Survey finds commitment to racial justice at work is fading away

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Eighty-three percent of employees want leaders to prioritize racial injustice and workplace diversity, according to Benevity.

Designer Teamwork Brainstorming Planning Meeting Diversity Concept

Designer Teamwork Brainstorming Planning Meeting Diversity Concept,

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Corporations have not come through on promises to address racial injustice, and this lack of action is influencing attitudes about coming back to the office, according to a new survey. Benevity released a Racial Justice and Equity Survey today to measure the state of racial justice on the corporate agenda.

Despite the outpouring of pledges of financial support last summer, 47% of employees have not seen any public commitments from their employers about racial justice issues in the last year, according to the survey. Also, only 26% of respondents said their employer has fulfilled existing public commitments. The survey was conducted over two weeks starting May 24 and included 1,000 U.S. employees from large and small companies.

Sona Khosla, chief impact officer at Benevity, said that the survey results show that companies must go beyond traditional diversity targets to focus on fostering community and ensuring that everyone has equal access and opportunity at work. 

"Simply recruiting more women or people of color isn't going to solve the problems of equity and justice--beliefs, attitudes and ultimately behaviours will," she said. "All of these things contribute to the culture of an organization and whether it is considered equitable or not. So measures of a culture's health are the ones that will matter the most."

These findings from Benevity reinforce analysis from the Creative Investment Research firm that companies have delivered only a fraction of these original financial commitments. The analysis estimated that companies pledged $50 billion to address racial equity but only $250 million has actually been spent or committed.

According to the survey, this lack of action contradicts what employees want: Eighty-three percent said they want their companies to prioritize racial injustice and workplace diversity over the next year. 

At the same time, nationwide support for the Black Lives Matter movement is now lower than it was a year ago, according to a USA Today-Ipsos poll. In June 2020, 60% of Americans trusted the movement, but nine months later only 50% did. 

Also, as offices start to reopen, the issue of equal treatment at work is making people less likely to return to in-person work, according to the Benevity survey. Forty-nine percent of employees said the lack of inclusivity makes them less likely to stop working from home full-time. The survey found that 70% of executives think leaders have shown more racial sensitivity in the workplace, but 60% of entry-level employees have seen no change or less sensitivity. 

Generation Z and millennials are most likely to list racial injustice, gender inequity and inclusion as the most important workplace issues, although 73% said they think it's important for companies to allow difficult conversations around race and social issues to happen at work.

Forty percent of all respondents said they would be likely to quit their jobs if their company did not prioritize addressing social or racial injustice. Fifty-five percent of Hispanic employees and 47% of black employees were likely to quit compared with 35% of white employees.

Khosla said that Benevity's employee resource group, Black Employee Network & Friends, hosted a series of company-wide presentations, facilitated table talks, and town halls, where employees engaged in open conversations about racial injustice, overcoming bias, and working together to mobilize for change. Nearly half of Benevity's workforce attended the table talks, including. 

"Many of our people at Benevity admitted they had never had such vulnerable conversations about these topics before, let alone at work," she said.

About half of the workforce attended the sessions, including senior executive team members, and the results were overwhelmingly positive, Khosla said. 

The company turned these internal sessions into a Race Conversation Guide that companies can use to host these conversations in their workplace.  

Khosla said it's no longer enough to make ambitious commitments followed by little to no action. 

"Companies have to make the space for vulnerable discussions, offer learning for their employees on these issues, and empower their people to take action in tangible ways," she said. "And through strategic partnerships with the nonprofit sector, they are poised to make a real difference on these issues for the long-term."

Measuring the progress on promises

 In August 2020, The New York Times reported that American corporations had pledged millions of dollars to address racial justice issues and promised to make policy and hiring changes at the workplace. Among tech companies, Facebook leaders announced that they would increase the total number of Black and Latino members of their workforce. Apple created an entrepreneurship camp for Black software developers and pledged to work with more Black-owned suppliers. PayPal also created a fund to support Black and minority businesses. YouTube invested in a $100 million fund to promote the work of Black creators and artists.

Since then, progress on these promises has been mixed. Some companies published a diversity report for the first time to put data behind pledges to make companies more diverse. 

Fortune partnered Refinitiv to add a Measure Up report to this year's Fortune 500 list to identify the most progressive companies in diversity and inclusion. Fortune reports that Refinitiv found that "at least 256 of the 500 companies on the list had published some sort of racial and ethnic data last year, but only 22 companies published a full breakdown of the percentage of minorities in their companies for four categories of minority group: Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other." 

During a panel discussion earlier this year, Christina Shareef, head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Reddit, said that companies have to make diversity and inclusion central to all business goals, not a competing goal.

"When there is a hiring plan and then a diversity hiring plan, that's when it starts to fail," she said. "Diversity has to be a lens we are always looking through and part of our cultural DNA."

Shareef also said that sharing diversity, equity and inclusion reports every year and doing audits of hiring practices has to be an annual event for corporations to actually make progress. She is also encouraged that DEI is moving away from a "do the right thing" activity to something more central to business success.

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