Originally published here 

I thought about this in recent days as news and social media posts praise the generous contributions of major corporations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Through donations that total in the millions, companies like Nike, Verizon, Walt Disney, Amazon, and Viacom CBS have taken a great shot but missed the mark. I applaud, and appreciate, the dollar amount and thinking behind the support. However, we will be having this same conversation in five years when the money runs out with no solid commitment towards reviewing and changing policy that supports discrimination. This is because the donors are giving money away to help someone else fix other issues without admitting there is an issue within their own house.

According to Fortune Magazine, there are only five Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 list or just under 1 percent. This statistic reflects a deeper issue in corporate America; systemic racism. Corporate leaders set the tone for bias in hiring, promotions, procurement, processes, and culture. In order for corporate America to really become change agents, they must first look internally. They must recruit and hire more executive leaders that are Black and people of color, increase contract amounts to companies owned by people of color, and place Black leaders in positions beyond Human Resources or Diversity and Inclusion.

In 2006, when I was hired to be the brand manager for a Fortune 500 company, the HR manager pulled me aside and said “you can’t mess up. If you do, they won’t recruit at another HBCU again.” In my first week the company let go two white employees. Shortly after, my white supervisor left for a new opportunity with a new employer after a failed attempt to receive a promotion. My supervisor was informed he did not qualify for a promotion due to under preforming in his role. Despite these three mishaps this company continues to recruit and hire from the University of Michigan, Emory, and Northwestern. Many corporations see white failures as an anomaly of the school but a Black failure as representation of the entire race.

As a 28-year-old, I was looking to launch my first product and run my first $10M budget by myself. I didn’t want to be the savior of all Black people. It didn’t allow me to take risks. It didn’t allow me to be myself or give all of myself. Most importantly, I never really connected with the other team members on a non-work level. It created a subtle me versus them mentality in the workplace. Looking back, not only was it unnecessary, I believe that I was the only person working under that pressure.

This is not a problem that can be fixed by just hiring more Black people as most consulting firms would have you believe. People recruit from their networks. Many white executives don’t have a circle of Black friends nor do they know many Black-owned search firms.

This is why it is crucial for corporations to hire more Black executives. It leads to internal spaces that allow Black employees the ability to express concerns and offer suggestions without the fear of losing their job. In a study on corporate narratives, Black C-Suite executives in Fortune 1000 companies were afraid to speak on racial bias practices due to a fear of retaliation. Out of 126 respondents, 25 identified as Black executives or influencers. When asked about racial equity narratives that were prevalent in the workplace (Don’t Rock the Boat, Bootstrapping, I Haven’t Benefited So Why Should They, etc.) there wasn’t a significant difference between Black respondents and their white counterparts. However, when asked to share new narratives like “Growth Over Racism” or “Disrupt or Be Disrupted” there were 16–20% differences on being very willing to share them. For influencers…100% of Black influencers were very willing to share compared to less than 25% of white influencers.

I would also mention that Howard University law school graduates more Black lawyers second only to Harvard University. So why aren’t there more Black corporate lead counsels.

Yes, we only received 25 responses from Black executives and influencers within Fortune 1000 companies. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there were less than 3.5 percent Black executives in the Fortune 500. Black leadership would shift this and ensure Black voices have an authoritative presence in decision making rooms. Black shoppers, and Black communities, like to see themselves in the products they support. It is why McDonald’s has had a Black ad agency for more than a decade. It is why companies like Carol’s Daughter and BET had so much success. It is the whole reason for the multicultural marketing segment of advertising. But it goes beyond advertising; especially in today’s atmosphere. Companies must also begin supporting Black-owned small businesses on a larger scale in order for Black consumers to keep them as a priority choice during consumer behavior process. As disposable income dwindles during COVID-19 people are being more conscience on how they spend their dollars.

Most companies have a “set-aside” rule that ensure minority businesses are given a fair shot to vie and obtain sub-contracting opportunities. While some companies set contracting goals as high as 35 percent, there are still those who don’t have a goal for contract amounts. Touting gains in total contracts awarded are great publicity. However, subcontracted companies, run by people of color, are more than likely to receive a sliver of the total contract amount. The construction industry is a great example. In most instances, the award is given to a large white owned-company under the guise of experience and capacity. They in turn contract 35–50% of the work out to subcontractors but with less than 30% of the funding. There are multiple Black-owned construction companies with assets over $20M who should be the lead on these projects and not just a sub.

Contracting with Black vendors and hiring Black executives won’t help your organization transition into an anti-racist one. You also can’t put all the Black employees in DEI.

Stanford University conducted a study and found that within the Fortune 100, 3% of Black C-Suite executives have an opportunity to be CEO. That’s because most CEOs are chosen from individuals with CFO or P&L experience. Most Black executives are in executive administrator, sales, and human resources roles. All of which have virtually no path to the CEO or board member chair. They are often stuck in these roles because corporations will promote white employees based on potential, but Black employees need to be exceptional with a list of accomplishments.

The only Black CEOs in the Fortune 500

I am a member of Delta Sigma Pi, Iota Rho chapter, out of Howard University. The business fraternity boasts the likes of S. Truett Kathy (Chick-fil-A founder), Dean O’Hare (former Chairman and CEO of The Chubb Corp.) and Rob DeMartini (President and CEO of USA Cycling). At the Howard University chapter, most members are accounting and finance majors. As an institution that graduates a significant amount of corporate America’s Black employees, I refuse to believe there aren’t enough qualified people to be hired in financial roles. Must I also mention that Howard University has a top-notch School of Communications so for there to be very few Black C-Suite executives in Marketing and Communications is mind blowing as well. I would also mention that Howard University law school graduates more Black lawyers second only to Harvard University. So why aren’t there more Black corporate lead counsels. My point is just because we’re Black doesn’t mean all we can lead are corporate diversity efforts.

My experience in the corporate field as a brand manager has been helpful as I currently manage an organization that is focused on policies, programs and products that help people transition out of poverty. I actively practice racial equity in my organization and we create better outcomes as a result. I also train corporate decision makers on how to operationalize racial equity, because no matter the amount, just giving monetarily to the Black cause will never be enough.