Leading Black business executives on the state of business and social change

The world is changing in remarkable ways, most notably over the past 365 days. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was challenging for all. Yet, it also shined a bright light on inequalities that allowed the virus to disproportionately affect Black Americans and people of color. In June, people of every race, creed and color joined Black Lives Matter marches all across America to promote and bring awareness to inequality, inclusion and social justice issues.

As we change and evolve, businesses must grow with us. That is nothing new. Yet there is an increasing need to be tuned into social movements — including those surrounding diversity and race. Equity and inclusion make us better as a society, and companies thrive.

We spoke to some of America’s top Black business executives about how they view the state of the nation, changing social values, evolving demographics and how people of all races are part of a fluctuating business landscape. Here is what these leaders had to say in their own words:

Chris Majors
Innovation technology and quality director, General Mills
Chair of the Annual MLK Breakfast

“We must continually evolve our business approach, just as our consumers are evolving. We need to be inclusive in our advertising, and we need to embrace our responsibility to lead, and lead differently, vocally and tirelessly.

All of these are grand challenges and at General Mills, our commitment to be a force for good compels us to continually confront racial and social inequalities. We also understand where we have the right and capability to live out that commitment, so we are focusing our efforts where our expertise is most impactful: equitable access to food, equity in education and equity in representation within our walls.

While the issue of societal inequity is complex and will require a multitude of stakeholders to drive change, the business community must recognize the role it plays…Our first and most relevant value for consumers to know is that we Do the Right Thing All the Time. This value is not just how we behave inside our walls, but also how we treat our environment, our communities and our consumers. Additionally, having a culture of inclusion and a diverse workforce that build bridges globally unlocks how we best serve the full diversity of our consumers.”

Learn more here.

Kevin Warren
Chief marketing officer, UPS

“We’re at a pivot point to build more inclusive structures throughout businesses. For that to happen, however, we must amplify diverse voices and leverage underrepresented perspectives in our development of innovative ideas—especially in leadership positions. This is not philanthropy. This is simply good business.

You can learn plenty about a company by looking at its C-suite and board of directors. Are those leaders reflective of the people in the company and communities they serve? Too often, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ These are just the first steps on a long journey, but I’m proud to say UPS and like-minded businesses are taking them and becoming champions for change.”

Learn more here.

Amanda Spann
App entrepreneur — founder, The App Accelerator

“Before companies launch the next social justice or inclusion initiative, they can start with adopting restorative practices and policies. Equity can’t be achieved without repairing past damage and disparities.

Companies need to ask themselves how they have benefited from systematic racism, which of their practices still uphold it and what steps they can take to rectify them. Once that’s identified they’ll need to reassess their values and decide if they are still reflective of who they are now and who they want to be. Then they need to be intentional about practicing those values, not just declaring them. It’s the difference between going on a diet vs. adopting a healthier lifestyle. They will need to make a conscious effort to integrate these values within every vertical of the business and have the courage to walk away when something does not align.

Lastly, businesses need to invest in cultural consultants and stop leaning on their minority employees to educate their peers without compensation. Achieving equity and operating a values based business isn’t impossible, but it does require intentionality, emotional intelligence as well as the humility to admit that you may have made some missteps.”

Robert Childs
Executive vice president office of enterprise inclusion, diversity and business engagement, American Express

“At American Express, we believe the purpose of a corporation is to serve the needs of society. That is why we have made inclusion and diversity central to not only our workplace, but how we do business.

To build on our strong commitment to DE&I, last year we established the Office of Enterprise Inclusion, Diversity and Business Engagement, which reports to our CEO and is tasked with developing targeted strategies to advance inclusion and diversity for colleagues, customers and communities. Backed by a $1 billion Action Plan, we are working to enhance diverse representation at all levels of our company, double our spending with diverse suppliers, expand access to capital and financial resources to Black-owned businesses, and back nonprofit organizations who are working to combat systemic inequalities in communities of color.

We believe our enterprise structure will keep us focused on this important work, drive accountability for fulfilling our commitments, and help us have a greater impact for our ­­stakeholders.”

Learn more here.

Edwige Robinson
Senior vice president of engineering and operations, T-Mobile

“Embracing diversity makes businesses stronger. Creating a workforce that reflects the diverse communities you serve leads to better connections and broader perspectives. But it’s not as simple as a one-time meeting or event.

The evidence suggests that while the public, private, and social sectors have engaged in meaningful efforts to combat racial inequity and racial disparities, Black Americans still face systemic disadvantages. I believe that education and genuine conversations are great starting points for changing and improving our workplaces, and while some progress has been made, this will continue to be a journey.

Companies and leaders like myself can impact the landscape by not only seeking out but requiring diversity during every recruiting and hiring process. As employees come on board, we can continue to be true allies and advocates as they develop and grow in their roles. Mentorship programs, educational opportunities or simply bringing diverse colleagues with us to critical meetings provides exposure and experience to those who can feel voiceless and underrepresented. Companies also need organizational accountability with measurement to track results – and this is where Technology can play a role.

Without a doubt, the senseless killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement has drawn worldwide attention to Black Americans’ experiences. I have four young black sons, and I know how people look at them in affluent neighborhoods or in high-end department stores. We have a lot to do, yet with consistency, commitment, and accountability at all levels, we will reach the goal.”

Learn more here.

Rosalyn Durant
Senior vice president, Walt Disney World Resort Operations

“Each of us has an obligation to ensure diverse perspectives are not only welcomed, but incorporated; and to speak up when that commitment is not realized. Inclusion isn’t political, it is a fundamental human right for all people to be treated equally and a business imperative to attract both the best talent and the broadest consumer base.

The good news is that companies are leaning into this now more than ever. The real work comes in creating sustainable culture change that is steeped in understanding (the issues and gaps) and accountability. We are on the right track, but cannot afford to lose pace. We have to keep the pressure on our companies and ourselves to realize meaningful progress.”

Blandon Casenave
Senior vice president product & revenue analytics, direct-to-consumer, NBCUniversal Media

“Businesses should do more to expand economic opportunity in our nation by helping to increase the access to capital that marginalized communities have. Achieving racial equality demands more than just hiring Blacks and other marginalized groups as workers and talent; and it’s also more than supporting social movements.

The communities that suffer the highest rates of police brutality, incarceration and fratricidal violence, also have the least amount of business ownership, highest unemployment and lowest property values. Black lives won’t really matter until Black entrepreneurs and leaders are able to access the capital that’s needed to create opportunity where they live.

In addition to fair hiring practices, corporations can do what’s right when it comes to using Black owned banks to deposit some of their revenues, as well as procuring more goods and services from Black and minority owned businesses.”

Learn more here.

Erica Warren
Senior director global marketing strategy & operations, Adobe

“The business impact that demographics, culture, race and social movements can now have on a business is unapparelled. To meet these changes businesses must do three things: First, acknowledge and build the capacity to understand and adapt to these changes into the way they do business.

Second, embrace Co-Creation. Gone are the days where a business has all the answers. These days the next best idea or the solution to your challenge may well be tied to a cultural shift or in a customer challenge.

Finally, show honesty. No business is perfect or is perfectly inclusive because no human is. Being honest and transparent about where your business in your inclusivity journey goes a long way with consumers who want to trust and believe in your brand and what you stand for.

Realness matters. Consumers want to know what know what you stand for not just in what you say but in how you treat them. Building real connection points throughout your customer experience and engagement matters. Find creative ways in your existing marketing, sales and customer experience processes to allow for true connection.

The progress has been immense but the work to be done is still great. If 2020 and the beginning of 2021 has shown us anything it’s that we cannot take for granted the work that is still to be done on gaining a baseline understanding of the challenges faced by different races, cultures and LGBTQ+ people. There is more work to be done to have empathy for each other.”

Jarvis Bowers
Vice president, Pearson

Brands have always had the challenge of making a meaningful connection between a product and the end user. Technology has moved this connection from the ‘maximize reach’ paradigm of the 30 second commercial to a multi-dimensional dialogue with consumers across an orchestrated brand experience.

Knowing the customer allows us to better anticipate their needs, but it also requires business leaders to honor and respect who they are. Brands no longer simply convey a product value proposition; they must also convey a company’s view of the world.

This is an increasingly complex field to navigate but companies that increase their ability to listen to their customers, employees, and stakeholders increase their ability to interact in a way that is positive for all. This is no small feat in an increasingly divisive world. Brands will not always get it right but those who live their values, will earn the trust and respect to keep trying.”