Business can not only have a big impact on our economy, but also on society and social justice issues, such as antiracism. In fact, more than half of Americans expect CEOs to be actively antiracist, but 44% think the business community has done little to address systemic racism, according to a recent survey by Edelman.
This month, CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion™ (CEO Action), which banded together more than 1300 CEOs and university presidents to advance inclusion in the workplace, launched CEO Action for Racial Equity. Essentially CEO Action members are lending their talent in the form of a fellowship for one to two years to help advance policies and corporate engagements aimed at addressing systemic racism and advancing social justice. It’s kicking off with more than 250 fellows with diverse skill sets and expertise across more than 100 organizations.
I (virtually) sat down with Roy Weathers, Vice-Chair of Societal Engagement and Policy Solutions, PwC, and CEO of CEO Action for Racial Equity, to talk about the mission and why businesses have a responsibility to be part of the change.
Holly Corbett: Can you share a little background on how the CEO Action for Racial Equity first got started?
Roy Weathers: It came out of CEO Action, which started four years ago when PwC US Chair Tim Ryan spearheaded bringing leaders together to collaborate and be part of the solution for change. Today we have more than 1300 CEOs who have signed the pledge to share leading practices, create safe environments, engage in diversity training and include their boards on these plans. That was meant to help organizations share with each other and work on diversity and inclusion inside their four walls.
CEO Action for Racial Equity came as a response to George Floyd’s death, with the idea that businesses should take a greater stance externally from the public policy side.
Corbett: What role do you feel big business should play in social justice issues?
Weathers: Corporations and businesses don’t operate in isolation. It includes employees, customers, and other stakeholders to have a successful business environment. It’s not just about the business.
When you think about racial equity, and what has sparked over the last several months, it speaks to the participation of corporate America in the community. We wanted to use the talent we use on a daily basis to contribute to positive change and social justice.
My perspective is around data, and finding solutions to challenging problems. It’s really a fellowship; we’ve asked the 1300 companies from CEO Action to lend us talent to dive into the challenges around policy to advance social justice, and address the racial equities that we all see.
It was a turning point for us. We’ve brought together an array of specialities—such as lawyers, data specialists, human resources, government affairs, and more—to come together and look at four areas: education, health, economic empowerment and public safety. Those pillars make up important aspects of a healthy society. Involving corporations can create bigger change.
Corbett: What are some ways that individual fellows are engaging to help advance inclusion on a public policy level?
Weathers: We just launched October 1st, and already have 250 fellows. Our goal is to get up to 1000 fellows. As any good business executive would do, we’re approaching this from a phased perspective. We’re looking at foundations, and existing legislation policies and their impact. Our first order of business is to step back and listen. We don’t come at this thinking we have the answers; we don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
Corbett: What is your biggest hope for the fellowship? What would success look like?
Weathers: My hope is that we will identify the policies that have real impact, and that we can make a difference on a scalable and sustainable basis. We want to leverage the influence of these 1300 organizations to get something done. I don’t expect that we will agree on every perspective, but we believe by bringing together enough caring and passionate people that it will have a domino effect to create real change.
Our customers are individuals, and our employees are individuals, who operate in our society. We are lending our support to advance issues for social policy by providing what we do best, our talent, to help with what we believe needs to be done in order to make progress.
Corbett: What do you see as the biggest challenges?
Weathers: There is no shortage of ideas around what to do and programs that exist. The challenge is trying not to boil the ocean, but rather focusing on those four pillars [education, health, economic empowerment and public safety] that will have long-term impact. It means saying no to certain things and yes to certain things. It not only comes with data and programs, but with great emotions for people. The challenge will be deciding where to put our energies.
Corbett: What can leaders of all levels do to help advance antiracism in the workplace?
Weathers: There are a number of organizations out there doing tremendous work. Get involved in whatever you’re most connected to. As an individual, start to bring your perspective to everything you do.
I go back to the purpose of establishing CEO Action to start. Just working to make the workplace safe for conversations is important, engaging in training is important. It’s about having the dialogue, and then stepping back and listening and asking what else can we do. I would ask all leaders to be self aware and organizationally aware. The ecosystem of success for most organizations includes employees, customers, and community. Being comfortable being uncomfortable is something we all need to embrace.
Article originally published in Forbes.