For many weeks, members of the Chief Diversity Officer
Board, as part of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), have met
weekly to better help our organizations—some of the best-known brands in the
world—through an unprecedented pandemic.
We have looked at our talent through the lens of inclusion, and shared
innovative practices to address employee resources across the talent
spectrum. Challenges of virtual
recruiting, onboarding, effective work-from-home, and return-to-workplace
strategies have all been on our agenda. The
running theme through it all has been physical and psychological safety, and
As cities began to open, we had renewed hope and were ready
to embrace this new normal. However, we
were shockingly reminded recently that there are some aspects of “normal” that
need to change forever.
The murder of George Floyd by police officers has angered us
all. As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, his heinous murder, caught on camera, along with the
killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, Dominique Clayton, Sandra Bland and so many others, is an
impetus to draw our attention to this second pandemic. Its’ been festering without due attention for
a very long time.
Some would say instead of living in the age of COVID-19, we
are in an era more akin to 1619. This
pandemic, unfortunately, has been with us since those days.
The similarities between these two pandemics is
striking. Disparities in access to
healthcare has resulted in disproportionate COVID deaths in the black community. African Americans comprise 13 % of the U.S.
population, yet the black population represents 26% of reported cases of COVID-19. Death toll figures are similar, and in certain
cities, are even more pronounced. In Chicago,
African Americans are 30% of the population, yet they represent 70% of the
While COVID-19 discriminates against the black population over
the last few months, our education, employment and justice systems have been
doing this for centuries. We continue to
see large gaps with income inequalities, access to education and job
opportunities. Today, African Americans
are jailed at a rate more than 5 times that of white people. At current levels of incarceration, a black
male in the United States today has greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to
prison during his lifetime. This is not
only an adult problem. African Americans
represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained,
and 52% of cases which are judicially waived to criminal court.
Is there any wonder black mothers must teach their children
how to navigate a traffic stop?
The fact that there were protests following George Floyd’s
murder was not shocking. What was
shocking was the many peaceful protests which were marred by violent acts that
damaged property and looted businesses.
While a black man’s death instigated this, it’s important to remember
that history has taught us that a few bad actors will shape the perception by many,
a perception that often generalizes an entire group. Let’s resist that temptation to rush to
judgement and generalize, just as we all know that those who protect and serve
cannot be generalized either.
As a CDO Board, we are shifting the agenda. We have to, because these disparities seem
intractable. They are ingrained in our
political, social, and judicial systems.
It doesn’t justify the violence and destruction which has occurred after
George Floyd’s death, but we can’t lose perspective of the more pervasive and
insidious issues affecting individuals and organizations.
As Chief Diversity Officers, we can’t control what is going
on outside of our organizations, but we can certainly help our leaders, and
help shape the culture, inside our organizations. In the short term, we can help our leaders lean-in,
and engage in the right conversations with employees, customers and the
community. And, just like we are doing
now with COVID, in the long term we can focus on ensuring the physical safety,
the psychological safety, and the well-being of not only our black
employees…but all employees…so they can regain the motivation to bring their
best thinking and performance to their highest potential.
i4cp CDO Board members will be taking immediate action to develop a list of
practices that organizations can adopt and make real change happen now. We ask for your support as we attempt
to erase two pandemics from this earth, and create a healthier, more
empathetic, and inclusive world together.