Black Lives Matter and Corporate America

As 2016 comes to a close, Talent Management 360 is offering detailed insights into some of the year’s top news stories and speculating on how these stories will likely continue to impact talent management in the coming year. The seventh and final article in our series examines the changing status of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Black Lives Matter is a anti-racist, anti-imperialist, woman-led, queer and trans-positive movement known for staging large and powerful marches in cities across North America. The movement is also known for the hashtag that started it all: #BlackLivesMatter. When one thinks of the movement, corporate allies may be the last thing that comes to mind. After all, the movement’s leaders even refused an invitation to meet with President Obama, assuming it would just be a photo opportunity. In 2016, however, there were growing signs of corporate support for Black Lives Matter and growing signs that the movement itself was open to dialogue with a wide range of organizations and corporate leaders, even if the movement remains, at its core, anti-corporate.

The Movement Formalizes and Forges Surprising Allies

On the individual level, in the first half of 2016, there were reports that Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, donated  $6,000 to the Baltimore mayoral campaign of DeRay Mckesson (who is affiliated with Black Lives Matter) and so did Twitter Executive Chairman Omid Kordestani. There were also reports of money flowing from the Ford Foundation to Black Lives Matter projects.

In early July, many corporations also took to Twitter to express their support for the movement. Google tweeted, “#AltonSterling and #Philando Castile’s lives mattered. Black lives matter. We need racial justice now” whiel  Drew Houston, Dropbox’s CEO, tweeted, “What a terrible time for this country. #BlackLivesMatter.”

Finally, as reported in an earlier Talent Management 360 article, in Fall 2016, Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, told his employees, “Our communities are being destroyed by racial tension…and we’re too polite to talk about it.” Of specific surprise was his explicit shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he praised and argued should not be placed under erasure by an “all lives matter” response. Stephenson argued, “Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves.” Stephenson’s call for dialogue and action was directed at AT&T employees but it also struck a chord with many Americans nationwide and certainly raised the bar for other CEOs.

The Real Test Will Be Changes in Corporate Policy and Practice

While it appears as it a growing number of corporate leaders are pitching in to show their support for Black Lives Matter, as explored in an earlier Talent Management 360 article, the real test will come at the level of the workplace. Can American businesses do more than donate or voice their support for the movement and go a step further to radically restructure their workplaces to support Black Lives Matter’s founding tenets?

Restorative justice is a critical part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Rather than call for punishment, it calls for the rehabilitation of convicted individuals. Theoretically, organizations can do a great deal to support the movements call for restorative justice by changing its screening policies (at present, anyone with a criminal record is typically screened out early on in the application process by nearly all HR departments). Are U.S. corporations willing to rethink this practice? Some evidently are already willing (e.g., Apple, AT&T and Home Depot). If adopted on a wide-scale basis, however, it seems likely that the impact could be great.

Black Lives Matter maintains that regardless of their gender, ability level or immigration status, all lives matter. For organizations, embracing this value would mean taking a critical look at all their existing equity policies and practices. Again, one has to wonder, how many organizations will be wiling do this? Only time will tell, but there is no question that in a story marked by many notable news stories, Black Lives Matter continued to make headlines and raise awareness, reaching even the leaders of many of the country’s largest corporations.

December 23, 2016   Updated :December 23, 2016      

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