November 18, 2021
In recent years, there has been a large shift in the corporate world toward promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across all facets of business. The second day of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s 2021 Business Solves: Corporate Citizenship Conference and Awards focused broadly on the role of the private sector in creating a more equitable and inclusive future for individuals and business owners.
More than two dozen speakers came together to discuss how the business world can do a better job of championing DEI, from ensuring equal access to resources, to supporting minority-owned small businesses, to developing effective DEI frameworks for corporate culture. Here are some key takeaways from the day’s events.
Investing in Small Businesses Ushers in Future Success
Madge Thomas, president of the American Express Foundation and head of corporate social responsibility at American Express, noted that a commitment to small business from the private sector can set entrepreneurs up for success.
“Small businesses end up being the lifeblood of the economy in America and globally,” said Thomas. “They’re critical to job creation; they’re critical to creating these vibrant thriving neighborhoods that we all live in. And that’s part of the reason we founded Small Business Saturday.”
American Express created Small Business Saturday in 2010 as a way to help drive consumers to small businesses coming out of the Great Recession. Today, this initiative has grown, as has the company’s commitment to supporting small businesses, particularly those owned by underserved populations.
“We have actually now built … our commitment to small businesses into our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy because of how important it is to [our] business values,” Thomas said. “We announced a new goal this year to drive a hundred million dollars in consumer spending at small businesses through 2025, including through our Shop Small and Small Business Saturday campaigns, and combined this with our other ESG pillar, which is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
“We feel that there's a really great opportunity for small business to do ... good [in their communities] and create equality and equity in our neighborhoods,” added Thomas.
The Private Sector Must Work to Strengthen the Black-Owned Business Community
Several notable speakers, including Kim Roxie, founder and CEO of LAMIK Beauty, and Charles DeBow, the executive director of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, spoke at length about weathering the pandemic as a Black-owned business and how it translates into the need for help through the pandemic and beyond.
“It’s one thing to have a lifeboat,” said Roxie, referring to one of the first COVID grants given to businesses. But in her mind, it’s another thing entirely to have something else pulling you in, drying you off, and setting you up for success.
DeBow agreed, citing what he and his team at the National Black Chamber of Commerce have tried to accomplish over the past 18 months.
“It isn't necessarily just diversity as much as it is dialogue, amongst who could be in your community, so that translates down all the way ultimately, to your end-user, your client, your customers, your consumers,” said DeBow.
Businesses Must Focus on Creating an Effective DEI Framework
Joe Simms, chief diversity officer of Stanley Black & Decker, cited authenticity and passion from leadership as the root of a strong and effective DEI framework for an organization. He spoke about SB&D’s CEO, James Loree, and his vocal advocacy for DEI initiatives.
“[Loree] is authentically passionate about the work and with the strong support and advocacy of our C-suite, particularly our CEO, that really motivates us to create this scalable global across the enterprise,” said Simms.
Chris Winton, senior vice president of human resources at FedEx Ground, cited “intentional pathways to success” as another factor in a successful DEI framework. In other words, companies should remove barriers to access, like advanced degree requirements, to give more individuals a chance to qualify for open positions.
“We’re improving retention, creating pathways, and diversifying our white-collar workforce and our executive team at the same time,” Winton said.
Corporations Are Making Strides Toward Racial Equality in the Workforce But Work Still Ahead
Pursuing the road to racial equality, while hard work, is something businesses of all sizes should do as they strive to make the world a better place to live and work. Crystal Barnes, senior vice president of culture and corporate social responsibility at ViacomCBS, sees the responsibility as three-fold.
“We have the ability to positively influence social impacts and outcomes, as well as stories,” said Barnes. “There's a responsibility to leverage our content, there's a responsibility to leverage our reach, and there's a responsibility to leverage our platforms in order to shape the values and the perceptions that we know [will impact] cultural change.”
In the financial sector, companies like Citi are also striving to be the change on the road to racial equality. The company recently committed more than a billion dollars in strategic community initiatives to help close the racial wealth gap in the U.S.
“We see that [initiative] as an important catalyst for innovation, but we really want to look at who we are as a company,” said Gawain Patterson, senior vice president of Action for Racial Equity at Citi. “That shows up in the four pillars of our commitment: Access to banking and credit in communities of color, [support for] Black entrepreneurship, affordable housing and Black homeownership, and working to become an anti-racist institution.”
- The Role of Employers in Solving the Housing Crisis
- How Businesses Can Create an Effective DEI Framework
- Building a Better Future by Investing in Small Businesses
- The Role of Organizations and Corporations in Supporting Black-Owned Businesses
- How Small and Mid-Sized Businesses Can Support Employee Mental Health
- How U.S. Companies Can Lead on the Road to Racial Equality