Forum Institutional

Equity and inclusion should be a primary business objective. Here’s why

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Alphonso David
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Systemic Racism

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black people and the most marginalized communities, including LGBTQ.
  • If society is to see meaningful, durable change, business must do more than alter social media avatars and deploy timely, clever marketing.
  • Companies should drive transformational programmes, policies, and collaborations to bring about meaningful change.

The world has spent this year battling COVID-19, which globally has claimed almost one million lives. In the United States, this dynamic is complicated by our original sin: slavery, discrimination and its vestiges. This manifests in concurrent realities: COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black people and the most marginalized communities; and, that persistent inequities in policing in communities of colour too often culminate with the deaths of unarmed Black people. These problems are amplified when individuals occupy more than one marginalized identity, like LGBTQ people of colour.

My perspective as the first person of colour and first civil rights attorney to lead the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, allows me to draw a thru-line from this nation’s staggering COVID-19 death toll, its structural racism and how this problem is exacerbated among marginalized groups.

It also affords an opportunity to offer ways business can meet this moment to make durable, lasting change.

Consider that prior to COVID-19, Black household wealth was less than one-fifth of America’s national average and Black unemployment was more than double our national rate. Black people not only began this pandemic comparatively disadvantaged, their socioeconomic status means increased exposure to the virus because they work in greater numbers in occupations that do not permit opportunities to work from home. In fact, 20% of food service workers, janitors, cashiers and stockers are Black. Black communities also face gaps in education, wealth and income, and often crowded housing conditions.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, poorly managed comorbidities, like Diabetes and Asthma, can increase the mortality risk of COVID-19, and both are disproportionately prevalent among Black people. Black people are 20% more likely to have Asthma, and Black adults are 72% more likely to have Diabetes than their White and Asian counterparts. Moreover, 20% of Black people can’t afford health insurance. According to APM Research, Black people are 3.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19. Among children who have died from COVID-19, one in four are Black, and one in three Black children live in poverty, and thus sit at the intersection of two marginalized groups. These alarming numbers are the product of centuries of indifference, neglect and disparate levels of care and opportunity, which have only grown worse since the beginning of the pandemic.

LGBTQ people, another historically marginalized group, also reckon with societal issues, stigmas and corresponding problems. 67% of LGBTQ youth report their family negatively comments on their LGBTQ identity and LGBTQ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness.

HRC’s Research on the LGBTQ Community Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis reports that LGBTQ adults are less likely to have access to medical leave and five million LGBTQ adults workers are employed in industries highly impacted by COVID-19. According to the Williams Institute, one in five LGBTQ youth live in poverty, higher than their straight and cisgender counterparts. An analysis by the Human Rights Campaign found that one in five LGBTQ adults could not see a doctor because of cost, with that number climbing to 23% for Black LGBTQ adults, and to 29% for all transgender women.

LGBTQ people, too, suffer from comorbidities which heighten their vulnerability to COVID-19. LGBTQ adults are 50% more likely to have asthma than their non-LGBTQ counterparts, 1.4 million LGBTQ adults have diabetes, and while the relationship between HIV and COVID-19 is unknown, we know that people living with HIV and not yet on effective treatment are at greater risk. As the Human Rights Campaign’s research with PSB Insights makes clear, communities which are multiply marginalized are acutely susceptible to the economic hardships brought on by this pandemic.

A convergence of fault lines

These realities converged this summer—a time which heralds the end of school, vacation and, for LGBTQ people and their allies, when we recognize Pride month, which started as a protest against police harassment led by transgender women of colour.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we were reminded of another fault line within our nation—inequities in policing—when George Floyd and Breonna Taylor became the latest unarmed Black people whose lives were horrifically ended by law enforcement. Mr. Floyd’s death was captured on video and its brutality broadcast into Americans’ homes. Ms. Taylor’s death was particularly salient because her life as an Emergency Medical Technician, an essential service during the pandemic, was cut short. Their deaths reminded us of what Black people know and live everyday: that inequities in policing can be and are deadly.

Their deaths prompted protests. In response, many corporations adopted the “Black Lives Matter” slogan as a way of expressing solidarity with the majority of people who supported the protests. But this cannot be enough. If society is to see meaningful, durable change, business must do more than alter social media avatars and deploy timely, clever marketing.

Businesses can make a difference

They must increase representation of Black people at all levels, but particularly in leadership at the Executive, C-Suite and Board levels. They must create goals, be transparent and report on the progress toward these goals. Businesses can invest in Black communities, increase philanthropic giving to organizations centered on racial justice, invest in Black-owned businesses through supplier diversity initiatives, and recruit through Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Not only will these actions benefit a corporation’s bottom line, it’s also the right thing to do.

Businesses can also follow our lead here at the Human Rights Campaign, where we are actively building competency internally, building a staff and Board that more reflects the depth and breadth of our diverse community, building relationships externally and ensuring that our programmatic work intentionally and substantively reflects the intersectionality of the lived experiences of LGBTQ people. And, if this summer’s protests are any indication, racial equity and inclusion cannot simply be incidental to our work—it must be at its core.

To that end, we have deepened and expanded our pre-existing work with communities of colour and centered the experiences of LGBTQ people of colour in the fight for full equality. As a direct consequence to the protests, we redoubled our efforts to actively combat racism and white supremacy. And, we joined with other civil rights organizations in calling for new policies to transform policing.

We are far from finished. We will continue to engage with new opportunities to join critical conversations and drive transformational programmes, policies, and collaborations. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that our fates are intertwined and all of us, corporations and people alike, must not just do well, we must do good.

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