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In celebration of Black History Month this year, we’ve seen corporate leaders participate in more public displays of solidarity than ever before, from employee volunteer days and internal company workshops to writing large checks to community organizations and nonprofits. These efforts are no doubt designed to demonstrate the commitments they’ve made to diversity, equity, and inclusion over recent years in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing awareness of the problems of systemic racism.
But when companies tout the accomplishments of Black people or support Black causes while ignoring the inequities holding people of color back in their own organizations, their actions feel like “performative wokeness,” especially if they’re largely abandoned the other 11 months of the year. We’d like to see leaders move beyond transient or surface-level displays of DEI by investing in initiatives that actively support their employees of color. And they can start by making pandemic-era flexibility a permanent offering for all.
Corporate America has long been a monoculture. According to a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the entire U.S. workforce is 77% white and white workers are significantly more likely to hold managerial positions than Black and Hispanic employees. It’s also worse at the top: 93% of CEOs in the Fortune 500 are white, and two-thirds of C-suite executives are white men.
Pre-pandemic, many companies placed high value on in-person face time in the (predominantly white) office. In this environment, inequity — particularlyple of color — arose from lack of clarity on informal mechanisms of evaluating performance, including relationships and connections stemming from social networking events and company happy hours. These face time expectations in and out of work often caused strain, particularly for Black employees.
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