I am filled with sorrow and heartache as I watch the nation’s ongoing racism crisis boil over into streets across every state. Tremendous change is needed to address the issues facing black people and other people of color. Many business leaders and authorities are grappling with how to appropriately take responsibility and act to address these conversations. We must confront racial injustices now, as a standard practice, not just when it is in vogue. While no two businesses are the same, and each has its own unique challenges, the following recommendations should be universal to every organization.
Embrace your own diversity and empathy as a leader
I am a proud gay, white and Japanese founder. When you look at me, neither my Japanese heritage nor my sexual orientation is immediately apparent. To most, I appear as a Caucasian male. And because of that, I have reaped the direct results of white privilege, a systemic design of historic and enduring racism and biases, all my life.
It doesn’t mean my life hasn’t been hard, nor that I haven’t faced adversity or obstacles. Quite the contrary. It just means that my skin tone isn’t one of the things that have made it harder. Looking back, the experiences I’ve had and the many different communities I’ve been a part of have made me not only appreciate the diversity of culture, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, disabilities, personality types, and ways of thinking. But more importantly, I have come to expect it.
I don’t hide who I am or what I’ve been through. I proudly embrace it, and I surround myself with others who do the same. It is this diversity and experience that equipped me with the skills necessary to be an empathetic founder and understanding leader. When events occur, I don’t try to minimize them. Instead, I demonstrate my own curiosity and empathy and foster an environment that promotes meaningful conversation, learning, and most of all trust.
Address racial inequality
It is our responsibility as business leaders to serve our communities without bias, judgment, stigma, or reservation. We can’t ignore or sit quietly idle when unjust events happen, particularly the racial injustices that continually occur, no matter how uncomfortable it may be to act and respond.
While that’s easy to say, it’s still hard for some companies to acknowledge where those lacks are and show the tangible ways they are addressing them. It’s what our companies and customers expect and deserve. A recent Morning Consult survey reported that 71% of Americans want business leaders to address racial inequality in the U.S.
We must get beyond our own discomfort and apprehension and give our employees the space to be angry, afraid, or even disengaged from work. We must tactfully and respectfully create an environment in which to bring often painful and uncomfortable conversations, for all employees alike, to the surface in our organizations in order to begin to create a more equitable workplace culture.
Lead and teach others every day
As business leaders, we must step up and be the role models our employees are looking for. Not just now, but always—all year long, year in and year out. It is up to us to do the research to educate ourselves about current events and barriers to success for people of color. We need to be more than not racist, but actively anti-racist.
It is also important that we ensure our employees, particularly those of color, feel protected and affirm their right to safety. Only by listening, learning, and acting can we be better leaders of diverse organizations. As founders and executives, we can lead by example and set the tone not only through our company’s discrimination and anti-harassment policies but through our actions, attitudes, and behaviors. Change starts at the top, which means it starts with us. It’s the executive leader’s job to ensure that all employees, clients, and users are treated with fairness, dignity, and above all, respect.
Model the diversity you promote in leadership and workforce
Research shows that black unemployment is at least twice as high as white unemployment at the national level. Unless we bring more people of color on board, that statistic will simply never change. That’s easy math. It is also our responsibility to give those same employees a seat at the corporate table—at all levels—and ensure that we create a safe environment so that all voices can be heard, free of judgment, oppression, or stigma, to counter the hesitation that many employees of color feel about sharing information in the workplace. Having more diversity in senior management and as part of our workforce leads to increased profitability and higher financial returns, which means more diversity is always both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. At Supportful, our staff is 33% black, 33% female, 33% LGBTQ, and 67% ethnically diverse.
Remember your customers
We must also remember that our businesses only exist because of our customers and users, which, if you’re a national or multinational company, are incredibly diverse. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, black buying power rose 108% from 2000 to 2017, a much faster rate than that of white buying power, which rose by 87%. And that is expected to rise another 21% (vs. 18% for whites) by 2022 as social consciousness increases and African Americans continue to emerge as powerful consumers, creators, and influencers.
If we want to increase our top line, we must pay attention to any and all of our consumers. Inclusion, not exclusion, leads to higher brand recognition in an age of social media, ultra-accessible information sharing, and rapid digital influence, which in turn leads to profits and increased loyalty among your customer base.
Help empower underrepresented groups at a local and national level
As a company that is dedicated to helping, supporting, and empowering communities, we strive to serve them without bias or discrimination, while also listening and implementing their feedback and opinions. It’s that diversity of thought, religious, ethnic, sexual, social, economic, and cultural backgrounds that makes us stronger, more compassionate, empathetic, and savvy so we, in turn, can be more adept to turn around and better serve them. It is my responsibility to empower our communities but also make sure their voices are amplified through the local press or through national social media.
Regardless of the type of company you lead, there are so many ways to give back. It starts with including all members of your organization and allowing them a say in its efforts. You can do so by expanding your mission or with philanthropic efforts and corporate volunteerism. Another way is to support local and national charities and organizations built by and/or meant to empower people of color as well as minority-owned businesses.
This is an opportunity for us as business leaders to step up and use our resources and platforms to help our employees and communities alike take meaningful action against racism. Together we can build new habits, move our organizations forward, and create ongoing, lasting change.
Nicholas Emerson Mazzone is the founder and CEO of the crowdfunding platform Supportful.