Corporations from Wall Street to Silicon Valley issued statements of sympathy and hundreds of millions in donations this summer in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. The response prompted applause and headlines asking whether “this time may be different” for corporate America.
In a new interview, longtime Civil Rights advocate and academic Michael Eric Dyson says corporate America’s response didn’t go nearly far enough. He criticized diversity initiatives as insufficient unless they “restructure” companies to put Black and brown employees in positions of power, and called on companies to end business practices that exploit minority communities.
“Until it costs you something as a corporate America, you really ain't doing anything to make a difference in terms of race in America,” says Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and author of more than 20 books, most recently the essay collection “Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America.”
‘Diversity without equity means nothing’
Dyson acknowledged that the response from major corporations “was great in terms of the immediate aftermath” following the killing of Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. But he questioned the substance and staying power of efforts to address racial injustice, most notably diversity initiatives, noting that “diversity itself without equity means nothing.”
“When you get down to brass tacks — and knuckles — how are you changing your process?” he asks. “Who are your VPs? Who are the people in the room? Who are the people who can green light projects? Who are the people who can have real resources behind your intent to do well?”
“So at that level, it means you've got to restructure [and] rejigger what's going on,” he adds. “It can't just be surface or cosmetic; it's got to be more internal. The skeletons [and] the bones have to be readjusted so that the flesh that is put upon them can look a bit different.”
Diversity remains a significant challenge at many major companies, including in the lucrative banking and tech sectors. A study released by the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services last year found that minorities make up 19% of executive senior leadership positions in the industry.
Meanwhile, Black people made up 9% of workers in core information-technology occupations in the U.S., up slightly from 8% in 2015 and 7% in 2010, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by MarketWatch.
Dyson spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
The donations made by major corporations to racial justice causes this summer fall short of the revenue that such companies generate from Black employees and consumers, Dyson said.
“You’ve got to give up your rapacious individualism or corporate practices,” he says.
“Rest assured what the corporations are doing in response to Black Lives Matter and saying we're gonna pledge money is barely anything in compensation for the amounts of money that Black people put into their pockets right across the board,” he adds.