Three Effective Strategies for Increasing Black Representation in Your Company
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, America’s leading companies committed to better serve and support Black communities. Yet, a brief glance at these organizations’ diversity statistics shows they are sorely lacking the necessary leadership to effect such change. A cross-sector analysis reported on by Democracy Journal indicated that the modal rate of Black leadership roles is a dismal 4%. We must do better to address the lack of Black leadership at all levels.
Recently, Open to All hosted a panel discussion in which executives from J.Crew Group, LVMH, and Tapestry shared effective strategies for increasing Black participation within their organizations and the broader retail sector.
It’s one thing to develop a DEI-focused measure or objective; it’s quite another to provide context and knowledge that almost immediately lend themselves to empathy. Many Americans are unaware of the historical complexities of our country’s systemic racism, and global citizens have even less knowledge of the subject. In school, American students learn about slavery and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s — and even those lessons are under attack by curriculum bans introduced in many states across the country. But many fail to realize there’s a 100-year gap between 1865’s Juneteenth and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
If a person is unaware of these historical nuances, particularly if they reside outside of the United States, they may regard George Floyd’s murder as an anomaly. When we delve into the decades of legalized segregation and redlining, we unveil a complex, combative relationship between Black Americans and the police, who were upholding racist, discriminatory laws. When we take time to educate our employees and encourage them to pursue external studies, then empathy, allyship, and advocacy are being fostered for all the right reasons. When we have functional knowledge and a foundational understanding of American history and how we arrived in 2020 and the years to follow, then we are driving sustainable change.
Another critical aspect of creating awareness lies in the language we choose. The words you use and how frequently you use them have a significant influence on your impact. Consider the word “diversity” for example. Diversity is an extremely broad word that can refer to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, gender, and a variety of other identities. Companies that solely commit to “increasing diversity” are often making empty promises.
Companies must be much more explicit in their approach to diversity. If an organization believes they need more Black talent, they must also invest in understanding why they need more Black talent. Are they hoping to reach more Black consumers? Do they believe their organization plays a role in breaking down historic and systemic discrimination and barriers? Or is there another reason at play? When organizations articulate why they’d like to improve Black representation, then they’re on track to form holistic solutions to do so. Historical context, education, and language are all crucial for establishing a workforce committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
A couple decades ago, companies began to debut “affinity groups” or “networking groups,” which have evolved over time to become employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs have the power to shift corporate culture by ensuring employees are seen, heard, and valued. ERGs’ capacity to build community and drive awareness is something that Black talent may not have been privy to in the past.
Employee resource groups provide a unique opportunity for workers to showcase skill sets that may not be pertinent to their day-to-day responsibilities. By tapping into those newly demonstrated skills, organization-wide productivity increases because employees feel more engaged and connected. This newfound visibility leads to growth and development opportunities for both companies and individuals.
ERGs not only provide value to employees’ experiences, but they also add value to the organization. While members are never expected to fix systemic issues, ERGs can be leveraged to help inform the organization on how to address those barriers and inequities. Employee resource groups foster a sense of camaraderie and connection amongst colleagues while also helping organizations consider ways to engage the modern-day consumer.
Develop Authentic Partnerships
Companies may express their principles and commitment to change by working with nonprofit organizations. Prospective workers may be more inclined to consider working for these companies if they see them engaging with a cause. It is important to remember that such collaborations must be genuine in their approach.
J. Crew Group provides an excellent example of a holistic, authentic approach to partnering with a nonprofit organization. With cotton accounting for 70% of the company’s material footprint, J. Crew Group recently vowed to sustainably source 100% of their key fibers by 2025.
When the company began to discuss this sustainability goal, it became evident that they were severely lacking Black farmers. Not only did the company want to increase Black representation in their regenerative agriculture efforts, but they also wanted to address inequities in the agricultural industry.
As a result, J. Crew Group formed a multi-year partnership with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC), which supports Black farmers throughout the American South. The company’s relationship with the FSC is much more than a one-off partnership. Employees from J.Crew Group have now attended the organization’s annual conference and contributed to their annual summer camp for future farmers. The company is also focusing on providing scholarships to students studying agriculture-related topics at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As J.Crew deepens its relationship with the farmers who cultivate its fabrics, it’s also helping the Federation of Southern Cooperatives continue to build equity in historically disadvantaged communities.
Over the past two and a half years since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, corporate America has made significant progress in creating more diversity in the workforce. Now, it’s up to us to continue building this momentum and reinforce our commitments to racial justice. In order to authentically attract more Black talent, we must recommit ourselves to raising awareness, cultivating community, and forging meaningful collaborations.