As COO of a communications firm, a core part of my job is to be a voracious consumer of the news — no matter how disturbing it may be. And as a person of color, who has long felt an acute personal and professional responsibility to those who look like me, this week’s news is especially harrowing — among the most troubling of my career.
You may have read about how Black and Hispanic Americans are dying at twice the rate of their white counterparts in New York, about how 70 percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Chicago are Black residents, or about the myriad issues with reporting data on deaths by ethnicity. Maybe you’ve read about how Black and brown business owners are less likely to get bailout loans.
The headlines are nothing short of horrifying. On a deeper level, they require us to acknowledge the systemic issues this crisis has exposed. Research has long shown that Black Americans are less likely to trust the healthcare system and more likely to die at a higher rate than their white counterparts from diseases like diabetes and cancer and, and even common experiences like asthma and giving birth.
I’m writing today to encourage my peers in the corporate C-suite to do one thing: As you navigate this crisis, over-consider the experiences of employees in these most marginalized groups. Make sure they are represented at your decision-making table, that their ideas are included, and that you’re soliciting regular input from them. I learned to do this from the late Earl Graves Sr. — a former colleague of mine at the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, and an early leader in ensuring that voices historically silenced or unwelcome were heard in corporate America.
Our latest research at Edelman tells us that there is an essential role for private sector leaders to play in combating this crisis. Notably, after health authorities, people trust their employers most to respond effectively to the outbreak. In other words, the disproportionate impacts we are seeing on people of color must matter to us — the corporate C-suite — because we all have colleagues who represent these communities, and these colleagues need us to do right by them.
Pre-COVID-19, the term Diversity & Inclusion had finally entered the vernacular of many corporate leaders, after extensive research showing that diversity leads to better financial performance. But for many, D&I is still viewed as a luxury — one that is easily cast aside in a time of crisis.
At Edelman, we have a Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Trisch Smith. As she often says, support across our senior leadership is crucial to living our commitment to D&I. I tell my colleagues daily that including the voices of the historically undervalued isn’t confined to her remit. It’s the job of everyone.
In crisis, there’s a temptation to keep decisions to a small, tight, and senior group. As a life-long practitioner of crisis communications — and as the current leader of Edelman’s COVID-19 Task Force — I understand and respect this. But I’ve also spent my career as a Black woman, one whose lived experiences weren’t always reflected in the conversation happening at the leadership level. So, I have made every effort to solicit perspectives from those who represent marginalized groups as we navigate COVID-19.
I encourage you to do the same. Do more than lip service to D&I as you navigate COVID-19. Remember the diverse communities your employees represent — and their unique struggles in this moment. Bring people who represent these identities to the table. Hear their ideas. Acknowledge their concerns. You, and your organization, will be better for it.