How CEOs And Directors Can Lead On Racial Injustice

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CEOs and directors are uniquely positioned to set the tone of how their companies deal with racial inequities inside their companies, and by extension, in America at large.

Many corporate leaders across the country are debating what their response should be to the protests against police violence and racial injustice that have paralyzed the nation for more than a week. What would your company’s response be if corruption and misconduct were found within your organization?

Racial injustice and discrimination are forces that corrupt the corporate mission and core values of a corporation. The vast majority of corporate leaders would agree that the response to corporate corruption should be swift, definitive and followed by the implementation of systems, policies and procedures to make sure the corruption could not take place again. The response to racial injustice and discrimination of any kind should be dealt with the same way.

Chief executives and corporate board members are uniquely positioned to have a significant impact on how employees, customers and their communities experience what it is to be an American.  As leaders, CEOs and directors can set the tone of how their companies deal with racial inequities inside their companies, and by extension, in America at large. Here are a few things that corporate leaders can do right now:

Speak out and clarify the company position. When an issue like this has gripped the nation, you can assume all stakeholders are interested in hearing from leadership. CEOs and directors can show their humanity by speaking out publicly (or internally within the company) and letting it be known that they believe in equal treatment for all American citizens, no matter their race, creed, color, religion or sexual orientation. Explain to employees and others what kind of America you want to live in and the kind of corporate culture you want to promote within your organization. Remember, there are so many people who are waiting for your cues so that they can decide if they want to “follow the leader.” If you fail to quickly clarify your position on this issue, others will determine what your slow response and silence mean. Appearing to be forced to address an issue of this magnitude will be viewed as a lack of leadership.

Ensure your organization is practicing fairness and equality in as many areas as possible. Saying that there is no problem doesn’t make it so. (A company with very few minority workers might also have very few complaints about minority hiring.) Rooting out racial bias often involves collecting data that few companies currently track. However, new technologies are making it easier to track minority employees just like target groups of consumers are tracked in the real world. Leadership just has to make the commitment to obtaining new technologies and then using them to create systems to check that minority hiring, promotions, salaries and other issues are handled without bias. Since many shareholders are asking for annual reports on workforce diversity and gender pay disparities,

Seek advice on handling racial inequities in the workplace from other CEOs and directors. Use your contacts and talk confidentially with your peers about approaches they may have taken to solve some of the issues involving race at their companies. Research and learn from what other companies have done to improve fairness. Hire consultants to help devise systems that work if needed.

Ask employees for their thoughts by inviting them to complete anonymous surveys. Leaders don’t assume that they know everything. Companies can solicit anonymous commentary about any racial injustices workers might be experiencing and would like to see changed. Employees could be encouraged to anonymously report company biases that they believe should be addressed. A telephone or intranet-based whistleblower-styled hotline could be set up to deal with such complaints.

Once the anonymous surveys and calls are collected, the information can be analyzed by a diverse committee of corporate executives so the company can learn from the feedback. Even harsh criticism can be valuable. A word cloud capturing the feelings of respondents can be created and become the basis for constructive conversations on the issue of racial injustice. The company may also find actionable suggestions about company processes that are seen as unfair in the responses.

After proper analysis, the CEO and other leaders may want to share the results of the surveys with all stakeholders. Sharing the information will hopefully show that leadership understands where the inequities and biases are and is taking steps to make positive changes to address the problems. Appropriate resources should be allocated to fix the identified issues and corporate officers with true authority should be assigned the responsibility to oversee the process and be held accountable.

After an appropriate period of time, another anonymous survey can be taken to assess whether the changes within the company are effective. The collected information can be analyzed and shared with stakeholders again.

If possible, create a branding campaign around fairness and equality. Attaching your products and services to ideas of fairness and racial equality could strengthen your bond with customers and the communities your company serves. A stronger bond with customers and communities could boost sales. It can also help your organization recruit top talent in the future. Branding your company as one that supports fairness and racial equality should enhance the success of any community engagement activities because such a message should make all people feel welcomed and valued by your corporation.

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