It’s been a little over a year since a groundswell of calls for racial justice began to build, fueled by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery in February and Breonna Taylor in March 2020. After George Floyd was killed last May, driving more Americans out to protest under the banner of Black Lives Matter than had demonstrated during the 1960s civil rights movement, an unprecedented number of organizations took a public stand and pledged to join the fight for racial justice.
We applaud organizations for speaking out and making their support — and intentions — for racial justice clear to employees, customers, and other stakeholders. But, as we noted last year, speaking out is not enough. Organizations must walk the talk by taking specific actions that advance racial equity. Their public statements raise the bar for what employees — particularly Black employees — not only hope for but also believe their companies will deliver.
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As we look back at the racial reckoning of 2020, some employees are looking for their companies to make good on their declared ideals, and others are looking for signs that actions taken are leading to sustainable progress. Companies must demonstrate what Cornell University professor Tony Simons calls behavioral integrity by taking actions that move the needle toward racial equity or risk being seen as hypocritical, especially by Black employees who may be particularly skeptical of false promises.
We are cautiously optimistic about the path forward, thanks to historic levels of support and a change in the conversation that includes a recognition of how deeply racism is embedded in systems and structures. But enthusiasm often wanes and efforts can lose steam when good intentions must be translated into intentional action or when shifts in public attention seem to lessen the urgency. We encourage employers to stay the course and focus on accountability, results, and transparency to ensure alignment between their anti-racist statements and practices — using the following recommendations to guide their actions.
Consider your motives. Your reasons for working toward racial equity will influence your success. While public opinion matters, it should not be the primary motivation behind anti-racism efforts. Unless action springs from authentic concern for and commitment to