Being Black in the Corporate World
Social inequality has always been among us, but it has been out in the open as of late. The black community has felt every emotion from pain, disgust, hatred, and anger to the cries of innocent black men and women that are being mistreated and even killed.
Myself, being a young black man in the corporate world, I have noticed something that has irked me as of late.
Many companies have come out and made their public statement on the current events, some even posting on social media “Black Lives Matter.” Some are donating millions of dollars to support black businesses and the systematic inequality that has been taking place for years.
To be honest, it looks and sounds good but it’s not enough. Those same companies that are posting black squares on social media and donating to these causes are yet still in the background disregarding social injustice in their workplace, lacking to fairly compensate African-Americans and failing to give us the opportunities they give white men and women.
Companies only decide to address racism when they are faced with overwhelming pressure from the public. They deliberately choose to put it to the side and make excuses on the importance of diversity in the workplace. To be blunt, specifically the importance that black lives matter in the workplace.
When the pressure is on, companies' responses and actions against racism are usually predictable and fake.
Darren Walker, Ford’s Foundation President, said it best: “The playbook is: Issue a statement, get a group of African-American leaders on a conference call, apologize and have your corporate foundation make a contribution to the N.A.A.C.P. and the Urban League,”
Organizations Don’t Care
I am not convinced nor impressed by what a company does when the lights are on. I care about what they are doing in the dark when no one is watching.
Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League issued a statement in regard to the recent protests saying, “the pain, anger, and frustration that so many of us feel.”
Mr. Goodell, where were you when Colin Kapernick decided to kneel for what was right? When the lights were on, you made your apology, but in the dark what did you do? Banned and blacklist a black player from kneeling against police brutality and racial inequality.
Amazon, who called for an end to, “the inequitable and brutal treatment of black people” when the lights were on, but in the dark, the company has sustained racial inequality in the workplace. Firing a black man who was demanding safer conditions while working during the pandemic, the company believed him as “not smart or articulate.”
I am not convinced nor impressed by what these organizations are doing when the lights are on. What will they do when months pass? What will they do when years pass? Will black people in the corporate world still be treated differently from the white person next to them?
“Corporate American has failed black America.” — Darren Walker
Diversity in the Workplace is a Fail
Being in the corporate world for just a few years, I understand how business works. Business is about targets being set and met.
What targets have been set and met for the diversity of organizations?
These responses that organizations give are played out: “We’re trying our best.” “We’re working on it.” “We just can't find the right black candidates.”
Many factors contribute to the lack of diversity in many organizations including racial discrimination and equal opportunities to education. Studies give clear evidence that discrimination against black applicants is alive and well.
In fact, according to Harvard Business Research, “companies are more likely to call back candidates with white-sounding names on their résumés.”
They call it “resume whitening”. African-Americans have succumbed to the fact that if we do not look and sound like the white man and women we may not get a callback. This is heartbreaking.
I Was Afraid
After completing my bachelor's and receiving my degree in business management, I immediately felt the pressure and fear that this degree was not enough. I still feared that I would only be looked at as another black student that finished his classes just so he can keep playing basketball.
I decided to go after my MBA and I completed it, reassuring that the corporate world would not have the right to say I am an “uneducated black man”, I lack the “proper education”, or I lack “work ethic”.
Regardless of how educated, intelligent, and hard-working I am, I fear that I will always be viewed as a lowly opponent compared to the white man in the corporate world.
A young educated African-American entering the corporate world should not be concerned about if his color will hold him back from job opportunities.
A young educated African-American should not have to be concerned about if the person that will be interviewing him is white.
A young educated African-American should not have to worry about losing their job when speaking up for themselves in the workplace.
A young educated African-American should not have to worry about if their hairstyle will cause too much attention in the workplace.
These are just a few of the things that I fear while being in the corporate world as a young educated African-American
There are only four black fortune 500 CEO’s. Let that sink in. This is nothing new. Black men and women have been absent from impactful leadership roles in the corporate world.
A splash of color here and there is not good enough.
In Silicon Valley, my backyard, there are zero black members of senior leadership teams in the tech giants: Facebook and Google.
As well as Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco, NVIDIA, and Adobe just to name a few more. The few larger companies that have added black men and women to their board of directors and leadership positions are surrounded by white leaders.
“We are put into these positions that are horrific because they want our presence, but we are not given authority and resources.” — Darren Walker
Black individuals are pretty much non-existent at the highest levels of major corporations. We have little wealth in the stock market or the technology boom.
Today, typical black households have just one-tenth the wealth of typical white households, according to Federal Reserve data.
And when asked why they don’t have a black individual on their leadership team or board of directors, the best answer they can come up with is: “We haven’t found the right one.”
No, they just don't care.
We are Undervalued, Unappreciated, and Disregarded
There should not only be four black fortune 500 CEOs.
A company’s leadership team should not have one African-American surrounded by 8–10 white leaders.
Black parents should not have to give their children white names to give them a better chance to receive a job when they grow up.
Black men and women should not have to worry about being passed up year after year for a promotion.
It’s time for organizations to start focusing on promoting justice and equality, more than their targets and numbers.
If your company can't wait to get back to normal, then it’s part of the problem. We don’t need normal, we need change, we need equality. We need more black men and women in representation in the corporate world.
Enough Talking, We need action
We know the truth. We know that diversity and inclusivity in the workplace mean nothing. We know that companies are satisfied with the bare minimum: two-three black people are enough in a 50-plus office building. We know that we have to work harder than our white counterparts. We know that we are surpassed on promotions. We know that we are paid less than our white counterparts for the same work.
We are still waiting for the narrative to change. We are still waiting for the action to be taken. Corporate World, understand that we took a harder journey to get to where we are at. We have worked hard and fought through barriers and hate to get to this position. Please put some respect on our journeys and try to understand and learn what it's like being black in the corporate world. It’s time for a change.