta. View the full plan that builds off of that statement here.
  • MERCK. Ken Frazier, CEO at Merck wants companies to acknowledge that outreach and mentorship are crucial to developing companies that reflect the country’s demographics: “What put my life on a different trajectory was that someone intervened to give me an opportunity to close that opportunity gap. We’re not asking people to give everybody handouts, but we need to acknowledge that there are huge opportunity gaps.”
  • VISTA EQUITY PARTNERS. CEO Robert Smith stated a need to focus on more diverse talent pipelines: “We’ve seen a dampening of the number of African-American CEOs of Fortune 500 companies versus when I was coming out of school in the ’80s. And it’s because there hasn’t been the developmental pipeline that there has to be. And like in all businesses, you have to create the pipeline.”
  • XEROX/VEON. Ursula Burns former Xerox CEO and now VEON CEO stated: “Before you even look at the companies, look at the boards. Most of the boards still have zero or one African American on board, and I think that pressure in that area, can help to speed up progress and transitions for companies.”
  • DOOR DASH. Committed to donate $500,000 to Black Lives Matter, with another $500,000 earmarked for distribution to community nonprofits by its internal Black Employee Resource Group. The company will start tying diversity goals to job performance and promotions for team leaders, CEO Tony Xu wrote in an open letter. DoorDash announced a partnership with Kiva to match up to $150,000 in crowd sourced loans for Black business owners. It also launched a “Black-owned” tag for participating restaurants on DoorDash and Caviar, offering $0 delivery fees from those establishments and zero commission fees for 30 days for new Black-owned restaurants that sign up for its platforms.
  • WIRED REPORTS. Black founders are starkly underfunded in venture capital spaces — just 1 percent of funded founders are Black, Wired reports. Matchstick Ventures, a venture capital firm, created a commitment to build new relationships with Black founder networks or professional groups so it can make more investments in Black-owned startups. It also promised to add a Black member to its advisory board and to help 30 percent of its portfolio companies add Black members to their boards or C-suites. The 30 percent figure is meant to represent three times the 10 percent Black population in its target markets, Minneapolis and Colorado.
  • SALESFORCE. Announced it will make a $1 million donation to the NAACP. Salesforce also put together a Racial Equality and Justice task force that will, among other things, advocate for public policy reform surrounding policing. The company also said its supplier diversity team will transition from counting spend with diverse suppliers into measuring impact in the communities those suppliers touch. Salesforce releases diversity reports, and its goal is to have half its workforce composed of people from underrepresented groups by 2023.
  • MICROSOFT. A number of commitments made to address racial inequality within and outside its organization. It promised to invest an additional $150 million in its own diversity and inclusion efforts, create a $50 million partner fund for Black-owned business partners, put $23 million toward financing and training those partners, double its number of Black employees in senior positions by 2025 and double its number of Black-owned suppliers by 2023. Microsoft said it will give $100 million to minority-owned depository institutions, $50 million to Black-owned businesses and another $50 million in $5 million grants over five years to nonprofits serving Black communities. The commitments altogether add up to more than $1 billion.
  • REDDIT. CEO Steve Huffman promised in an open letter that the company would review and update its content policy to explicitly condemn racism. He also apologized for the company’s slowness in responding to racist Reddit communities in the past. Additionally, co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from Reddit’s board and asked that he be replaced with a Black advisor. The company announced June 10 that Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel would take Ohanian’s place.

In short, some leaders queried their employees, others with more financial prowess launched key initiatives backed by millions, many focused on immediately expanding their workforce to be more diverse and career pathing to build from within. Others started with understanding the data to get to a root cause. A few created strategic programs and formed partnerships to grow diversity not only within the workforce but also externally, exponentially affecting change for employees, customers, vendors and the general population.

7 Steps that companies can take when looking to support employees and BLM.

  1. Check in on your employees mental health and remind them of employee resource groups, benefits of your insurance, and share some black mental health resources. If you don’t already have employee resource groups, you may want to see if it something that your employees would benefit from internally.
  2. Support organizations that benefit Black communities, whether that is through donations, time or reaching out to see what they need. New York Magazine created a list of organizations and funds that you can look to support.
  3. Remind employees of their legal rights when voting, how to reach polling locations safely, and how to arrange for mail in ballots. Please note that while federal law does not require giving employees time off to vote most states and some local ordinances mandate voting leave time. You can view your state laws on voting rights here.
  4. Leaders of the company should lead by example even if they do not have the knowledge, they can share their growth and experiences with the workforce while also listening to employees on what they should be doing within the organization. If you haven’t yet, check out leadership messages sent in June from larger organizations on Forbes.
  5. Focus on internal training that can cover topics like unconscious biases, recognizing privilege, microaggressions, and any other topics that may be an issue or of importance.
  6. Review your equal opportunities policy to see how effective the procedures are when responding to and dealing with allegations of racism. This includes bystander intervention in the workplace to see if improvement is needed with your policy.
  7. Focus on building or enhancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives by ensuring that recruitment, hiring, retention and advancement are truly objective and based on merit. Put a focus in place to recruit more diverse candidates and look at new resources to use when reaching candidates. Also, take time to evaluate your workforce and make sure that everyone has a pathway for success through equitable assignments, blind performance review processes, strong mentors and sponsors, and conducting pay audits to look at race and gender.

The bottom line is, more is expected of Corporate America today. Business can be used as a force for good. Providing support to both the BLM movement and employees is a continuous effort. By focusing on education, respect, and listening to employees, a truly inclusive work environment is within reach.

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