Companies That Pledged Billions for Racial Justice Must Invest More in Staff to Distribute Those Funds
In the two years since George Floyd’s murder and the national racial reckoning that followed, corporations have committed an estimated $4.2 billion to the fight for racial justice and many have adopted funding practices that provide equitable opportunities for nonprofits led by and serving people of color.
But here’s something they haven’t done enough of: Hire and train the professionals needed to effectively deploy those funds.
Corporate social responsibility departments, which identify where the company’s charitable dollars go and build relationships with nonprofit leaders, lack the diversity and lived experience of the people and communities their programs are designed to serve, particularly at the senior leadership level, according to a
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In the two years since George Floyd’s murder and the national racial reckoning that followed, corporations have committed an estimated $4.2 billion to the fight for racial justice, and many have adopted funding practices that provide equitable opportunities for nonprofits led by and serving people of color.
But here’s something they haven’t done enough of: Hiring and training the professionals needed to effectively deploy those funds.
Corporate social-responsibility departments, which identify where the company’s charitable dollars go and build relationships with nonprofit leaders, lack the diversity and lived experience of the people and communities their programs are designed to serve, particularly at the senior leadership level, according to a new report from our organizations — the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals and Leverage Philanthropic Partners.
Of the corporate social-responsibility professionals surveyed for the study, 61 percent work in departments where at least 75 percent of the staff is white. And more than half of those departments are led by white women. Just 22 percent said that “most” or “all” of their team members came from the communities served by their company’s social-impact programs.
Regardless of their race, almost all said they felt underprepared to effectively carry out funding practices focused on equity. Only 16 percent said they felt “very prepared” to identify organizations that focus on addressing systemic inequities, and a mere 4 percent stated they feel “very prepared” to judge the performance of organizations addressing equity issues.
Billions of dollars in pledges will not have the intended impact unless companies also invest in the people doing the work. That means diversifying their corporate social-responsibility staffs and providing them with the resources needed to achieve their goals. The following steps will help companies make these changes and ensure their racial-justice pledges don’t ring hollow.
Build a diverse talent pipeline. In focus groups conducted for our report, participants described a stunning lack of diversity in social-responsibility departments. Here’s how one put it: “I’ve worked on three different CSR [corporate social responsibility] teams ... but I’ve actually never had a person of color on my team.” Corporations must do better. Where funding flows is directly related to who occupies seats of power and influence.
To change this dynamic, companies must help prepare more young people of color to pursue social-impact careers. They can do this by partnering with educational institutions, student service groups, and community-based nonprofits to create internships and apprentice programs that provide a clear path to the profession. They should follow the lead of companies such as Salesforce, which recruits directly from the work-force development program Year Up to fill positions throughout the company, including for roles on its social-impact team.
Invest in professionals of color for leadership positions. Opportunities to advance in the profession are limited, but even more so for people of color, who, as one focus-group participant put it, are often “set up to fail.” This participant described a situation in which a person is chosen for the job “because of the color of their skin” and because they “look like” they can address the problem. But then they aren’t given the support and resources necessary to perform the job effectively.
Companies need to devote the same time, energy, and resources to developing leadership talent for social responsibility roles as they do in other parts of the business. That means offering mentoring and coaching, leadership-development programs, and competitive salaries that come with significant budgets for professional development. Companies should also gather data and feedback to understand why corporate social-responsibility professionals of color are not receiving promotions and devise plans for eliminating barriers.
Advocate for a sustained commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Professionals of color expressed doubt in our focus groups about the longevity of their companies’ commitment to racial justice and equity, with one saying, “Look, call me distrustful, but some of it I think is just people doing [this] because they think they should. … Are people going to really sustain it?”
Reversing hundreds of years of systemic injustice will not be achieved with corporate expediency. Progress requires sustained investments and courage in the face of naysayers. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are examples of a company and its grant maker that have institutionalized their commitment by establishing networks of people focused on equity in different parts of the business. Additionally they have created a Center for Racial Equity, staffed by professionals from a variety of disciplines that work across the company to ensure racial equity and inclusion remains a top priority in the business and in its corporate philanthropy.
Support a larger and better-trained staff. Corporate social responsibility departments cannot deliver on new and increased expectations with the same resources they had prior to the racial reckoning of 2020. This work requires different perspectives, skills, experience, and time commitments.
While 32 percent of survey respondents believed that their company was “very committed” to embedding racial equity into its corporate grant-making strategy, only 9 percent felt their company was “very committed” to increasing the size of its corporate social-responsibility staff. To realize corporate equity goals, companies need sufficient staff to distribute significantly increased funds and build trust with the nonprofit organizations they are supporting. They also need to expand their operational and grant-making budgets and invest in specialized racial-equity training for their social-impact staff.
We applaud the bold commitments many corporations have made to advance racial equity. But they need to do more. Addressing racial inequality is not just a moment that will pass — it is a long-term commitment that requires sustained investments, strong leadership, and shared responsibility from the corporate world. Without more investment in the people doing this important work, corporate goals will not be realized and the hope of achieving a more just and equitable society will remain elusive.