Public demonstrations spread throughout the world in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. And Floyd is but the latest victim of police brutality in a tragic list that, since the start of the new year, has included Ahmaud Arbery, Dominique Clayton, and Breonna Taylor, among others.
Throughout the week, corporations and prominent business and even military leaders have been speaking out in shows of support for and solidarity with protestors and the black community amid the calls for greater protection of civil rights. "I have watched this week's unfolding events, angry and appalled," former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, wrote in The Atlantic. "The words 'Equal Justice Under Law' are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding." From the corporate sector, Ben and Jerry's issued a statement that reinforced its longstanding commitment to social justice and outlined a series of steps to take to dismantle the infrastructure that has allowed white supremacy to flourish.
Statements of support issued by some other corporate chieftains, however, have been deemed hollow by the public. One example was a statement released by the National Football League, seen as hypocritical given its condemnation in 2016 of San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem to peacefully protest acts of police brutality.
Implications for Boards
This is a moment that demands companies and boards take a hard look at how they have addressed racism, diversity, inclusion, and corporate social responsibility issues in the past and what actions might be needed going forward. As corporate responses to the social justice turmoil continue to add up, boards need to carefully assess whether or not those statements might be perceived as disingenuous, especially if its diversity and inclusion efforts are seen as lacking. Such an assessment could become a double-edged reputational risk where both engagement and disengagement can backfire on the company.
Key Questions Directors Should Ask:
The NACD BoardTalk post "How Boards Can Help Address Systemic Racism in America" outlines some basic first steps for boards who may be struggling with how to address racism both within their companies and in their communities. "Identity in the Workplace" is an episode of NACD's Future Fluency podcast that details why and how often-difficult conversations about race can be key to promoting a culture of safety and inclusion. "Biased by Nature" delves into how conscious and particularly unconscious bias affect relationships and undermine culture in the workplace.