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Most workers say companies should take action on racial injustice — but they haven’t heard the C-suite talk about the problem

A new survey explores the gap between corporate rhetoric and action on racial equity matters

6/19/2021 8:26:00 PM

Though 80% of employees say companies must take action to address racial inequities, 47% of those workers either have not seen or do not know if their companies have made any public commitments to act in the past year.

A new survey explores the gap between corporate rhetoric and action on racial equity matters

More than a year after George Floyd’s killing prompted a reexamination of race in America, a new survey suggests the rhetoric gap remains in corporate America.Though 80% of employees say companies must take action to address racial inequities, 47% of those workers either have not seen or do not know if their companies have made any public commitments to act in the past year.

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That’s according to a survey released Thursday by Benevity, a Canadian company that makes software geared towards corporate social responsibility.Meanwhile, 26% of employees say their companies have followed through on most of their public commitments, the 1,000-person survey said. Around 30% said their CEO has done little, or nothing about race, gender and more inclusion in the workplace.

As more companies figure out how and when they can bring their staff back to the office at this stage of the pandemic, the Benevity survey says the way upper management handles race matters may affect workers’ willingness to go along with those plans.

Almost half (49% ) of surveyed staffers say the lack of inclusion at their workplace makes them less inclined to choose in-person work.“The events of 2020 have made a permanent mark on how people think about the workplace,” said Sona Khosla, Benevity’s chief impact officer, later adding, “The companies that will lead in the future will be ones who embrace the new dynamics of their relationship with employees, customers and communities.”

The polling was done from late May to early June, sampling equally from Fortune 1,000 companies and mid-sized companies with between 1,000 and 2,5000 workers.Benevity manages employee giving for companies, including MarketWatch parent company News Corp.

Months earlier, Benevity released data showing that in June 2020, the time immediately following Floyd’s death under the knee of then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 51% of corporate donation volume went towards social and racial justice causes.

By December, the volume dropped to 5%.Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing.Like the Benevity findings, President Joe Biden on Thursday noted the distance to go on racial equity when signing a law declaring June 19, or Juneteenth, a new federal holiday.

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The date commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Union Gen. Gordon Granger, two months after the Civil War’s end, read them the Emancipation Proclamation that President Abraham Lincoln had issued more than two years earlier.

That moment was the start of the nation’s effort at racial equity, Biden said Thursday when signing the law turning June 19th into a federal holiday.“To honor the true meaning of Juneteenth, we have to continue toward that promise because we’ve not gotten there yet,” he said.

That’s certainly the case in corporate boardrooms, according to a recently released survey of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies. From 2018 to 2020, minority representation on boards grew slightly, according to a recent study from Deloitte and the Alliance for Board Diversity.

Minority men accounted for 14% of Fortune 100 board seats last year, up from 13.7%. Minority women were 6.6% of the seats, up from 5.8%.At the same time, the report, which reviewed company filings through June 2020, said 200 companies had more than 40% diversity on their board. Ten years earlier, there were four times fewer company boardrooms with such a makeup, the report said.

But, again, the Benevity survey suggests there’s a disconnect.Though 70% of C-suite and top-level employees in the Benevity survey believed company leadership was exhibiting more racial sensitivity, around 60% of entry-level workers said they haven’t seen changes, or any sensitivity has deteriorated.

The consequence could be turnover, with 55% of polled Hispanic workers, 47% of Black workers and 35% of white workers saying they’d be more inclined to quit their job if the company didn’t prioritize racial and social justice.Companies face an almost $172 billion five-year cost from the turnover that happens when workers feel mistreated, according to recent research from the Society for Human Resource Management, a professional organization.

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