The murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide conversation, and honestly, a movement of holding brands accountable for their position in the fact that “Black Lives Matter.” Brands were beginning to be called out for their lack of comments or statements, and quickly, a wave of Black Boxes or “Black Lives Matter” post flooded the social sphere.
Despite brands making a statement, they were continuing to be called out by both consumers and employees because of the knowledge that their business practices didn’t align with the post. This made those posts solely “performative” and nothing more. This sparked more conversations and expectations on “what should a brand do beyond a post.”
Whether or not this question was asked internally before the post went out didn’t matter because social media forced it to be one.
As a consulting firm, Flare Partners, who has numerous Fortune 500 businesses on our roster, our team jumped heads-in to the conversation with brands. Thankfully, this isn’t a new conversation for many of our clients as they’ve been committed to this before the death of George Floyd, or at least some clients pulled in their leadership and our teams immediately. In addition to the private client conversations, I’ve participated in public discussions such as a recent chat on IG Live with Matthew Kobach, the Head of Social and Digital Media for the New York Stock Exchange, titled “Okay you’ve posted a Black Square, now what?”.
I’m going to share a few expanded thoughts on what I shared in that conversation on hiring Black.
For context, in this conversation, we have to recognize the anger and frustration you see in, and on behalf of the Black, Community is not SOLELY because of George Floyd’s Murder. It is due to 400 years of Black People experiencing Racism, Slavery, Segregation, and Jim Crow, and whatever we want to call this era. Black People have systematically been oppressed since the creation of this country.
I always try to make that contextual setup easy to understand for the audience. So let’s imagine you spent 400 days building a website, app, or even a house, but on the 400th day, you realize that something wrong in the early days of erecting that structure and its caused significant issues in it EVERY day after the fact. It may not be something that can be fixed quickly without thought. It’s going to require the entire team to come together and have an in-depth dialogue on how they can repair or rebuild it entirely from scratch.
That moment of deep conversation is where we’re at, How do we fix 400 years of a country built on the back of oppressed Black People initially being bought and packed like sardines on boats?
So now that we have that question at the top of our mind, I pose this additional question: Now that you’ve told people that Black Lives Matter, how do you ensure that those internally feel that your processes, policies, and culture also value Black Lives?
This question is essential because posting a Black Box is allyship to the extent of asking for the government to change its laws regarding Black Lives. Still, there’s an opportunity for us to look at….how I can show Black Lives Matter with the things that are within my control?
Let’s look at that question from a perspective of leadership, representation, and economic equality within your organization.
At the HIGHEST level of the organization selected by its’ shareholders, you have the Board of Directors. If you don’t know, the board is elected and voted into office to represent the financial interests of the shareholders who effectively own the company. According to Harvard Law, Of the Russel Index 3000 Companies, which comprises of Fortune 500 companies, only 10% of all board seats are represented by non-white minorities, and non-white minorities are filling 15 % of the new board seats. Take note, as I’m saying, “non-white minority” as this is the category of measurement is purely non-white people not specific to Black People. 13.4% alone of the US population is Black, as reported by the 2018 US Census.
So we need more movement here. We honestly need the same “energy” behind the impetus for including more (white) women on board across our country, as we saw that women filling of new board seats grew from 12% in 2008 to 45% in 2019.
Secondly, let’s look at the CEOs who report to the board. This is a quick stat. According to Being Black in Corporate America report by the Center for Talent Exploration states that .8% (less than 1%) of Fortune 500 CEOs are Black. Point 8 Percent! Yes, I typed that out for emphasis.
Thirdly, 3.2% of Executive Leadership and Managers are Black People. Oh, and only 8% of the entire corporate workforce is Black. Again remember, that 13.4% of the US population is Black.
In addition to the above, let’s look a little at the income equality that’s a direct result of the above and more. According to the 2018 US Census, the average median household income is $63k across all races, whereas white non-Hispanic sees a median income of $70k, and Black People see $41k. For additional insight, Black people receive the lowest median household income across every single documented race on the 2018 US Census.
Directly from that, 11.8% of the US is at or below the poverty line, whereas Black People are at 21%. Also, the highest poverty rate amongst every single documented race on the 2018 US Census.
But, you might be asking, “Is this because Black People are at an economic disadvantage and should start with improving their Kindergarten learning experiences?”
Ahh, that’s an excellent thought, but not for this discussion because, according to the National Center for Education Statistics report, Black Women are the most educated demographic in the United States. Sooooo that pay disparity and real economic disadvantage are DEEPER than “they don’t have quality education.”
So for this article, I’m going to end it with this?
How are you ensuring that Black People are represented in your workforce at EVERY SINGLE LEVEL?
You might want to look at your referral process. Pay more for referrals of Black People. Because honestly, we know jobs are all about whom you know. It’s very little chance of ANYBODY getting a job when applying via your website without any internal advocate. So incentivizing referrals of Black People would encourage your employees to look deeper.
How are you ensuring that Black People are paid equally in comparison to their non-black peers?
It would be necessary to standardize your pay rates based on roles and tiers or start with an audit. Take a second to identify your pay disparity by looking at annualized salaries across races in your organizations, and fix that quickly. “You get equal pay, you get equal pay, and you get equal pay!”
We might come back with this conversation focused on my friends in marketing & advertising within their organizations. There are some specific things that you can do.
Oh, and all of the operations teams, I’ll be back for you too.
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Jaylen D. Bledsoe is the Chairman of The Bledsoe Collective, Managing Director of Flare Partners, a brand architect & speaker.