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Business leaders have an important role to play to advance racial justice



PLANO, TX – Throughout my career, I’ve often been the lone Black person on a board or at a business conference or industry event. These days, several organizations have reached out, asking if I’ll share my perspective on this new racial justice movement. I’m grateful to my industry colleagues for their sincere desire to listen and learn, and I always oblige because I firmly believe that it will take all of us, working together as allies, to create a more equal world.

Since these issues are now at the forefront of so many conversations, I thought I would share some of my advice with an even larger audience.

First off, let me say, though I am Black, I do not have all the answers, nor do I attempt to speak for all Black people. I am not a Black man, but I have seen the pain in my son’s eyes when he was stopped for driving a nice car in Plano and when my family had to have “the talk” with my nephews and great-nephews.

I’m sure it doesn’t come as a shock when I say that I’ve dealt with many instances of racism and discrimination in my 32 years in business. Sometimes, these slights have been small and seemingly unconscious — the white male executive who mistakenly thinks I’m in the room to serve coffee or take notes. Other times, it’s more insidious. In all cases, the hurt is real.

While these issues have festered for generations, I’m heartened to see a diverse cross-section of the country and the world come together to protest the senseless killing of George Floyd and the legacy of institutionalized racism.

As leaders, we have a special responsibility to influence and promote positive cultural change. It’s not enough to offer hollow sentiments. We must listen with empathy, use our voices to advocate for change and turn talk into action.

How do we do that? Here are three immediate ways we can positively contribute to this movement.

  • Lead by example. I’m sure we can all rattle off a slew of excuses as to why corporate America has a diversity problem, but the fact is we can — and must — do better. As businesses, we cannot succeed without diversity of thought and experience at the highest levels. Today, let’s commit to selecting more people of color to sit on corporate boards and to creating diverse pipelines that extend all the way to the c-suite. Speak up when someone says or does something that goes against our shared values. Be a mentor in your community and a force for good, in the workplace and beyond.
  • Make smart investments. If we want to effect lasting change, we can’t just focus on the here and now. We must invest in and develop future generations. Corporate America has always been incredibly generous. According to Giving USA, corporations gave a total of $20.05 billion to philanthropic causes in 2018. But money alone isn’t the solution. We must look closely at how we’re allocating resources. Is funding going to sustainable and scalable programs and investments? Are there mechanisms in place to measure success? Corporate leaders should seek out trusted partners who have a stake and foothold in the communities they want to serve.
  • Create a legacy. At some point, we must ask: How do we want to be remembered? We all want to contribute to the growth of our companies. But the most transformative leaders are known for so much more than simply increasing their bottom lines. Henry Ford created the modern assembly line because he believed his workers should be able to afford to buy his cars; men like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates are known and remembered equally for their philanthropy as their business acumen. When making big decisions, think about what you want your legacy to be and how you’ll be remembered five, 10 and 20 years from now. We all want to be on the right side of history.

These are complex issues that won’t be solved overnight, but the first and most important step is keeping an open mind. Businesses are contributing positively by seeking out diverse voices to lead these conversations, and I hope I have more opportunities to educate and inform those who want to help drive new solutions. Together, we can accomplish big things, including reversing centuries of inequality.