Frustrated. Despondent. Tired. Overwhelmed. Exasperated.
While the COVID-19 crisis is created by a virus, the crisis of social injustice in America is purely man-made. Logically then, our ability to address it should be more within our span of control. Yet while it is clear that the crossroads where we now find ourselves won’t dissipate with a vaccination, make no mistake, it is addressable.
But the clock is ticking.
Never before have so many Americans from so many different backgrounds and perspectives united so quickly in such a visible way around issues of inequality and race. Addressing the underlying issues related to racial and social injustice requires specific, tangible actions, particularly from American business leaders.
Our great nation now finds itself at a crossroads — there may be risks if we fail to act swiftly, but there’s a tremendous upside if we can design solutions to this present crisis and take appropriate actions. Here are a few steps to consider to lay the foundation for corporate action.
Leading with your values and purpose through these challenging times
A multitude of organizations may be grappling with what they should do — or whether they should become more deeply involved — to end social injustice. These organizations should look no further than their own values, which can provide discernment on a course of action. We’ve seen this firsthand at PwC recently, where our U.S. Chair Tim Ryan outlined how our own firm would stand up against racism. If inaction in the face of the current crisis is a violation of your values, then the organization cannot afford to be a bystander. If your stated values fail to comport with your actions, the future of the organization may be at risk.
Turning dialogue into action
Many organizations have jumped into responding to the crisis by moving swiftly to create internal dialogues between races. This dialogue is important and can help open the doors that facilitate solutions. Yet, we have to recognize that many African Americans may be race-battle fatigued; many are carrying an immense personal burden, and should not be expected to educate the white majority. Accurately reading this race fatigue where it arises, and being sensitive to avoid pushing the dialogue, can be a very wise and empathetic course of action.
As business leaders, we should certainly begin with dialogue, particularly around attentive and empathetic listening. But we cannot stop there.
During this period, many companies are moving swiftly, but perhaps not sustainably. Gestures like making a public statement about the organization’s anti-racist beliefs, or publicly restating values are certainly important, but they should not be considered equal to tangible actions. So, what are the levers a company should pull to help achieve sustainable systemic change that benefits both the company and society? There are myriad approaches, from intentional hiring initiatives, to investing in developing long-term talent pipelines, to opening new markets for products and services, to creatively using your corporate assets in ways that can better impact society. The potential list is extensive. The key is to focus on solutions beyond gestures.
Defining how to act in a way that aligns with the business
Instead of trying to tackle the complex macro issues related to race, why not reset our ambitions to a more micro level? For example, on a corporate level, if your organization’s passion is education, rather than setting out to change educational paradigms for the entire nation (a seemingly impossible task), instead perhaps plan to adopt just one low-performing school in your own city, providing them with mentors and resources to help transform outcomes. Or on an individual level, focus on transforming the life of just one young person who may need help this year. By taking our actions from macro to micro, our impact can be stronger and more achievable.
To be effective, solutions should have both a business and social ROI — a combination that can render them both sustainable and scalable. There are myriad opportunities related to inequality and race. It might be related to education reform, and building more diverse, long-term pipelines of talent for your organization while simultaneously addressing the crisis of minority youth employment. Pick something related to the opportunity in front of us, and then intentionally focus your people, your supply chain, and your financial and intellectual capital on trying to help solve it.
Leveraging collective IQ to make deeper and wider impact
Collaborating during this current crisis isn’t merely a nice-to-do. It is an absolute necessity. Although different organizations may need to focus on different solutions, there will be many who come to the same conclusions. Years ago, I had the honor of architecting and leading one of the nation’s largest coalitions focused on hiring young people who were presently unemployed. Participating in the coalition were companies who were competitors in the marketplace, but who were allies in their quest to help solve the unemployment crisis for low-income youth. Why? With 5M youth unemployed or out of school, no one company could solve the issue by themselves. There was also a recognition that hiring these youth actually solved a business problem. Since these companies were desperate for new sources of talent, together they could tackle their own talent problem while using the scale of a coalition to attract the attention of the youth to possible employment opportunities, and thereby widen the pool of potential hires for the organizations in the coalition.
Uniting with peers in this instance is not a competitive situation. There is ample opportunity for all to share in the spotlight. But more importantly, there can be far greater ability to transform our society if strategic coalitions are formed and the collective IQ is tapped.
Committing to transparency and accountability
There is a power that comes with publicly stating your actions, your goals and your progress toward them — transparency leads to accountability, and we have to hold ourselves accountable for creating the change we demand within our organizations and our communities. Disclosing the strategy by which you will achieve your goals on earnings calls or in reports, allows others to come along on your journey, builds your advocates and helps ensure you stay the course.