In my last post, I expressed some thoughts about the need to address our history and continuing practice of racial discrimination and inequality.  I’m still thinking about specific actions that I can take to put my actions where my mouth is.  However, in the meantime, I want to share a communication I received today from Paul Washington.

Paul is currently the Executive Director of the ESG Center (formerly the Corporate Governance Center) of The Conference Board.  I have known Paul for more years than he or I care to think.  He is a consummate lawyer, having served (among other things) as a Supreme Court clerk, as Corporate Secretary and Deputy General Counsel of Time-Warner, and as Chair of the Society for Corporate Governance.  I have the honor of being a Fellow of the ESG Center, one of the major perks of which is the opportunity to continue to work with Paul.

At any rate, here’s Paul’s note:

  • Be prepared to talk with – and engage – your board on racism, especially at consumer-facing companies. Don’t be afraid to ask your board for advice or board members to meet directly with employees on this topic.
  • Executive leadership is key. CEO leadership and visibility are critical. But it’s important to engage the entire C-suite and other business leaders.
  • Consider holding “courageous conversations”where you can hear first-hand stories from employees at all levels. Companies sometimes have been hesitant to have such discussions because they can raise the specter of workplace discrimination claims. But that may well be a risk worth taking – and one that can be mitigated by ensuring you have a robust system in place to investigate any issues that come up.
  • Be prepared for a sustained, broad-based effort. After the initial statements, it’s a good idea to pause to think more deeply and broadly about what the company can do. Companies can have a direct impact through their workforce and workplace policies, as well as through their corporate citizenship efforts. But they can also have a broad and lasting impact through their business investment decisions, how they produce and distribute their products and services, and the public policy stands they take that go beyond the company’s immediate economic interests.
  • Be sensitive to other diversity imperatives, but there’s no need to dilute the company’s efforts. It’s important to acknowledge the multiple forms of discrimination that take place, but there’s a singular opportunity to address discrimination against African-Americans, which can help serve as a catalyst for all of a company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Thank you, Paul.