(Bloomberg) — John Rogers, co-chief executive officer of Chicago’s Ariel Investments, said that companies must “really execute” on diversity plans, and back up their broad statements about race with meaningful steps.
Rogers said that both in board rooms and in conversations with business leaders he sees the opportunity for sustainable change. He is one of the most senior African-American executives in the fund industry, and a resonant voice in corporate America, with board seats at McDonald’s Corp., Nike Inc. and the New York Times Co.
“We’re hearing they’re really serious about change, and asking for advice, asking for counsel, and truly listening, which is something that’s unique this time,” Rogers said of his talks with executives. He made his comments in an interview at the Bloomberg Invest Global virtual event on Monday.
Corporate America is grappling over inequality after a global wave of protests against racism and police brutality. Stirred by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the protests put new pressure on companies to donate to civil rights groups and commit to honor diversity in hiring.
Some observed Juneteenth, marking the end of U.S. slavery: J.C. Penney Co. and Spotify Technology SA gave a paid day off, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. closed its bank branches early on June 19 in recognition of the day.
Rogers said that the current protest movement carries echoes of 1968, when the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. led to rioting. Progressive leaders in Congress could use this opportunity to focus their agendas on greater economic inclusion for African-Americans, he added.
“It gives me hope that they’re going to be able to take this environment and change lives and change opportunities for African Americans, from an economic justice perspective,” Rogers said. “Social justice is important, but it’s tied also to economic justice.”
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