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The killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers has sparked protests across the world and prompted many corporations to come to terms with systemic racism that impacts their employees and customers.

racism 5273779 640Global brands ,including Nike, Twitter, Citigroup and Netflix, have been quick to unify behind the Black Lives Matter movement, The New York Times reports. Companies were largely reticent to speak out during past instances of black civilians being killed by the police. Now, there is no doubt where many of them stand now. “To be silent is to be complicit,” Netflix posted on Twitter on May 30. “Black lives matter. We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up.”

A Citigroup blog post from CFO Mark Mason simply titled “I can’t breath,” repeats that same phrase in the first 10 lines in recognition of the number of times Floyd, 46, pleaded for his life. Despite being one of the top chief executives of a global banking giant, Mason reminds readers that, as a black man, he faces dangers his white executive counterparts never think of.

“Even though I'm the CFO of a global bank, the killings of George Floyd, in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky are reminders of the dangers Black Americans like me face in living our daily lives,” Mason writes. In February 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death in Georgia while he was out for a run. In March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, an emergency medical technician, was shot to death in her own home in Kentucky by police. “Despite the progress the United States has made, Black Americans are too often denied basic privileges that others take for granted. I am not talking about the privileges of wealth, education or job opportunities. I'm talking about fundamental human and civil rights and the dignity and respect that comes with them. I'm talking about something as mundane as going for a jog.”

While there is intense societal pressure for companies to take a stand on such a charged issue, the public statements in support of Black Lives Matter do fit a “values and identity-driven targeted marketing” strategy that firms hope creates greater loyalty with their customers, says Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “There’s a general trend toward executives in the C-suite being called out and pressure-tested by consumers who want to know where they stand—there’s an opportunity to differentiate not just on function, on what’s a better mousetrap, but on values,” Reed tells The New York Times. “It’s smart — they’re taking a stand, hopefully, because it’s moral, but also because they understand the long-term economic game.”

Floyd’s death and the movement it sparked also has forced companies outside the U.S. to confront their own challenges around racism and police brutality. In the U.K., human resources managers were working to accommodate employees who wanted to attend Black Lives Matter demonstrations there, reports Personnel Today, an UK-based HR publication.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a professional HR association in the UK, had released a statement on Twitter urging HR professionals to make diversity and inclusion a priority and to “check in” with workers.

“Racism has no place in our society,” CIPD tweeted on June 2. “We have been talking to our people and gathering our thoughts at the CIPD in what has been a difficult and emotional few days. People are hurting and as a colleague put it ‘we are not ok.’”

White employers and employees can do their part to help by taking proactive steps to support their black colleagues at work, CNBC reports. The first step is for white colleagues to understand their privilege, according to the article. “Exclusion by those at the table doesn’t depend on willful intent; we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion,” notes Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism... While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can simply occur through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them.”

White colleagues can educate themselves through books and other forms of literature about the history of systemic racism in the U.S. It also is important for white employers to simply acknowledge the stress their black colleagues may be dealing with now and to let them know they care. A manager could check-in with their black staffers by telling them, ‘I know you could potentially be going through a really hard time right now so if you need to take a day then take a day,’” career and leadership coach Kimberly Cummings tells CNBC. “I think the silence is what’s deafening, and I think it’s what hurts the most in corporate America,” Cummings adds.

Being silent when instances of bias and racism come up in the workplace equates to complicity, Cummings notes. Employers also need to step up with real actions and commitments to hiring, promoting and supporting their black employees that let them know they are valued. “While conventional diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives focus on employee engagement and belonging, today’s challenges reach far beyond marginalization in the workplace,” Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington write in Harvard Business Review. “We now see and hear Black people who are suffering from the weight of dehumanizing injustice and the open wound of racism that has been festering for centuries.”

Roberts, a professor of practice at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and Washington, a professor of practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, also urge companies to be proactive in learning about the systemic racism that has impacted their employees. That research must go beyond what they find on social media. Roberts and Washington also encourage managers to tap their human resources teams or diversity and inclusion offices for support and resources.

“Do not rely on Black and brown people to educate you about what happened in order to justify their hurt and outrage or counter ‘colorblind’ rhetoric,” Roberts and Washington write. “Do not ask your Black and brown leaders or employees to comfort or advocate for colleagues or justice initiatives.”

Last modified on Sunday, 14 June 2020
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