Lisa Osborne Ross / May 17, 2023
For the fourth year in a row, Edelman, the company of which I am CEO of the U.S. region, has released data on the state of trust in business as it pertains to racial injustice – a special report affiliated with our flagship Trust Barometer research. I am guessing the results of our latest survey will elicit one of four reactions: 1. Tell me something I don't know. 2. I felt like this was the case, and it’s affirming to know what I feel is real. 3. This is shocking and terrible. 4. It doesn’t matter because nothing will change.
Three years after the collective wake-up call wrought by the murder of George Floyd and others, the data reveals that, while concerns about racism are rising, trust in business to assuage them is not:
The data matters because of the wide range of emotions people feel on this issue – from defeat and defensiveness to outright disagreement on whether the issue even exists. The language we use to describe it and the steps we think we should take to solve it also vary. As painful as I find the data, I am convinced we must keep asking the questions and compiling the results. Unless we can agree on a starting point, we certainly cannot arrive at an endpoint.
I cannot in good faith counsel others unless I am looking in the mirror to get my own house in order. While Edelman has made immense strides in building a more representative workforce, my everyday reality includes some version of the following:
The research also found that 61 percent of executives are uncomfortable talking about race because they’re afraid they might say something racist. I’ve seen firsthand where fear of being labeled “racist,” “homophobic,” or sexist” prevents constructive conversation. I also know racism, homophobia, and sexism exist.
I often find myself wondering if perhaps Corporate America has convinced itself that racism is no longer a problem. Many companies seem to believe that “there’s no way we could be racist.” We had a Black president in the US. We have a Black, female vice president. Maybe their CEO is Black (this one hits close to home). Racism simply cannot thrive if these things are true, right?
Our data shows that racism is still alive, and I’m afraid to say, thriving. Our recommendations for change within companies and in the country call for more accountability, shared understanding, and the empowerment of peer voices. But I believe business will only usher in real change when two things happen. First, when leaders realize that a non-diverse workforce cannot credibly create products and services for a diverse world. And second, when leaders no longer believe that their personal and professional standing is threatened by setting the table in a representative way. This will help us reach that agreed-upon starting point across institutions to begin dismantling 400 years of injustice – and it will also help business leaders connect with consumers, engage employees, and improve their bottom line.
Lisa Osborne Ross is CEO, Edelman U.S.