For many weeks, members of the Chief Diversity Officer Board, as part of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), have met weekly to better help our organizations—some of the best-known brands in the world—through an unprecedented pandemic. We have looked at our talent through the lens of inclusion, and shared innovative practices to address employee resources across the talent spectrum. Challenges of virtual recruiting, onboarding, effective work-from-home, and return-to-workplace strategies have all been on our agenda. The running theme through it all has been physical and psychological safety, and human connection.
As cities began to open, we had renewed hope and were ready to embrace this new normal. However, we were shockingly reminded recently that there are some aspects of “normal” that need to change forever.
The murder of George Floyd by police officers has angered us all. As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, his heinous murder, caught on camera, along with the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, Dominique Clayton, Sandra Bland and so many others, is an impetus to draw our attention to this second pandemic. Its’ been festering without due attention for a very long time.
Some would say instead of living in the age of COVID-19, we are in an era more akin to 1619. This pandemic, unfortunately, has been with us since those days.
The similarities between these two pandemics is striking. Disparities in access to healthcare has resulted in disproportionate COVID deaths in the black community. African Americans comprise 13 % of the U.S. population, yet the black population represents 26% of reported cases of COVID-19. Death toll figures are similar, and in certain cities, are even more pronounced. In Chicago, African Americans are 30% of the population, yet they represent 70% of the COVID deaths.
While COVID-19 discriminates against the black population over the last few months, our education, employment and justice systems have been doing this for centuries. We continue to see large gaps with income inequalities, access to education and job opportunities. Today, African Americans are jailed at a rate more than 5 times that of white people. At current levels of incarceration, a black male in the United States today has greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during his lifetime. This is not only an adult problem. African Americans represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of cases which are judicially waived to criminal court.
Is there any wonder black mothers must teach their children how to navigate a traffic stop?
The fact that there were protests following George Floyd’s murder was not shocking. What was shocking was the many peaceful protests which were marred by violent acts that damaged property and looted businesses. While a black man’s death instigated this, it’s important to remember that history has taught us that a few bad actors will shape the perception by many, a perception that often generalizes an entire group. Let’s resist that temptation to rush to judgement and generalize, just as we all know that those who protect and serve cannot be generalized either.
As a CDO Board, we are shifting the agenda. We have to, because these disparities seem intractable. They are ingrained in our political, social, and judicial systems. It doesn’t justify the violence and destruction which has occurred after George Floyd’s death, but we can’t lose perspective of the more pervasive and insidious issues affecting individuals and organizations.
As Chief Diversity Officers, we can’t control what is going on outside of our organizations, but we can certainly help our leaders, and help shape the culture, inside our organizations. In the short term, we can help our leaders lean-in, and engage in the right conversations with employees, customers and the community. And, just like we are doing now with COVID, in the long term we can focus on ensuring the physical safety, the psychological safety, and the well-being of not only our black employees…but all employees…so they can regain the motivation to bring their best thinking and performance to their highest potential.
The i4cp CDO Board members will be taking immediate action to develop a list of practices that organizations can adopt and make real change happen now. We ask for your support as we attempt to erase two pandemics from this earth, and create a healthier, more empathetic, and inclusive world together.