The Role of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in a Nation Facing
Multiple Crises: A Global Pandemic, A Struggling Economy and
Racial and Social Unrest
Blog Post by Angela S. Dixon, Consultant for
Jordan Alliance Group
It’s August 2020 and we find ourselves in the throes of the eighth month of a truly remarkable year. I have countless family members, friends and acquaintances who welcomed the year 2020 with excitement and hopeful anticipation, a healthy dose of eagerness to greet and tackle this new decade. I count myself among these folks. I surely thought that this was the year to embrace change and take on new opportunities and challenges with a renewed commitment to step outside of my comfort zone. No one, however, could have predicted what feels like a seismic shift in our collective reality. Today, we find ourselves dealing with multiple crises hitting the United States from all sides:
First, the impact of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a global pandemic that is wreaking havoc on U.S. citizens, disproportionately impacting African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, as well as straining all aspects our health care system. To date, more than 160,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and there is no clear end in sight.
Secondly, an economy that on one hand appears to be rebounding, as the stock market recovers, yet families are struggling the meet the basic necessities of life. Small businesses and minority-owned companies across America are teetering on the edge of financial ruin. In June, a Washington Post article reported "a 41% decline of black business owners from February 2020 to April 2020," according to a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Finally, the racial and social unrest that was unleashed by the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, at the hands of police officers. Our world was shaken into a harsh consciousness as we witnessed an act of apparent grave indifference to life at the hands of individuals sworn to protect and serve. Adding to that heartache, the country began to learn about three young African-Americans, in the prime of their young adulthood with dreams and aspirations who, in separate incidents in other communities in our nation, had been murdered while doing everyday ordinary “American” things like Breonna Taylor, sleeping in her apartment, Elijah McClain, walking home from a store and Ahmaud Arbery, jogging through a suburban neighborhood. But it was the murder of George Floyd, recorded by a bystander and shared worldwide lit the fire which propelled forward the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It also brought multi-racial and multigenerational demonstrators out to make their voices heard and demand change.
We must do more to address the impact of systemic racism on African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans -- people of color -- in all walks of life. Let’s explore this through the lens of the three simultaneous crises that are described above.
All is not well. Many leaders, particularly in corporate America, are stepping up. While we all should feel encouraged by the diversity of the groups that have taken to the streets to march in solidarity, the movement toward tangible action will determine our resolve to make necessary change. But first, we must acknowledge the impact that systemic racism has had on people of color in this country, specifically the disparities between White and Black America. In a corporate statement released by Ben and Jerry’s shortly after the death of George Floyd, the company stated the following, “Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation were systems of legalized and monetized white supremacy for which generations of Black and Brown people paid an immeasurable price…”. This statement acknowledges that in all aspects of life, data shows the disparate impact on African-Americans. When compared to white Americans, blacks face the following:
· The infant mortality rate for African-Americans is 130% higher than that of Whites
· The poverty rate among African-Americans is 146% higher compared to Whites
· The median household income for African-Americans is 57% lower than Whites
· The home ownership rate for African-Americans is 61% lower than that of Whites
· African-Americans are imprisoned at a rate that is 481% higher than Whites
· The high school graduation rate for African-Americans is reported as 9.1% lower
· The average life span of African-Americans is 3.6 years less.[i]
Similar to the impact that Hurricane Katrina had on pulling back the veil of inequities for poor people in America, many of whom are black and brown, COVID-19 magnifies the impact of systemic racism and discriminatory practices on African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. According to a recent article in the New York Times exploring the impact of Coronavirus on African-Americans and Hispanics: “Communities of color are being hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19.” In data collected by the COVID Racial Tracker, a joint project with the Antiracist Research & Policy Center, the following findings were reported:
“Nationally, African-American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population.” In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.
In 42 states plus the District of Columbia., Hispanics/Latinos also make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it's more than four times greater.
The deaths of whites from COVID-19 are lower than their share of the population in 37 states and the District of Columbia.”
Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Director, of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine, has been working in the field for decades, and stated the following, “Those of us in the field, sadly, expected this…”. “We know that these racial ethnic disparities in COVID-19 are the result of pre-pandemic realities. It's a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color."
We might all feel a little overwhelmed and helpless and that the issues are too large to grapple with, but thankfully, we are seeing the momentum translate into greater corporate action demonstrated first through statements of support for #BlackLivesMatter, then through meaningful dialogue about racial disparities, and programs established to provide much needed funding and support for communities of color. In a statement released by Ben & Jerry's shortly after the death of George Floyd, the company stated the following, "Slavery, Jim Crow, segregation were systems of legalized and monetized white supremacy for which generations of Black and Brown people paid an immeasurable price..." This statement acknowledges that is all aspects of life, systemic racism has had a profound and detrimental impact.
While state and local government in various areas of the country have moved to address some of these issues, the private, non-profit, and educational sectors in particular, stepped up and into action very quickly. Many corporate leaders have recognized that they are being called on to do more -- take more meaningful action and figure out what role they can play to rebuild our community, to support greater equity, to learn from these experiences – to heal and recover as we navigate profound change in our society. Fortunately, we seem to be moving beyond discussions about rules, regulations and compliance when it comes to equal opportunity, to conversations about the impact of systemic racism. Questions such as the following are being discussed: What does it mean to benefit from white privilege? What does it mean to be at greater risk of losing your life, simply because a white person perceives you as a threat? What can be done in the workplace to ensure that you can be your authentic self at work? And further, what can employers do to improve upon their efforts when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
For the first time in decades, most are not reacting to the latest federal or state mandate to regulate or enforce behavior. Instead, organizations, large and small, are recognizing the importance of stepping up and addressing racial equity and social justice head on. Different times call for different measures. So, what do we do?
Corporate statements are good, but beyond that…assess where you are in your diversity, equity and inclusion journey. What voices are at the table? Who is missing from the discussion? Is the culture of your organization a culture of belonging for everyone? While I have talked about social and racial justice issues, let us not forget members of the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with disabilities, Veterans and others who face societal disadvantages and discriminatory practices. While women are making significant strides in corporate America in terms of representation, we still must be mindful of the impact of gender-based discrimination. It is also important to acknowledge and understand the intersectionality of race and gender. Specific measures such as the following will move us forward:
· Continually educate yourself about the issues. Attend webinars that provide an understanding of the issues, sponsor and/or participate in facilitated discussions in the workplace that provide a safe and productive space to talk about issues impacting on diversity and race relations. Create and provide access to mentoring programs and get assistance from experts in the field of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
· Check your biases. Decide what you are going to do about the disparities that you may not have noticed before. Take action – in your personal life and in your professional role – take a step back and reflect on a situation through the lens of another.
Finally, if you can make a positive change, do it. Be honest about where you are in this journey. Authenticity counts. Have you benefitted from an unearned privilege? Most people are privileged in some way. The charge is to acknowledge your privilege, and make a commitment to use it to help someone who is not privileged. If you hear or see something that sounds uninformed, speak up. We are all in this together. We have a vested interest in ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to this society and benefit from all that this country has to offer.
I believe many of us have had to rethink 2020. We have been forced outside of our comfort zones in ways that were unimaginable at the start of the year. Let’s use the crises of 2020 to transform ourselves, our thinking and our actions, to be a stronger society. Make a commitment to seek understanding, create an action plan and hold ourselves accountable for creating a better tomorrow for our children, our grandchildren, our nation and our global community.
Angela S. Dixon, a consultant with the Jordan Alliance Group, specializes in Talent Management and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
[i] These statistics are from a recent Ted talk sponsored by Mansfield citing Racial Gaps: for Blacks in America vs. Whites