By Caitlin Bethell, Head of Psychology
On May 25th, 2020, video footage circulated around the world showing the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Floyd could be heard pleading “I can’t breathe” a total of 28 times. These were the same three words Eric Garner had shouted six years earlier when he was killed by police officers. In the months running up to Floyd’s death, we had heard about 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, who had been shot eight times by the police when they raided her apartment on March 13th, 2020. We heard about Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old black man out jogging in his neighbourhood, who was fatally shot in a racially motivated attack on February 23rd, 2020. The police were advised to not arrest the white murderers. No arrests were made until May 2020 when a video of the shooting went viral.
There was uproar across the globe. People were angry and protests were happening in every country. On June 2nd, 2020, initiated by two Black female music executives, Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang, who called for the music industry to take action, social media saw ‘Blackout Tuesday’. This was meant to be a collective action to protest racism and police brutality in response to the deaths outlined above, using the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Businesses taking part were encouraged to abstain from releasing music and other business operations. Individuals and organisations alike took to social media and within hours, more than 14.6 million black squares had flooded Instagram (CNBC, 2020). What was meant to be real commitment and a call to action had been replaced with a hollow social media trend. What was supposed to be a movement, was drowned out by performative allyship. People were being able to say they stood against racism but without needing to make any real change.
More than 950 brands participated in ‘Blackout Tuesday’ (Ad Age Datacenter, 2020) either through posting a black square or releasing an anti-racism statement, but 16 months later what has been done? Have changes been made in organisations? Where do we see the representation and progression of Black people in corporations? What do we know about commitments that have been kept?
Many organisations and big brands have done an incredible job of making changes and speaking out against racism. Here are a few examples of this:
- Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company known for championing various social causes, shared a post saying that “We must dismantle White supremacy. Silence is NOT an option” and shared the four actions they were going to take. In September 2021, they unveiled a new flavour of ice cream (Change Is Brewing) to promote the People’s Response Act which seeks to curb the disproportionate share of police violence against people with mental illnesses and other health complications. The company’s U.S. activism manager, Jabari Paul, declared the company’s continued commitment to advancing racial justice, saying “The flavour supports the vision of the world in which every community is safe and everyone including Black and brown people can thrive.” The ice cream also highlights three Black-owned businesses by incorporating their products into the new flavour. A portion of the proceeds from sales will go to grassroots initiatives bolstering community safety.
- Sephora, a cosmetics and beauty company, pledged in June 2020 to make their shopping and employment environment more inclusive and equitable. They were the first major retailer to sign up to the 15 Percent Pledge, a campaign founded by fashion designer Aurora James calling on retailers to dedicate 15 percent of their shelves to Black-owned businesses. In the Sephora Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Progress Report (2021), they share that by the end of this year they will have more than doubled their assortment overall and will have achieved a 15% benchmark in prestige haircare (up from 3%). They also share the various campaigns and training they have been delivering, alongside the recognition that there is still a way to go.
Though these do show positive action and progress, many organisations haven’t done the same. People still feel sceptical that this is just a moment in time and will be forgotten, that these proclamations of racial justice are hypocritical and performative as the way people are treated in the workplace is still the same. SHRM’s 2020 survey, showed that 35% of Black employees feel racial discrimination exists at work, compared to 7% of white employees; a similar statistical difference that we have also seen working with clients on anti-racism programmes. We see white people not recognising this happening, and the organisations we work with are majority white senior leadership teams. We only need to look at the FTSE 350 to see we still have a way to go. In March 2021, The Parker Review shared that 150 companies out of 256 companies (59%) didn’t meet the target of having at least one director of colour on their Boards. This number is high – nearly two-thirds of companies don’t have representation when they hold so much power and influence. This lack of change is disappointing to see.
More action needs to be taken, organisations need to review where they are, set themselves challenging but realistic targets and hold themselves to account. We know this type of radical change will never happen overnight – culture change rarely ever does – but there are some key things you can do to ensure your organisation continues to represent and progress Black people, Asian people and people from marginalised backgrounds.
- Look at your leadership teams – think about how you can be more diverse or provide opportunities to Black employees.
- Review your policies and processes – what barriers are in place, are they inclusive enough and can they be changed?
- Have meaningful conversations with employees around racism, even if they make you feel uncomfortable – find out from employees about what you can be doing as an organisation to support anti-racism and keep the conversation going.
- Hold yourself, the organisation and other organisations accountable – we all have a role in creating a sustained change, we can’t expect others to do it for us. If you have power and influence, use that in a positive way and keep checking in with yourself.
Creating inclusive and anti-racist cultures needs to be the norm from now on. This fight will not go away; leaders and organisations alike need to be doing all they can to push this agenda. Be brave, be bold and be a part of positive change happen.
If you want to have a conversation or find out more about what In Diverse Company can do to help you on your anti-racism journey, contact us at email@example.com.
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