Many organizations have broadcast support for the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months, and especially since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. They have taken to social media with hashtags, statements and symbols to show solidarity with protesters and the social reform they seek.
But gestures of sympathy, while welcomed by activists and civil rights groups, don’t lead to substantive change. A growing number of companies and institutions, such as Boeing, Blackbaud and Roper St. Francis, understand this, and are putting words into action. They are scrutinizing their policies and procedures, seeking to diversify their workforce, confronting uncomfortable histories, facilitating public conversations and promoting inclusiveness.
The Medical University of South Carolina has two diversity officers who make a presentation at nearly every board of trustees meeting. They have overseen notable improvements at MUSC in recent years, including more community outreach, recruitment changes and robust internal diversity training. Today, about 18 percent of the total workforce is African American.
Clemson University established an explicit program and empowered Rhondda Robinson Thomas to lead it, fostering conversations about the school’s priorities today.
Last year, the College of Charleston resolved to examine its links to slavery and the historical contributions of Black people on campus while also striving harder to diversify its staff and student body.
In early September, the college announced it was launching two initiatives to expand its campus diversity training. The Diversity EDU program, piloted during the 2019-20 academic year with first-year and incoming students, now will be recommended to all students, faculty and staff. It will include an examination of microaggressions and unconscious bias.
“Critical Conversations” is meant to encourage campus-wide discussions about recent events, including the killing of Black people by police, related protests and the impacts of the pandemic.
“We want action and dialogue, not just dialogue alone,” Rénard Harris, vice president of access and inclusion and chief diversity officer, said in a statement. “At the end of the day, it’s not enough to just have talked about diversity and inclusion. We need to put it into play.”
Activists have expressed gratitude for the support they receive from businesses and institutions, but that support would mean far more if these organizations diversified their boards of directors and leadership teams, recruited a workforce that reflects the demographics of the community, supported political candidates who prioritize social justice, set philanthropic goals that adhere to stated values, and established a sustained track record of anti-racist actions, they say.
Some big corporations, such as Airbnb, Bumble, Cisco, Docusign, Grubhub, Salesforce, Shopify and Uber have made significant financial contributions to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or the Equal Justice Initiative. Nike has made ads in support of diversity and social justice and promised to donate $40 million over four years to organizations that support the Black Lives Matter movement. Nike, Microsoft and other corporations also have pledged to look inward and change their staffing and company culture.
“Every issue that we’ve worked on has been about racial justice, so this kind of shift is welcomed by us,” said Treva Williams, local coordinator of the Charleston Area Justice Ministry. “For some institutions, this is a money maker. They’ve seen a way to profit off of this to some degree. Other institutions probably really do want to make that change.”
One company recently reached out to CAJM to schedule a series of in-house meetings that give mostly Black workers a chance to air grievances, she said. School districts in the area have committed to bias training and other anti-racism efforts, but don’t quite go far enough, Williams said. Black children in the Charleston County School District are nearly eight times more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts, Williams said, citing 2018-19 school year data compiled by CAJM. Investing in proven restorative practices would be a better solution to discipline problems, she said.
Concerns about racial bias have led the Charleston Police Department to agree to an audit of its practices, but then the police respond to peaceful protesters with riot gear and tear gas, she said.
“We have institutions that want to be lauded for progress on racial justice … but are just stopping short of really committing to it,” Williams said. “It’s not about stopping and playing basketball with kids on the street, but inviting engagement and involvement in writing new policies.”
Volvo Cars USA, in its second year located in the Summerville area, is still in the process of setting up its operations, said spokeswoman Stephanie Mangini. But it adheres to corporate values that include inclusiveness and anti-discrimination.
“As an organization, we know we must do more to position ourselves as an ally in support of minority communities, especially the Black community,” she wrote in an email. “To do this in an effective, sustainable, and responsible way, we believe we must start from within.”
To start, Volvo Cars will hire a “Diversity and Inclusion Partner” to work with the leadership team and members of the existing Diversity and Inclusion Employee Network.
Questions about corporate volunteering at Volvo Cars, philanthropic giving, the demographic makeup of the board of directors, and recruitment policies were not addressed.
On Aug. 28, Boeing announced it was donating more than $10 million to 20 nonprofits working on racial and social justice issues. Among the beneficiaries are the Charleston-based International African American Museum ($250,000 to support education curricula and programming) and Turning Leaf Project ($100,000 to assist the organization in its efforts to address systemic recidivism among at-risk Charleston-area men returning home from prison, and to expand its programming statewide).
Additionally, Boeing pledged to increase the number of its Black employees in the U.S. by 20 percent, though it did not reveal how many African Americans are currently employed or how long it might take to reach the new goal.
“At Boeing, we acknowledge the toll that systemic racism and social injustice have had on people of color, particularly Black communities here in the United States,” President and CEO David Calhoun said in a statement. “As we work internally to confront these issues, we also remain focused on addressing the causes and impacts of racism and social inequality in the communities where our employees live and work.”
In August, the Daniel Island-based software company Blackbaud announced it was hiring Michael Boulware Moore as its first diversity officer. Moore was president and CEO of the International African American Museum during its startup years and can trace his ancestry to Robert Smalls, who escaped slavery by piloting a Confederate vessel across enemy lines during the Civil War and went on to serve in the state Legislature and U.S. Congress.
Moore said Blackbaud is committed to joining the public conversation about racial justice, continuing to make internal improvements and finding a voice in the community at large.
“For Blackbaud, it’s an even more acute conversation, because Blackbaud is at the center of the social-good world,” he said, referring to its customer base of nonprofits. “I think companies, and all organizations, are trying to figure out what is their responsibility, what is their role in this movement for greater social justice.”
‘Who runs the show?’
At Roper St. Francis Healthcare, officials announced this summer a new marketing campaign to promote its organization’s core values. Signs were made and installed throughout the hospital campuses declaring “healthcare is a right, Black lives do matter, love is love, all genders are welcome, diversity & inclusion are essential.”
“It was important for us to show, not just tell,” said Andy Lyons, director of corporate communications.
The hospital system also is searching for a new chief diversity officer who will report to the CEO, and creating a Latino task force to determine how better to serve that minority community, according to Kimberly Butler Willis, director of the Ryan White Wellness Center and a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Willis said her employer is initiating a policy audit to examine its staffing and procedures “through a racial equity lens.”
It’s critical work if Roper St. Francis hopes to shed its lingering reputation as the “White hospital,” Willis said. Roper was long known in the community as the place where Whites sought medical care. St Francis was the community hospital. They merged in 1998.
“We have the opportunity to turn that around,” she said.
Charleston’s homeless shelter, One80 Place, recently contracted with Race Equity Partners, a firm whose leaders have experience working with homelessness, to conduct a yearlong internal audit that will examine the nonprofit’s staffing, procedures and outcomes, according to CEO Stacey Denaux.
“That should identify weak points and strong points, what to replicate and what to eliminate,” she said.
After scrutinizing internal operations, staffing and procedures, the work will determine whether any discreet (or overt) bias is impacting outcomes, Denaux said.
The Rev. Nelson Rivers, pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church and vice president of religious affairs and external relations of the National Action Network, said he’s seen White solidarity with African Americans ebb and flow over the years. He wonders whether current expressions of support for racial justice will persist and strengthen.
“We will be talking over the next weeks with several institutions, (asking): Who runs the show? Do you have any African Americans in leadership positions? … How do you spend your money, not just on vendor programs but across the board? Are you using Black banks, Black insurance companies? Do you have a vendors list that has more than 2 percent of companies owned by people of color? Have you changed the culture internally? Are you talking to someone other than yourself?”
Rivers said he will also discuss whether local businesses are addressing income disparities, the lack of affordable housing, the need for law enforcement reform, broadening health care access, and improving education outcomes.
“Every institution of every size and significance in this community can have an impact in all five of those areas,” he said. “America has no track record of changing anything by suggestion. It takes more than that: protest, and a sustained effort at organization, organization, organization.”
‘Part of the history’
The Citadel’s Shawn Edwards, chief diversity officer, and John Dorian, vice president of communications and marketing, said the college invites students, faculty and staff to participate in its “Welcoming Diversity” workshops, at which they might learn about one another, and all students have opportunities for community engagement.
“Service is something we want to bake into the character of the students who come through this school,” Dorian said.
In 2015, the school established its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, whose three on-campus leaders meet monthly, Edwards said.
About three years ago, The Citadel was awarded a grant from the American Association of Colleges and Universities to establish a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center on campus. It hosts listening sessions based on healing circles methodology, Edwards said.
“Another strategic goal is to increase the amount of work we do with minority and veteran contractors,” Dorian said. “We’ve already registered small minority contractors so they can compete for state work. It helps them overcome bureaucratic barriers.”
The effort deepens the school’s pool of small contractors, which can benefit the institution financially when competition for contracts results in lower prices, he added.
Part of The Citadel’s self-scrutiny involves confronting its own origins as a training ground for militias whose purpose was to put down slave revolts. And it must come to terms with more recent examples of racism, such as offensive yearbook material, Dorian said.
“We’re not going to hide that. It’s part of the history of the college.”
Other schools, such as Georgetown University, Harvard, Brown, Yale, William & Mary, and the University of Virginia, have sought to atone for past support of slavery by creating coalitions, symposia and programs of study, and by offering reparations.
“The Citadel isn’t going to get in the business of reparations, nor are we going to get in the business of apologizing as an institution for something that no one here had anything to do with,” Dorian said.
But there is a group on campus studying The Citadel’s racist past, Edwards said. And the college is one of about 70 schools now part of the University of Virginia’s “Universities Studying Slavery” coalition.
“It’s about recognition, not reparation,” she said.
Telling the city’s story
About a year ago, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce determined that racial equity was a priority of its mission. Kenya Dunn, the chamber’s diversity, equity and inclusion executive fellow, has helped arrange diversity webinars and helped businesses address social justice issues within their organizations. Now she is preparing a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion virtual conference, set for Oct. 13-15.
George Ramsey, senior director of legislative relations, said the chamber has been working with its counterparts in Greenville and Columbia to lobby for criminal sentencing reform so that the records of one-time offenders might be expunged, clearing the way for re-employment.
Recently, the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau was faulted for not doing enough to acknowledge racial inequities and promote Black-owned businesses, Doug Warner, director of media relations, acknowledged.
Warner said the CVB is fully aware of Charleston’s “egregious history on racial equality and horrific history of the enslavement of people,” and that that history obligates Lowcountry organizations “to do better than everybody else.”
“We’re not there yet,” he said.
Motivated to do something after the 2015 killings of nine Black members of Emanuel AME Church by a white supremacist, the CVB launched a website called “African American Voices,” Warner said. The website, created in partnership with the International African American Museum, highlights Black contributions to local history, foodways, arts and culture, the urban landscape, civic leadership in the Lowcountry and pro-democracy political efforts.
He said the CVB is asking its members to be honest about Charleston’s history and identity and to diversify their staffs in visible ways, and it’s seeking to add more Black-owned businesses to its membership base. Looking within, Warner said the CVB is striving to diversify its staff, though big budget cuts because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recent social unrest, have presented unforeseen challenges.
“If our organization is about hospitality, then the most hospitable thing you can do is treat all people with respect (and) dignity,” and to provide them with more opportunity, he said. “Talk is cheap, but we are way committed to that.”
Credit: Source link