Why Yet Another Committee Isn't the Answer to Addressing Racial Inequality

by Julie Graber | on 8 Jun 2020

I am sure they have the best of intentions.

As many have noted, the Business Roundtable, which includes the CEOs of the largest of US companies, has announced that they will take action in the fight against racism and inequality by forming a committee. 

If you did an eye roll at the news, you’re in good company. The response to the announcement has been decidedly underwhelming. 

It’s not that the Business Roundtable members don't mean well. The group of mostly white men (with a smattering of women and African-American men) was formed to promote a "thriving economy" and "expanded opportunity" for all.

But for many, the announcement, as one writer put it "rang hollow", coming from a group of companies that do diversity poorly - companies with few, if any, African-American executives (or women for that matter).

It would be nice to think that they recognized that they are part of the problem. But that doesn't appear to be the case.

First, the group has only a handful of African-American CEOs among its membership. Two are included among the list of committee members (along with Mary Barra of GM as the only woman). Not exactly a diversity of perspective to start with.

The announcement goes on to suggest that the committee will consider public policy and corporate initiatives that address four key areas: 

  • education and workforce development programs,
  • initiatives that address health disparities that affect the minority community,
  • programs that improve access to capital in minority communities, and
  • criminal justice reforms. 

While there may be some good to come from focused attention in these areas, we have been down all of these roads before with little to show for it. It’s also worth noting what each of these areas outlined for attention tells you about how the Business Roundtable is defining the problem (a focus on education and training suggests that the problem is the lack of education and training, for example). And while their game plan is not clearly defined, what’s outlined all seems to focus on initiatives aimed at the African American community. 

And that’s not where the problem exists. Because let’s face it - we’ve had training programs and educational initiatives, we’ve targeted African-American populations with special healthcare programs, we’ve created minority lending programs designed to increase access to capital for African-American business owners, and we’ve tried to reform the criminal justice system. To continue to do so without addressing the real issue - the structural racism that, along with its parallels as they relate to gender, is so engrained in the fabric of our daily existence that we don’t realize it’s there, is an exercise in futility. 

The problem isn’t with minorities any more than it is with women. The problem is in the systems - the short-hand we use to go about our our day, knowing what to do and when, without realizing that these systems benefit some and leave others behind. They are systems that are so deeply embedded in the way we live that not even the Rooney Rule can affect them.

If the Business Roundtable wants to be a part of the solution, they are going to have to focus their efforts inward, at themselves, and address the biases and privilege that got most of them where they are today. The answers won’t be found in neat little packages, and the solutions will have to come not from the top  but from gut-level changes in the way we view the world, process information, go about our business, look out for each other, and find the place we call community. 

The kind of change we need requires individual and collective soul-searching - group therapy maybe, but not the work of a committee.

Tags:  In the NewsSystemic Bias