How US companies can fight racism and social injustice

Many companies are already trying to do the right thing.

But we can do more.

Why everyone in the C-suite should take responsibility for corporate purpose

With a pandemic that’s taken more than a million lives globally and widespread calls to address societal systemic racism, it’s no wonder business leaders are focused on how company purpose can play a larger role in their organization. They see that creating value for all stakeholders and society at large—not just financial gain for shareholders—means doing more than occasional company-sponsored charity work. Done well, many are finding that doing good can also add to the bottom line.

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Across the US, it’s been a time of righteous anger. Millions have taken to the streets to protest racism in general and racist violence in particular. Many US company leaders are deeply involved: outraged at injustice and concerned about how to support their employees, their communities and the long-term trust on which their organizations—like our country—depend.

PwC is increasing its own efforts to fight racism and social injustice. We also recently conducted a survey of US business leaders, employees and the general public on what fosters and inhibits trust. The survey, which was fielded in April 2020, helps provide the backdrop against which recent events came into sharp focus.

These findings, combined with PwC’s own experiences, offer lessons for what US companies can do to help fight injustice.

There’s a big gap in perceptions

Do most businesses seek to serve the greater good, not just their own bottom line? Sixty-eight percent of US business leaders say yes: They strongly agree that “companies today are committed to creating an economy that serves all citizens, not just a small group of business stakeholders.” Yet among the wider public, only 15% say the same.

Most business leaders (63%) strongly agree that their own company “has a purpose beyond making money,” and that this purpose is critical to business performance. Company employees are also on board. Forty-nine percent strongly agree (and another 39% agree) that “the only way for companies to succeed long-term is to invest in their workers and communities.”

Both business leaders and their employees see the importance of serving all stakeholders, not just investors. Why isn’t the general public seeing this dedication to a greater good?

What’s keeping companies from doing better

When it comes to expressing their wider corporate purpose, one that seeks to serve all stakeholders, business leaders repeatedly hit the same barriers. The top two that they cite are competing stakeholder priorities (44%), and stakeholders who prioritize short-term financial return over purpose (37%).

Employees’ responses indicate two further obstacles. Only 27% of employees strongly agree that their company provides transparency regarding business decision-making. Only 26% say that their company creates opportunities for employees to conduct volunteer or pro bono work for purpose-oriented initiatives.

There are ways to help overcome these barriers, fight racism, and help build a foundation of trust that will benefit all your stakeholders—and all Americans.

Six steps to take right now

With more than 55,000 US employees, PwC's experience as a purpose-driven company has helped us identify six steps US companies should take—all of which we are taking right now.

Bring together employees from all levels of the organization into an advisory council to guide leadership on addressing diverse employees’ concerns.

Build transparency and accountability by sharing your diversity plan, measuring results annually and publicizing those results.

Donate financially to social justice organizations and match your employees' donations.

Offer your employees paid time to volunteer in support of nonprofits and those in need.

Empower local offices and subsidiaries, who know their communities, to engage with social justice.

Shape public policy by assigning some of your top thinkers to find—and promote—lasting solutions in collaboration with other organizations’ top minds.

In these extraordinary times for our country, every company and every person should step up. If we act now, we stand a fighting chance of reducing racism and helping make our workplaces, communities and country better places for all of us.

About the survey

PwC’s award-winning Consumer Intelligence Series enables greater insight into consumer and executive attitudes and behaviors in a rapidly changing world. The findings are based on surveys, focus groups, video interviews, immersion sessions with industry specialists and online listening campaigns.

This is the first report from the most recent edition, which focuses on purpose and technology. It was conducted in April 2020 and included 6,170 consumers globally, including 1,157 from the US; 3,094 employees globally, including 431 from the US and 1,500 business leaders globally, including 250 from the US. Stay tuned for more published findings in fall 2020.

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Shannon Schuyler

Shannon Schuyler

Chief Purpose and Inclusion Officer, PwC US

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