Has Corporate America changed since the murder of George Floyd?

·10 min read
Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Ramcess Jean-Louis is an attorney and HR/labor relations professional. He has over 20 years experience primarily in the media, tech and engineering arena. He is the Global Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Verizon Media, In The Know’s parent company. You can find Ramcess on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, many top corporations and employers announced commitments to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts across their respective businesses. Industry-leading employers who weren’t already acknowledging equity gaps were essentially forced to vocalize our nation’s long-standing systemic issues. Over the past 12 months, we’ve both seen and heard corporate commitments to empowering Black employees and increasing DEI initiatives and programming. New programs have been implemented, as well as corporate decisions to hire inaugural chief DEI officers and more. We have also heard from top brands and companies about their need for progress, and some have even issued clear goals to advance DEI across their respective organizations. Those goals include developing a meaningful strategy, as well as securing the necessary investment to implement change and ensure accountability.

In March of 2021, U.S. Representative Val Demings, serving Florida’s 10th Congressional District reintroduced a bipartisan resolution to increase DEI in American Media and said, “As we work to build a nation with opportunity and justice for all people, media diversity is the sunshine that brings change to places and people who have been too often neglected.”

Demings later added, “Corporations have a critical role to play when it comes to guaranteeing a level playing field for all Americans. Unlocking the full potential of our country and our economy requires hiring a more diverse workforce—including at the decision-making level. It makes good business sense to take social equity into consideration on all projects and be transparent about progress to meet tangible goals. Real progress has been made, and I strongly believe that our successes are just beginning. The bottom line is, businesses that value diversity and inclusion are going to be more successful and more profitable. By tapping into the wealth of diverse knowledge and experience available to them, they can reach broader markets and audiences.”

Two seasoned strategic leaders in the DEI space — Johnita P. Due, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer for WarnerMedia News and Sports, who was appointed in 2019 by Chairman Jeff Zucker; and Randall Tucker, Executive Vice President & Chief Inclusion Officer of Mastercard — shared how their respective companies have taken action after the killing of George Floyd.

What commitments did your company make to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts across your respective business post the murder of George Floyd?

Due: “In March of 2020 we rolled out DEI mission and goals to the news side of the organization and were planning to do so with Sports and Studios in June. Those goals included data transparency; advancing internal mobility and development of people of color; increasing the number of people of color and women at the mid-levels and above; improving the conversion of employee pipeline efforts; cultivating employee engagement and connectivity; and both reflecting and growing audiences. The murder of George Floyd and the ensuing racial justice movement caused us to develop a DEI action plan and identify short-term priorities after hearing more from our employees.”

Randall Tucker, EVP & Chief Inclusion Officer of Mastercard, specializes in advancing how organizations traditionally think about DEI by focusing on strategies that drive business results and improve effective collaboration.

Tucker: “DEI is an area where actions speak louder than words. Our commitment to deliver and our track record are something that we’re proud of. In the past year, our values as a company and as individuals was seen in the launch of our In Solidarity initiative, a company-wide effort centered around three pillars – our people, the market in which we operate, and broader society. This focus allows us to draw upon the talent and resources from all parts of the company to help combat discrimination and racism and create equal opportunities for all. The program initially focuses on Black communities in the U.S., with key elements to be adapted into regional inclusion plans that address the unique needs of local markets around the world where Mastercard operates and our employees live.”

How do you increase the pool of diverse talent and not just systematically poach talent from each other?

Due: “We have been very clear that our goal relating to improving representation is not a recruiting goal. Although we will continue to invest significantly in recruiting efforts, it is just as important for us to create equitable opportunities for advancement for employees who are already in our workforce. Jeff [Zucker] and I expect our senior leaders, people managers, and employees to embrace the shared responsibility of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion across all screens and behind the scenes.”

Did your company hold courageous conversations, support mental wellness or provide support for employees dealing with trauma?

Tucker: “Our employees’ wellbeing is the top priority. We make a wealth of resources available to employees who may need help – whether facing a personal crisis or simply needing independent advice. Over the past year, we hosted numerous conversations to further an open, healthy dialogue about race and inclusion within and outside the company. The ‘Open Circles’ conversations, which helped to guide our activities, also provided a time for our teams a safe space to share personal stories and learnings.”

Due: “We’ve hosted employee meetings and listening sessions as part of our parent company’s Listen.Understand.Act approach to DEI and continued our ‘Connected Conversations’ series, which we had launched in 2019. Last June, we also hosted a Connected Conversation on Black Voices in the midst of the reckoning on racial and systemic injustice in the aftermath of the senseless killings of so many unarmed African Americans. This included breakout sessions that shaped many of the short-term priorities in the DEI action plan.”

How would you rank progress? What’s been effective and why?

Due: “We are tremendously proud of our on-air racial and ethnic diversity. Every day, across all our programming, the racial and ethnic diversity of our correspondents is on display, and their perspectives enrich our reporting. We are unmatched in the industry in this regard. Programming and talent assignment changes, and promotions have taken place across CNN US resulting in more racial and ethnic diversity of anchors during dayside and weekends, as well as more racial, ethnic and gender diversity of our Washington correspondent ranks. These changes demonstrate that when we invest in our employees’ development, we will not only distinguish our journalism but reflect the audiences we serve (while breaking some glass ceilings).

“We have made real progress on our behind-the-scenes racial/ethnic diversity. Our overall U.S.-based employee population figures have generally been on par with the percentage of people of color in the U.S. population which is something we are proud of. Over the past couple of years, we have successfully increased our racial and ethnic diversity at the mid and senior levels. That representation increased not only from recruiting, but also from providing well-deserved advancement opportunities to our employees. We are very proud that we continue to exceed gender parity at almost all levels — with 54% women at the manager and director levels of our US-based employee population as of the end of last year.”

Tucker: “Looking at our own organization, in the past 12 months we’ve worked to deepen our culture of inclusion in a number of ways. They include launching a conscious inclusion training, investing in development leadership training programs to support Black and minority talent, implementing and upholding practices to ensure pay equity. These activities have the involvement of a strong global Black infinity business resource group to help ensure the programs have meaning, resonance and impact locally. We continue to work on talent development at all levels, including college hires. Hiring diverse talent has always been a priority and one that has been strengthened in the past year. Perhaps one of the most straightforward steps is to go to the places where diverse talent can be found. That’s why we’ve partnered with Howard University, other HBCUs and other diverse partners to ensure that we’re supporting talent at a foundational level.”

How has your approach changed towards new diverse hires in particular in management positions? What has been the effectiveness of your pipeline programs?

Due: “At CNN, for almost two years we have been hosting monthly recruiting meetings focused on diversity. Our talent acquisition (recruiting) team has been working more closely with our talent recruitment and development team to focus on influential positions. Our talent acquisition team has been tracking our great progress on hiring women and people of color in numbers exceeding their representation in the U.S. population. The Sports side of our organization has created a recruiting advisor system as part of its people advisory council to improve consideration of women and people of color for open roles.”

What initiative from this past year has yielded the greatest return on investment when it comes to DEI? What does success look like?

Tucker: “The past year has seen DEI efforts gain even greater focus and priority across the business community than perhaps at any other point in decades. It’s not just a company commitment, but how people come together to make goals and progress a reality. If we had to note the greatest impact, it would be our $500 million commitment to close the racial wealth and opportunity gap. This is a commitment that will not be fully realized in one year, but has the potential to have a significant, positive impact for future generations. I think as long as we continue to progress in the right direction, making decisions with inclusion and equity and fairness in mind, we cannot lose.”

Due: “We’ve seen how our diversity across all screens and behind-the-scenes has advanced and distinguished our coverage of the multiple pandemics we’ve experienced over the past year — from Covid-19 to anti-Asian hate to racial injustice to the assaults on democracy. Launching the race and equality and policing teams and also our continued focus on voting rights will ensure that we will continue to cover the issues shaping our times.”

What are the top questions anyone should ask about their DEI efforts as they try to measure their progress & effectiveness?

Tucker: “Having a grounding and organizing mechanism is key to all parts of business. Diversity, equity and inclusion is no different. Questions we use to help keep our efforts focused include: What will be the impact of these efforts? How do you really create change management? This needs to be both quantifiable progress and the real, tangible ways our people will benefit. How would employees today rank DEI efforts? What do they expect today and where do they want to be tomorrow? Who is best in class and what external benchmarks can you learn from and measure against?”

The indicator that you’ve pushed far enough or hard enough on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is when you have eradicated systemic barriers and provided an equitable opportunity for all. When you find that these conversations and efforts are no longer required it will be a new era. However, in order for us to move forward, we must begin to get comfortable with these uncomfortable conversations.

The DEI formula begins by listening to diverse audiences and creating an actionable strategy with measurable deliverables and outcomes to support corporate goals. There must be a matrix of accountability for DEI programs, partnerships, training and initiatives. Success is determined by an alignment of commitments, investments and accountability. It is important to understand the distinction between commitments and investments. An investment requires measurable action against commitments, it’s putting your money and resources towards deliberate change such as the hiring, development and retention of diverse groups, community investment, philanthropy, supplier diversity and product inclusion. Moreover, accountability only occurs through the transparency of the disclosure of hiring numbers, metrics and data. Those who are leading the way are truly making short-term and long-term investments and are on their way to driving equity and inclusion across their organizations.

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