Corporate Support for Black Lives Matter

This past week, the Black Lives Matter movement found a new ally in a very unlikely place. In an impassioned speech to company employees, Randall Stephenson, the White CEO of AT&T, told his employees that “Our communities are being destroyed by racial tension…and we’re too polite to talk about it.” While such words are not necessarily controversial, what surprised many about Stephenson’s speech was his strong commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement, which he praised and argued should not be placed under erasure by an “all lives matter” response. Stephenson also 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, raising the question: What role should corporations play in Black Lives Matter?

girlCorporations Stepping Up for Black Lives Matter

Stephenson at AT & T may represent one of the most vocal corporate supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to date, but he’s not alone. Both on an organizational and individual level, there are growing signs that the corporate world is ready to lend their support to the Black Lives Matter movement.

On the individual level, Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, donated  $6,000 to the Baltimore mayoral campaign of DeRay Mckesson. Twitter Executive Chairman Omid Kordestani also donated $6000 to the DeRay Mckesson.

In early July, many corporations also went online to express their support for the broader Black Lives Matter movement. Google took to Twitter, writing “#AltonSterling and #Philando Castile’s lives mattered. Black lives matter. We need racial justice now.”  Drew Houston, Dropbox‘s CEO, tweeted, “What a terrible time for this country. #BlackLivesMatter” Through a spokeswoman, Houston said he tweeted because he and Dropbox care about these issues deeply.” Tim Cook of Apple tweeted, “Senseless killings this week remind us that justice is still out of reach for many.” Similarly, Microsoft tweeted, “We join the millions mourning in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas and we stand with those committed to change around the world.” Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook, jumped online to say, “The images we’ve seen this week are graphic and heartbreaking, and they shine a light on the fear that millions of members of our community live with every day.”

Some big players have also put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, and stepped forward to support the movement in recent months, including the Ford Foundation (a charitable organization founded by Henry Ford of Ford Motors in 1947).

The Corporate Policy Change Required to Support Black Lives Matter

downloadNotwithstanding recent displays of support for the movement, it is important to consider whether or not America’s corporations are in fact ready to respond to the central tenets of Black Lives Matter, which is not just a movement that challenges racism but also systemic homophobia, heterosexism, and classism. Below is a list of just three ways corporations can support the movement and its central principals.

Restorative Justice: In a nutshell, restorative justice focuses on rehabilitation not punishment. The corporate world can support restorative justice by changing its screening policies (at present, anyone with a criminal record is typically screened out early on in the application process via the required criminal check done by nearly all HR departments). Are U.S. corporations prepared to radically rethink this practice, which is currently one of their most common screening mechanisms?

Collective Value: Put simply, everyone’s life matters, regardless of their gender, ability level or immigration status. For organizations, embracing this value would mean taking a long hard look at their gender equity situation, whether or not their workplace adheres to the principals of universal design and how their hiring policies discriminate against people without the paperwork to prove they are permanent U.S. residents.  Are U.S. corporations prepared to respond to their gender equity problems, make workplaces truly accessible, and even rethink their hiring policies to accommodate undocumented residents?

Black Villages: As stated on the movement’s website: “We are committed to disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, and especially ‘our’ children to the degree that mothers, parents and children are comfortable.” This means recognizing that sometimes the people who care for children are not parents but rather extended family or friends; it also means that elder care may be shared by many people and not simply by the children of the elderly in need. But if this is taken seriously into account, are corporations prepared to extend benefits, including health benefits, to this broader definition of family?

While there is no question that the Black Lives Matter movement welcomes kind words and financial donations, the systemic changes the movement hopes to enact will rest in part on corporate America’s willingness to radically rethink how they recruit, hire and compensate (in terms of wages and benefits) employees.

October 2, 2016   Updated :December 23, 2016      

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