By Conroy Boxhill and Sandy Skees, Co-Leads of Porter Novelli’s JEDI Advisory Services
Turn on the news, open Twitter, or browse any one of your favorite social media sites and one thing is immediately apparent – calls for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) are happening in the streets and in boardrooms. There is a growing sense that CEOs and corporations are the fourth branch of government – their decisions to censure or cancel support for programs or candidates is upending what has been standard lobbying and policy behaviors.
Specifically, when it comes to JEDI issues, we anticipate companies who expressed recognition and support for Black lives in 2020 will face increased scrutiny as we quickly approach Black History Month and the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. In fact, our research is clear on stakeholder expectations: 82 percent of Americans said it’s okay if a company makes a statement of support for communities of color, but it must be followed by action.
Our corporate JEDI work has uncovered three components: (1) is a company assessing, revising and restructuring formal policies and informal power structures to ensure equity, (2) are they leveraging their voice, platforms and resources to address inequity in society at large and (3) what concrete actions have they taken to address racism, especially if the company is encouraging followers to volunteer, donate, or participate?
Admittedly, this can feel overwhelming at first. That’s because society is grappling with the same reality. We believe this moment provides corporations with a license to lead – one that is echoed through our own research with the finding that 76 percent of Americans believe business must recognize its role in systemic racism. However, acknowledgement is only the first step; actions speak louder than words.
While many companies have made progress in assessing the current state of their JEDI programs, we believe the events of the second half of 2020 and the first weeks of 2021 have accelerated stakeholder expectations. Companies can either help address the fundamental challenges facing society or thoughtlessly continue business as usual.
For those with the conviction to lead an authentic JEDI journey, two values will be paramount: humility and conversation. Humility is expressing acceptance that undoing six hundred years of racist policies and institutions is a journey that requires substantially more effort than we’ve been previously willing to commit. Conversation implies listening, responding, listening again and engaging with all of those in a company’s value chain who both participate in JEDI issues and are affected by them. This requires compassionate leadership and a genuine willingness to drive and participate in uncomfortable conversations.
Our work advising clients on JEDI issues has led to important moves that companies can take towards eradicating systemic racism throughout their value chain:
- Establish a culture of psychological safety so that employees feel comfortable expressing their intersectional identities. This is the first step to getting good data
- Consistently collect, analyze and review data
- Ensure diversity and equity at every level: entry, middle-management, and senior leadership
- Design policies that ensure equity in career opportunities and advancement
- Solicit engagement and feedback regularly — from both current and former employees – and act on it
- Reframe product innovation to take into account lived experiences, cultures and abilities of a wide range of customers and groups
- Embrace the responsibility of influencing culture through marketing, communications and content platforms
- Support changes in public policy and legislation that deliver justice and equity
A post from Ben & Jerry’s following the January 6 insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol sums up the reality that corporations face: “We saw two Americas yesterday…Both of these Americas are us. Black and brown people have long understood this. They’ve been exposed to the white tyranny that was on full display at yesterday’s riot since the founding of our nation. It’s the double standard that undergirds white supremacy in our nation…How we respond to the events of yesterday will determine which America we will be.”
How a company shows up in action and words, with an intersectional mindset that takes into account bigotries experienced by other groups (e.g., Asian, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQIA, Persons with Disabilities) is the challenge facing companies in the coming decade. As JEDI counselors, our commitment is to ensure that our clients are at the forefront of dismantling systemic racism and institutions that pull back all minorities; the future of their business depends on it and so does the survival of our society.