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The Hypocrisy of Corporate America on Black Lives Matter

BY Barbara Hyman

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What corporate America doesn’t want to admit right now is that when COVID-19 forced them to make lay-offs and tough decisions about the things that mattered to them, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives were often the first to go. 

As noted by McKinsey in its report “Diversity Still Matters” this is not the first time companies have reneged on making Diversity and Inclusion a priority as soon as a crisis hits. 

The McKinsey report stops short of taking aim at the hypocrisy of these companies, stating it may be “quite unintentional: companies will focus on their most pressing basic needs—such as urgent measures to adapt to new ways of working; consolidate workforce capacity; and maintain productivity, a sense of connection, and the physical and mental health of their employees.”

And, yes, as short-sighted as this may be on the part of these companies, you might be able to accept that given the havoc that COVID-19 has created in our economy, this loss of focus is somewhat understandable. 

Then George Floyd died after a police officer held him down so he was unable to breathe. The world erupted to stand in solidarity for Black Lives Matter. Suddenly, corporate America seemed to care about equality again.

We’ve seen unprecedented statements coming out from companies in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement with ice-cream behemoth Ben and Jerry’s perhaps the most memorable, publishing a page under the words “White supremacy” directly calling on President Trump to stop attacking protestors. Other top brands including Netflix, Google, Twitter, Citigroup, Nike and Reebok have also made bold stands supporting the Black Lives Matter human rights campaign.

This signifies a huge shift in how companies engage with these issues and I’m all for it, but when we’re fighting institutionalized racism, and corporate America is a very much part of the institution, it doesn’t matter how powerful a statement is –  unless you’re unwilling to take action and to change internally. 

I hope this marks a real change because until now many companies have said one thing publically and not taken any real steps to make changes.

I should know. I’ve been trying to sell an AI-solution which removes bias from job applications to corporates for the past year. I’ve been in meetings where white executives have been hand-wringing that they don’t know how they can solve diverse representation in their companies, while I’m literally demonstrating exactly what might do just that.

Let me explain. Bias in the recruiting process has been an issue for as long as modern-day hiring practices existed. The idea of “blind applications” became a thing a few years ago, with companies removing names on applications thinking that it would remove any gender or racial profiling. It made a difference, but bias still existed though the schools that people attended, as well as past experience they might have had. Interestingly, these are two things that have now been shown to have no impact on a person’s ability to do a job. 

Artificial Intelligence was touted as the end-solution, but early attempts still ran through CV’s and amplified biases based on gender, ethnicity, age – even if they weren’t recorded, AI created profiles comparing ‘blind’ candidates to those in roles currently (ie. white men) – as well as favoring schools and experience.

True bias in recruiting can only exist if the application is truly blind (no demographics are recorded) and is not based on a CV, but through matching a person’s responses to specific questions to their ability to perform a job. It has to be text-based so that true anonymity can be achieved – something video can’t do as people are still racially profiled. 

I’m not in any way proposing this solves everything in relation to Diversity and Inclusion within corporate cultures, but it does remove bias, and I have the evidence. 

What I’m seeing is something even a bit more sinister – companies opting for solutions that give the appearance of solving the problem and taking action, while actually not solving the problem and maintaining the status quo. I’m starting to wonder if this is deliberate. 

Is it possible that so many companies are scared of removing bias in their recruitment process because if they hire people of color, they might then be held accountable by their employees to turn their words around addressing racial discrimination into action? We’ll see. If Black Lives really matter then the disproportionate number of Latinx and Black workers who lost their jobs will be given a fairer opportunity to be considered for future employment.

We cannot remove institutional racism with the mechanisms that have been used to enforce it – lack of equal employment opportunities is one of those. Denying that solutions exist to address this, as well as using solutions that give an appearance of correcting it,  are just ways of maintaining the status quo. 

 

 

 

 

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