Corporate America’s public role in tackling racial inequity

Roy Weathers Vice Chair - Societal Engagement and Policy Solutions, PwC US October 21, 2020

When it comes to social justice, most corporations are united in the belief that we must do better – not just for our organizations, but for the greater benefit of the public.  

While many people have been struggling with extreme unknowns and significant disruptions to their lives due to the worldwide pandemic, one historic turning point of 2020 has been the public’s reaction with regards to systemic racism. For those who have been part of this conversation for a long time, and those new to it, the support for change is unprecedented.

In unique times like this, upheaval in society can move us toward a common goal and present  opportunities to make tangible progress. But there needs to be an element of precision involved in order to advance change. This is where the collective business community can play a role to enable change– by utilizing the voice, reach, and vast business skills within our business ecosystems to build bridges within society.

Now more than ever, it is not just about what businesses can do inside their organizations – which is important -- but how we can come together using our collective resources, experience and time to change systems that have contributed to an unjust society.

And, the public agrees. According to a recent Edelman survey on trust and race, 71% of those surveyed place more trust in companies to respond to racial injustice than in the government (36%).   

It makes sense that the public feels this way. Fundamentally, corporate America is part of society, and society is part of corporate America. Even the Business Roundtable acknowledges that corporations have a broader place in society with their repositioning statement that “companies should serve not only their shareholders, but also deliver value to their customers, invest in employees, deal fairly with suppliers and support the communities in which they operate.” 

Last week we, the signatories of CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™, the largest business coalition to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace, launched a unique program, CEO Action for Racial Equity Fellowship. Our mission is clear: To identify, develop and promote scalable and sustainable public policies and corporate engagement strategies that will address systemic racism, social injustice, and improve societal well-being.   

While our mission is ambitious, it’s precise. The underlying structure of success is the professionals who will help us achieve it. Corporations are lending talent – both experienced and rising – to provide fresh perspectives, bridge gaps, and facilitate ways to advance progress. Recently, we welcomed 250 professionals from over 100 organizations to join the commitment, focusing specifically on policy related to education, healthcare, economic empowerment and public safety issues.  

The fellows, which we hope will grow to be a thousand in total, with the support of their employers, have chosen to dedicate a year to two years of their careers to this cause, on a full-time basis. They bring with them their core talents and, importantly, a strong passion and recognition that, collectively, we need to step up and find new solutions. 

The uniqueness and strength of this initiative comes from business-minded talents which span all types of professionals: from finance to human resources, including data scientists and lawyers.  Six months ago, these professionals wouldn’t have imagined their career journey would include this ground-breaking policy opportunity.

Through the fellowship, we will recommend policy changes at the federal, state and city level within education, healthcare, economic empowerment and public safety issues. 

Acknowledging that there has been meaningful work done in many of these four initial areas, we’re not looking to reinvent the wheel, but rather to bring the processes that we use inside our organizations to help solve business problems that have limited racial equity. By being solutions-oriented and data-led, we’re looking to detect root causes and identify opportunities to develop new policies and social contracts, and amplify and close gaps in existing policies.

To benefit society and advance progress around societal racial inequity, leveraging tools that solve business problems is our strategy. We’ve all experienced it in our own organizations: passionate people working together can achieve great outcomes. That’s what this fellowship is about.

This blog can also be found on US Vice Chair - Societal Engagement and Policy Solutions Roy Weather's LinkedIn. To engage further or leave comments, click here.