One year on from the murder of George Floyd, corporations both sides of the pond face questions as to whether they have fulfilled their promises to change their organisational structure, writes Jenny McCall
If I ruled the world is a popular song by American Hip Hop rapper and businessman, Nas. The song, which features singer and song writer Lauryn Hill, describes a utopian world, a perfect place where everyone – regardless of race, religion, colour or creed – could relax, enjoy life and be free to live life to the fullest. Nas sings, “The way to be, paradise like relaxing black, Latino and Anglo-Saxon.”
The song gives the listener the opportunity to imagine something better, to dream of a world where colour and skin tone didn’t matter. The song challenges us to see what life could be like if we looked past the physical and decided to base our opinions on attributes that were not skin deep.
In the summer of 2020, we all experienced the harsh realities of what life is like to live in an imperfect world. The death of an unknown man, George Floyd, opened the conversation on racism. Protests around the world caused groups, people and companies to take a knee in defiance against racism. Promises were made by corporations who vowed to eradicate the ills of racism and ensure that their hiring process were fair and equal. The 63-year-old CEO of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon took to one knee. In a statement he said that he was “committed” to ending racism. “Let us be clear — we are watching, listening and want every single one of you to know we are committed to fighting against racism and discrimination wherever and however it exists,” he wrote as part of his memo to staff.
Corporations vowed to make systemic change – but have they followed through?
Corporate America and organisations in the UK pledged millions to social justice efforts, with many going further and committing to concrete changes in their practices. One of the first signs that corporations were trying to change came on Juneteenth 2020, a holiday that takes place on the 19th of June and is seen as a day of freedom and jubilee for African Americans. It marks the emancipation and the day the enslaved were made free in 1865. Companies such as Nike, Twitter, General Motors, JP Morgan and the National Football League (NFL) recognised that the day was pertinent, and either made it a national holiday or closed offices and branches early.
But these organisations also made other commitments.
Here is a list of some of the other promises that were made and what the outcomes so far have been on them:
The sportswear giant Adidas (who also own Reebok) pledged to fill at least 30 percent of all open positions at the company with Black and Latinx candidates. As of yet the company has yet to release any official figures on whether that target is on track to be met. However, in their annual report, which was released in March of this year, the company said that it was still “their aim” to fulfil this quota.
Facebook committed to double the number of Black and Latinx employees by 2023 and also plan to increase the number of Black people in leadership positions by 30 percent over the next five years. The tech company also pledged to spend at least $100 million annually on black-owned suppliers, from marketing firms to construction companies. However, Facebook have not made much progress in this area. In 2020 they published their annual diversity report, the data showed that the company was still struggling to hire and retain Black employees and those from other underrepresented groups. Just 3.9 percent of the company’s US workforce is Black, and it has barely increased from 3.8 percent in 2019.
In the UK Barclays and Deloitte pledged and committed to increase the number of Black employees alongside 40 other firms in 2020. In an open letter, the leaders said, “what gets measured, gets done”. However, the findings from the Green Park Business Leaders 2021 index showed that just 10 of the 297 people in the top three roles of FTSE 100 companies have ethnic minority backgrounds. In addition, the number of Black executive and non-executive directors on the boards of FTSE 100 companies had also fallen to 1.1% from 1.3% in the last six years.
Who is holding these corporations accountable for their ethnicity gap?
These targets set up by corporations themselves show that little is being done to change the demographic and make up of corporate America and Britain. These figures highlight that even a year after the murder of George Floyd and the immediate promise by corporations to be different in the wake of an unequal society, they are still not able to uphold the promises they made last year. It also begs the question of who is holding these corporate organisations accountable?
The asset manager, BlackRock became the first major player to pressure companies to disclose data on gender, racial and ethnic composition of their workforce. BlackRock followed on the heels of John Streur, President and Chief Executive Officer of Calvert Research and Management, an investment management firm that specialises in responsible and sustainable investing across global capital markets. Streur said a greater push needed to be made of companies to publicly disclose data on racial diversity and that he “expects to see transparency within the next 12 to 18 months. This target however, has not been met and as of January 2021 just 6.3 percent of America’s largest corporations have disclosed their intersectional data.
The UK did not fare any better, a number of businesses have urged the UK Government to ensure that companies disclose reporting on the ethnicity pay gap. Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said pay gap disclosure was “one of the most transformative steps a company can take to address race inequality at work”.
There is so much work still to be done
Data by the Office of National Statistics, the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics shows that the ethnicity gap between Black and White employees has narrowed to “its smallest level since 2019.” But companies believe there is still much more work to do to bridge the pay gap between ethnicities in the US and UK.
A year after the murder of George Floyd we still appear to be at the same place in which we started before the protests and civil unrest. Many hoped that 2020 would be the catalyst for systematic change, with corporations pledging to do better and make amends for the past, but it seems that much of this was just empty words. Have companies in the US and UK attempted to try and address the inequalities? Yes, some of them have.
But the most important question here is have they been held accountable for the promises they made last year to bring about change in their organisational structure, that would include hiring more Black people and ethnic minorities? As of yet the answer to that question appears to be no.
To date, corporations still have so much work to do in order to bridge the ethnicity divide and ensure that fairness and justice is echoed across the corporate board.