Protests and social unrest following the death of George Floyd and others, along with the detrimental effects of COVID-19 and the economic downturn disproportionately affecting employees and communities of color, are driving an intensified national dialogue and heightened consciousness of systemic racism and inequities. During a September 24 Board Leadership Center (BLC) webcast, panelists discussed the pivotal question facing corporate America: What’s different this time?
A report from the KPMG BLC, Race and accountability in the boardroom, highlights questions driving critical conversations in boardrooms today:
- Is the company doing enough—using its financial resources, making its views known to policy makers, engaging in public/private partnerships—to make real and lasting changes to combat systemic bias and racism?
- Is the company leading by example—“walking the walk”—by driving diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the business, including in the boardroom?
“These are not new questions,” noted Stephen Brown, KPMG BLC senior advisor. “But the events of 2020 have clearly given diversity and racial justice a new urgency.”
In recent interviews, CEOs, chief diversity officers, board members, and others have acknowledged the painful reality that the country—and corporate America—have not made enough progress and there is much work to be done.
The report details actions for boards to consider to help drive progress and accountability:
- Clearly commit to building the company’s pipeline of diverse employees and board members
- Define diversity and consider setting aggressive goals
- Hold the CEO and leadership team accountable
- Get underneath the data
- Consider using the Diverse Slates/Rooney Rule as a baseline
- Consider having job candidates provide a written statement on how they value diversity and inclusion
- Consider vendors’/consultants’ track records on diversity
- Ask management to conduct a diversity risk assessment
- Tell the company’s diversity story in detail
- Redouble employee training to combat bias
- Reassess effectiveness of the company’s voice in the public sphere
- Understand the risk of racial and other bias in the company’s data
Brown noted that investors and other corporate stakeholders will be watching closely whether companies’ statements of commitment and support for diversity, equity, and inclusion are followed up by action. “What’s also different this time is the sustained scrutiny and pressure for progress that I’m sure we’ll see.”