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How To Call Your Employer Out On Their Lack Of Corporate Activism

As a Black employee, it's not a good feeling when your employer is operating business as usual.

Workin' Girl

Recently, one of my friends expressed disappointment in her full-time employer for not addressing the current state of affairs with its employees. She works in healthcare and her employer is simply operating business as usual. Social distancing is the only priority while social justice is a mere option. As a Black employee, it's not a good feeling.

Or a good sign.

What a company's complete silence toward protests against police brutality or our fight for civil rights, equality and basic respect as human beings shows us is that "they don't care about you or your advancement," says Lauren Wesley Wilson of ColorComm.

Wilson, founder and CEO of the women's empowerment corporation ColorComm, recently led a conversation on corporate activism and how it pertains to company culture as well as today's climate. To Wilson, corporate activism means:

To strategically advocate for equality inside corporations to ensure underrepresented employees have the same opportunity for advancement as their white counterparts.

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This support can come in a variety of diversity and inclusion forms such as:

  • Hiring a chief diversity officer;
  • Partnering with community-based organizations;
  • Recruiting at historically black colleges and universities; or
  • Implementing human resource guidelines for inclusion.

But the programs are essentially meaningless if persons of color make up less than 30% of senior leadership, Wilson says. Who's really going to enforce them? And a company's words can come across as empty with no action to back them up.

Over the past week, my IG timeline alone has been inundated with a steady stream of company commitments to Black Lives Matter referencing "responsibility" and "rising up against racial injustice." We also see companies publicly pledging millions of dollars to various community organizations. And more recently, we see companies racing to produce CVS-style receipts detailing the number of Black executives, staff and board members on their teams for the Pull Up or Shut Up campaign. Some of those figures make me wonder if those companies should've chosen to remain mute like the hospital where my friend works.

Wilson says every company doesn't need to make a public statement, though, especially if that company isn't internally representative of what they're proclaiming. She's referring to establishments that vow to stand behind the cause or donate money yet continuously lay off persons of color en masse during the pandemic. Or companies that slowly promote us to C-suite and management roles or pay us far less than our white peers in salary, raises and bonus.

Still Wilson says leadership absolutely needs to address the current state of affairs to their employees – at least show us some compassion or concern – and senior management also needs to create a plan for internal changes, especially if we're missing from the organization charts on the company's "About Us" web pages.

Some employers will need a push to make any real change. Others will need a clue. Here's what you can do to help:

Outright ask your senior management their plans to encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

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This isn't a question that's outside or above our pay grades. We can ask even if we don't work in human resources. We also can't assume there's a program already in place and if there is, the existing plan may not even work. In fact, Wilson says that programs such as unconscious bias training, which is designed to raise awareness of microaggressions in the workplace, are usually the worst when it comes to effectiveness.

Additionally, we should ask what specific programs are in place to eradicate racial biases in hiring and promoting. And don't be afraid to find out how long employees who look like us remain in a single position, how far we can climb up the ladder and how long we stay with the company.

Discreetly form your own team of allies.

Recruit your sisters for solidarity but also gather a small but diverse group of coworkers who will fully champion your ideas for change when the time comes to formally present them. In other words, we'll need to round up Karen's more liberal cousins as our backup. I know, it sucks but don't misunderstand this as seeking their validation. They're merely a voice, or more like an echo. Just be sure you're always the one spearheading this (secret) task force.

Ask senior management how their donated funds are being used by receiving organizations.

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Find out if your company's donation to activist groups and other nonprofits is going towards education or funding for community initiatives and which ones. Also inquire whether that money would've been of better use in-house. The key is to determine if those donated dollars are, as Wilson puts it, a change opportunity or a PR opportunity.

Unfortunately, there will be instances where corporate activism is only a buzzword. Despite the conversations, social media posts and charitable contributions, some of us still won't get that much-deserved promotion or pay increase at our current jobs. And we won't get a simple email acknowledging the horrors that continuously affect our lives and livelihoods every single day. At that point it's time for my colleague and anyone else in her predicament, to seek new employment. Invest your time and talent in an organization that invests in you and shows you that our Black Lives truly do Matter.

Need more career talk like this in your life? Join the xoTribe members community to connect, vibe and share your wins with the tribe.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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