Systemic racism is not just a trendy concept or new buzz. It’s a real issue that has affected professionals of color in all industries, from instances of discrimination lawsuits in the retail industry to disparities in healthcare related to COVID-19. With racial inequity being a key topic taking a global spotlight, corporate leaders are tasked with addressing a problem that not only costs companies their bottom lines, but ruins reputation, diminishes employee morale, and diminishes talent retention.
DiversityInc CEO Carolynn Johnson moderated a virtual panel, sponsored by Cigna (No. 42 on the 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies For Diversity list), with business and education leaders including Earvin “Magic” Johnson, CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Dr. Valerie Montgomery-Rice, president and dean of Morehouse School of Medicine, and Cigna CEO David Cordani.
“As a black woman, as a mother, as a millennial, as a CEO, for me, systemic racism is blocked opportunity everywhere you go—opportunity denied for access to proper healthcare, opportunity denied access to education, opportunity denied to compete and earn wealth, own a home—opportunity denied to have a healthy process for family planning,” Johnson said. “Everywhere there is opportunity, blacks, in particular, are denied. That is systemic racism.”
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Power of Micro-communities
“It starts with having the conversation in our household, having a conversation in our company, having a conversation globally across the company and stopping to listen—to seek to understand,” Cordani, co-author of The Courage to Go Forward: The Power of Micro-Communities. “Your desire is to act, but before you act, we have to slow down. We have to listen. We have to listen hard to understand. We have to listen to probe the feelings and the emotion, but then if you listen, you can actually find solutions from that standpoint. And that’s motivational.”
Cordani also talked about the power of micro-communities in building bridges of understanding and sparking change.
“[The micro-community] could be a place of worship. The micro community, we believe, is an employer. An employer is a powerful micro-community. Culture, strategy, communication infrastructure, peer support, peer pressure, coaching, mentoring, etc. It’s really powerful. Break it down into these massive problems with the bite sized chunks and identify those micro communities,” he added. “So our view is we take these massive problems and break them down into more bite-sized chunks, and then fuel them, whether it’s one person at a time or one faith leader at a time or one parish at a time or one employer at a time. And the leverage is just fundamentally massive when you do it that way.”
Dr. Montgomery-Rice pointed out that recognizing bias and evaluating what equity really means is a great first step to approaching solutions, especially in healthcare access and services. “It has been systemic over the years, it has been structural and it has been intentional. And how we reverse this is to now be aware of it,” she said. “As my daughter would say, people are being ‘woke.’ People are understanding that there is a significant and consistent difference in the care delivery and in the access that blacks have compared to others for care delivery and the quality of care. And what we do about that is first acknowledge it, and then fill in the gap. And for us at Morehouse School of Medicine, we talk about health equity all the time. It’s not about giving people the same thing. It’s about giving people what they need when they need in the amount they need to reach their optimal level of health.”
Support In Allyship
Earvin “Magic” Johnson reiterated the importance of leaders of all races and backgrounds joining together to fight systemic racism in order to see sustainable results and a business ecosystem that implements true equality. “I’m a part owner of [the Dodgers] and Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball said, ‘Hey, I’ve been part of the problem, but now I want to be a part of the solution, so I want to educate my family, my friends, my teammates, Major League Baseball.’ And so that was big,” he said. “Jeanie Buss, owner of the Lakers, stood up and said the same thing. So if whites don’t get on board and say, ‘Hey, I gotta make a change myself, then we won’t have real change. Real change comes with everybody coming together to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to be united. We’re going to make sure that we change the world in terms of racism and discrimination.’ And then we can see real change and real progress.”