Human Rights

Black History Month: Key takeaways on racial equity from Davos 2023

Speaking in the Advancing Racial and Ethnic Equity session

February is Black History Month in the US and the theme in 2023 is ‘Black Resistance’. Image: Flickr/WorldEconomicForum

Kate Whiting
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  • February is Black History Month in the US and the theme in 2023 is ‘Black Resistance’.
  • Businesses are increasingly expected to take a stand on issues of social equity, including discrimination, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer.
  • At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this year, a panel discussed how to create more inclusive workplaces and societies.
  • Here are the key takeaways from that session.

“I am the great-granddaughter of a slave and, as a child, I marched with Dr Martin Luther King,” Pamela Carter, Member of the Board of Directors at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, told the audience during Davos 2023.

“Thinking about where he is and where we are today, there is progress, but it's not resilient enough. We advance and then we regress and we often regress to hostility and backlash and violence…

“The question is, how can we create the level of resilience, robustness and, similar to having a net zero [emissions goal], what is our global challenge and global opportunity together?”

February is Black History Month in North America - and this year the theme is ‘Black Resistance’, with a focus on how African-Americans have “resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms, and police killings”.

George Floyd’s death in 2020 saw the Black Lives Matter movement go global. It put police brutality and racial justice in the spotlight, which prompted companies to look inward at how they have reinforced racial inequity.

Building more equitable workplaces

Increasingly, businesses are expected to take a stand on issues of social equity, according to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, launched during the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

Four out of five employees expect CEOs to take a stand on discrimination, and 69% say having ‘societal impact’ is a strong expectation when considering a job.

CEOs most expected to act on employees, climate and discrimination.
Employees expect CEOs to take a stand on social equity and climate issues. Image: Edelman Trust Barometer

Two years ago, in January 2021, the Forum launched the Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative - a global coalition of 55 companies committed to building equitable and just workplaces.

In January, the initiative published a framework and whitepaper: Prioritizing Racial and Ethnic Equity in Business: Towards a Common Framework, which outlines 10 guiding principles for employers, from work environments to technological fairness.

In collaboration with McKinsey, the Forum has also launched the Global Parity Alliance. A cross-industry group, it’s committed to advancing - and measuring - Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) around the world, including the DEI Lighthouse Programme, which identifies initiatives with sustainable impact.

Advancing racial and ethnic equity

Attention to DEI has grown, with an estimated $15.4 billion to be spent on DEI-related efforts by 2026, according to the Global Parity Alliance - almost double the $7.5 billion spent in 2020.

But progress is slow, compounded by the pandemic. In the past five years, only one in three companies have made progress in executive-team diversity, while shrinking job opportunities disproportionately affect minorities.

Leaders, including Pamela Carter, came together in Davos to discuss whether organizations are doing enough to end systemic racism, provide opportunities to people of colour, increase representation in leadership and close the wealth gap.

The other speakers at the Advancing Racial and Ethnic Equity session were Angela Williams, President and CEO, United Way Worldwide; Simon Freakley, CEO, AlixPartners; Luana de Souza Martins Génot, Executive Director, Identities Institute. It was moderated by Larry Madowo, International Correspondent, CNN Worldwide.

Watch the full session of Advancing Racial and Ethnic Equity here.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the session…

Progress has been made, but it’s plateaued

In Brazil, there is a George Floyd situation “every 23 minutes”, according to Amnesty International, said Luana de Souza Martins Génot, so more work needs to be done.

Before the death of Floyd, people would deny there was a racial issue in Brazil, but since his death, people have had training and become more conscious. There has been progress, but we need to keep up the pace.

“We are going through a plateau - we had a lot of companies pledging, but now they are stuck. We need to move forward.”

Racial equity will take time, particularly in Brazil, which now has a new government, so civil societies and governments need to be intentional - because progress won’t happen automatically, she said.

Sharing data insights is crucial to maintain momentum, added Carter, who was the first Black Attorney General in the state of Indiana.

“We always celebrate too soon and we let go too soon… We have to think [about the] past, present and future in terms of challenges,” she said, and grow the pipeline.


Accountability will help to create more inclusive systems

Equity starts with setting metrics and holding companies and governments accountable, said Angela Williams. Then we need to create programmes to give people opportunities.

“We will create programmes after we do the self-assessment of where we are, to say, what are we going to do to create that pipeline? What will we do to elevate people? To train them up and give them the opportunity? That's what this is about.

“A lot of our systems - and it does not matter what country you are in - they were based and created on bad values and systems were created for a particular population and created to exclude other people… We need to do something different.”

Hewlett Packard went on a listening tour after the death of George Floyd, said Carter, across all 170 countries in which they have operations, “not assuming they already knew what the answers were”.

From there, the company was able to put metrics in place “because you have to be accountable”. If senior executives don’t meet diversity targets set, they get paid less. “There is an unflinching commitment in terms of doing the right thing.”

Public accountability is important, said Williams, but it makes leaders uncomfortable.

“It’s like being an alcoholic… the first step to recovery is admitting. So we need to take that first step in recovery and I’m not sure a lot of people have done that still.”


How is the World Economic Forum promoting equity in the workplace?

We’re ignoring the purchasing power of ethnic minorities

In America, the Black consumer spending power in 2023 equates to $1.8 trillion, said Carter.

“Yet this particular demographic is often ignored, overlooked and treated badly in a lot of environments. We’re talking about shareholder value and yet, we leave stranded assets.

“If you add African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, Latinics, indigenous, people with disabilities, it is $5 trillion. The question is, are we interested in growth and shareholder value? Then why are we stranding a lot of the assets?”

Racial equity is not a zero-sum game, concluded Williams. We have to shift mindsets that we are in this together, “so that if my purchasing power is not valued, it is going to affect you, as a company, it’s going to affect the economy… it’s not about ‘I lose power and I have to transfer it to you’”.

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