Black Lives Matter protests have now occurred in at least 1,700 locations across the United States since George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in May of 2020. In response, brands—including giants like Target, Ben and Jerry’s and NIKE—have made statements offering their support. But is their solidarity solid?
Now a new non-profit Pull up for change has taken Instagram by storm and is asking these companies to “pull up or shut up” by sharing the diversity and inclusion statistics within their own ranks—especially in leadership and C-suite roles.
Sharon Chuter, CMO of UOMA Beauty, created the non-profit to hold major corporations accountable for their roles in the systemic oppression of African-Americans. She says, “We spend money, we don’t own anything, nobody employs us. So, we continue to spend money, but nobody gives us that money back.”
To remedy this imbalance, Chuter is pushing major companies to acknowledge it for themselves in hopes of creating change. Those brands that aren’t willing to do so face a backlash in the form of further scrutiny and boycotts as more Black men and women start to vote with their wallets.
Chuter’s campaign has resulted in many major brands sharing their numbers, but the story those numbers tell is less than impressive. For instance, Lyft @lyft shared its 2019 diversity numbers, revealing that they had 9% Black representation and 4.8% in leadership roles. However, users were quick to point out that often “leadership” roles mean leaders of inclusion and diversity.
So every black leadership role is always incision and diversity! Hmm🤔🤔
Inclusion and Diversity 🤦🏾♀️ if I see another Black person with that title I’m going to SCREAM. Freaking Shame
Dell’s @dell diversity report from 2019 showed black representation within their company at 4.9% overall and 2.9% at leadership level. pullupforchange
noted that Dell was listed as one of the best employers for diversity in 2019. Users were not impressed.
The fact that they celebrated 2.9% is the start of the problem! That is so low.
Not surprised! But who is creating the list of “best diversity in these companies”??
🙋🏽♀️I have questions on what they define as best. I’ll wait 💁🏽♀️
What these comments tell us is that the numbers matter, but the intention behind them matter more. For instance, it was noted by one Instagram user that many companies are touting numbers that represent the progress of women as being “inclusive,” thereby camouflaging the lack of progress for Black executives. This is like trying to stick the landing without ever dismounting or trying to win a spot on the Olympic track team without winning the Olympic trials first. It’s not good enough. For the hiring practices of these companies to fall in line with the reality of American demographics, they should be able to show at least 13% or higher percentage of African-Americans in their ranks to start with—and not just in the “urban” department or as leaders of “Diversity and Inclusion.”
Balancing hiring with the realities of American demographics is a smart move and not just for the PR. Black men and women bring value beyond raising diversity numbers. Their viewpoints and insights reflect the viewpoints and insights of 13.4% of the country’s consumers. Consumers who currently have $1.3 Trillion in buying power!
Brands that claim to value diversity should be on alert that Black consumers want to know what’s under their hoods, and we will be performing a 150-point inspection to find out, because we are intolerant of the intolerance. No longer will brands be able to get away with hiring for the optics, because we are now checking everything from the brake fluid to the power steering to make sure we’re not getting a lemon. Think of it as an MRI of your internal culture that’s capable of detecting corporate-sanctioned micro-aggression, invisible hurdles to advancement, and alternate pathways created to deter people of color from having a seat at the table. The questions is: Does your stance line up with your stats?
Former CBS Diversity Manager Whitney Davis explains the type of environment that is all too common at large companies that may claim to “stand” with the Black community. Such companies claim the corporate door is open, but access to the top floors are always blocked, leaving many Black executives to feel like their hopes have been shoplifted.
“In every job I’ve had at CBS, co-workers have confused me with other black women in the office, as if we’re interchangeable,” Davis explained. “I don’t think most people understand just how demeaning these daily micro-aggressions are. Or maybe they do and don’t care.” She went on to say, “In September 2013, I sat down with the head of current programming to express my interest in joining his team. I was told that there were no manager positions available. Shortly thereafter, a less experienced white male was hired into a manager role. He continues to rise within CBS to this day.” According to the Harvard Business Review “For Black executives, what gives them a disadvantage is deep-seated attitudes that may not even be consciously held, much less manifest themselves in provable illegal behavior.”
It is this asymptomatic brand of racism, sexism, and bigotry that are under the microscope, and any company that has been afraid to take an honest look at its culture now must be afraid not to. Non-Hispanic whites make up 73% of the American population, and more than half of those are women, which means that white men represent just 35% of the U.S. population.
Companies that believe 35% of the population should be speaking for and making decisions on behalf of the other 65% are lacking in innovation. The other 65% of people are consumers who make choices about where to buy and from whom, and they are no longer content to be spoken to by men who live and work in a white, male echo-chamber. Author Tom Pettigrew says, “Most of the time stereotypes are mere shadow images rooted in one’s history and deep in the subconscious. While blatant bigotry is a problem in organizations, neutrality may be an even greater obstacle to Blacks. While an estimated 15% of white Americans are extremely antiblack, 60% are more or less neutral and conform to socially approved behavior.”
You get nowhere until you get real, and the time to get real about who is at the helm of your corporation is now. Do it before you’ve been called out, so when the mechanics come to check under your hood, you can be confident you’ve got a well-oiled machine that can keep up with the competition.