Written by
Ruth Thomas
Senior Consultant and Co-Founder, CURO

23 August 2020

“If your actions don't live up to your words, you have nothing to say.” ― DaShanne Stokes

The worldwide Coronavirus crisis and Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted ongoing racial injustice and inequality that floods our societies and workplaces. Black Lives Matter has also spurred one of the largest social justice movements since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Employers were quick to respond with anti-racist rhetoric and public statements. This was backed up by monetary pledges to anti-racist initiatives and the posting of pro–Black Lives Matter messages on Blackout Tuesday. Additionally, some companies including Nike, Twitter, Square, Lyft, Mastercard, and the NFL declared a paid holiday for Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.

It was a wholesale response, so not surprisingly some were accused of virtue signaling or “blackwashing”; their responses being more of a PR tactic than a genuine commitment to fight for equality. 

Many of the campaigns were nearly identical in vague phrasing and awkward execution. From clothing and makeup brands cutting ties with BIPOC models speaking out on white supremacy, to tech companies refusing to comment on their primarily white leadership structures, organizations need to look within before speaking out - and tend to their own garden by investing in a long-term strategy.

There have been some clear disjointed, disingenuous approaches in terms of the public statements made and corresponding fair treatment of minorities in their organizations.

In this blog, we discuss three signs that social injustice statements were little more than PR tactics, and the top ways to ensure your stance on D&I is authentic and effective in the workplace.

3 signs that social injustice statements were little more than PR tactics: 

  1. Weak representation of ethnic minorities
  2. Lack of concrete action on wage inequality for ethnic minorities
  3. Pledging and donations should be appropriately targeted

Weak representation of ethnic minorities 

Case in point, while most leading companies in the UK and US made grand statements, many have significant issues with minority representation - particularly at senior levels. In the UK, the 2020 update to the Parker Review Report (originally commissioned in 2017) to review the ethnic diversity on UK boards, reported 37% of FTSE 100 boards had no ethnic minority representation on their boards - compared to 51% in 2017. A report by Deloitte revealed in 2018, only 19.5 percent of board seats in the US Fortune 100s were held by minorities.

It could be argued corporations - intentionally or not - contribute to structural racism by their failure to tackle the diversity issues that drive representation.

Lack of concrete action on wage inequality for ethnic minorities

There were many organizations who made pledges against anti-racism whose business models rely on low wage employees - where minority representation is highest. Employers need to do more to understand how pay inequity for minorities plays out in their own workplaces.

This is hindered by the fact that legislation enforcing ethnicity pay gap reporting stalled in both the US and the UK in early 2020. In the US, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission pressed pause on the requirement for employers to submit EEO-1 Component 2 pay data and indicated that it will continue to look at the issue, potentially proposing a different means of collecting and analyzing employer payment practices in the future. While in the UK the consultation on proposed legislation to mirror the mandatory Gender Pay Gap reporting closed in January 2019, no action has been taken since.

It now falls on employers to voluntarily report. The UK Business in the Community (BITC) operates the Race Work Charter, where participating organizations commit to capturing ethnicity data and publicizing progress. As of August 2020, only 414 companies signed up. CURO also conducted a poll recently and learned that only 9% of respondents voluntarily report their ethnicity pay gaps in the public domain. The pledge does not explicitly require employers to report their ethnicity pay gaps or racial pay gaps, just report upon their progress to reduce them, but many big-name organizations have signed up and are voluntarily recording the relevant data.

On-Demand Webinar: Your Complete Guide to Tackling Race and Ethnicity Pay Gaps

Pledging and donations should be appropriately targeted

One of the calls to action of the #BLM campaign was to donate. So, some corporations pledged upward of $2 billion+ dollars to various anti-racist initiatives and organizations. The leadership teams of Warner, Sony Music, and Walmart each committed $100 million. Google pledged $175 million, mainly to incubate black entrepreneurship. YouTube announced a $100 million initiative to amplify black media voices. Apple also pledged $100 million for the creation of its racial equity and justice initiative.

Managing philanthropic donations normally falls under the remit of the CSR function with its focus on social responsibility initiatives that align with business strategy and ultimately contribute to a brand's reputation. It seems the worlds of D&I and CSR are colliding. Rohini Anand, Global Chief Diversity Officer at Sodexo said last year “Given how much these functions already have in common, the question is no longer why work together”.

There have been examples in the past where organizations have not aligned their philanthropy and CSR efforts with their D&I initiatives under a unified strategy. McKinsey’s 2018 study, “Closing the tech gender gap through philanthropy and corporate social responsibility”, done in conjunction with Melissa Gate’s Pivotal Ventures, found that companies surveyed spent more than US$500 million on philanthropic giving in 2017, but only five percent of that amount went toward CSR programs aimed at correcting gender imbalance while less than 0.1 percent was directed at removing barriers that keep women and girls of color from pursuing careers in tech. The research found that decision-making and ownership regarding gender equality, and race and ethnicity initiatives are fragmented.

The link to employee reward: 2 ways to ensure your stance on D&I is authentic and effective in the workplace

1. Offering volunteer and mentorship opportunities 

In fact, you can even look at the benefits you provide to employees and ensure these are aligned with your D&I strategy. Benevity, Inc., a global leader in online workplace giving, matching, volunteering and community, suggest some strategies that high-performing companies are using to create a true sense of belonging at work including through employee programs such as:

  • Offering an open choice giving and volunteering program
  • Tying in your company’s giving pillars to causes that embrace diversity, inclusion and belonging
  • Letting your employees create giving or volunteering opportunities with causes that are important to them as individuals

Other strategies for action include: providing mentorship opportunities, promoting transparency, opening up company-wide conversations about ethnicity and race, and tackling pay inequity. 

New call-to-action

2. Using data to make a difference on your own team

Data-driven ethnicity pay gap reporting is essential to understanding the experiences of individual ethnic groups. Once we analyze employee data, we can move beyond anecdotal evidence, and truly measure inequality and fairness.

Some of the issues driving ethnicity pay gaps include: 

  • Occupational segregation 
  • Vertical segregation 
  • Access to education
  • First generation immigration status
  • Geographic location

From understanding these issues, we can begin to pinpoint where disadvantage and barriers occur in order to take corrective action for equity now. Collecting workplace ethnicity data has to become a priority. As mentioned earlier, in the US, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission mandates the reporting of workforce data from employers with more than 100 employees including race. But in the UK, there is no such requirement and many organizations don’t have the supporting data. Because of this, some workforces have launched internal communication campaigns that aim to build trust and start the conversation more openly about race in order for employees to feel comfortable disclosing their status and sharing their own experiences.

Diversity, pay equity, social justice, immigration and climate change have made their way into the workplace and the corporate C-suite. So it’s important to weave these threads across organizations to create an overarching strategy with a consistent approach that links up internal and external-facing efforts on these social justice, equity and fairness issues.

Only then can we move towards meaningful change and then hopefully our actions can live up to our words, building a fairer, more representative workplace.



Want to see how you can use CURO Pay Equity analysis software?

Book a 1:1 demo with us.