Corporate America: Don’t be late to the barbecue

April 30, 2021, 8:08 PM UTC

We need to talk about Nomadland, the hidden bias in the tort system and my colleague Jonathan Vanian has some good advice for any company with good diversity intentions.

But first, here’s your stop-with-the-trans-discrimination week in review, in Haiku.

Spare a thought for sweet
Matt Gertz, who is not at all
Matt Gaetz, but who gets 

lots of his “mail” — like
the not Mike PenceAlex Jones,
Brett Kavanaugh,

Bummer, right? Life is 
hard enough without the threat
of public pile-on,

undeserved! Now, spare 
a thought for the kids being
mistaken for a

political point:
Under attack for wanting
to play sports in peace.

Got outside and play this weekend, if you can. .

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

The horrific murder of George Floyd by a police officer last summer triggered a wave of support for social justice causes from numerous corporations.

Now, nearly a year later, it’s time to see if those corporate pledges were merely self-serving or if they indicate a genuine desire to reckon with the nation’s history of systemic racism.

“I’m seeing the evidence of intention,” said MIT Sloan Lecturer Malia Lazu during an online event this week about what corporate America can do to advance social justice. “The intention is there.”

However, as Lazu noted, actions are always stronger than words, and thus far, corporate America has done a lot of talking about social justice. The next step is to take some action.

“White people don’t necessarily need to know what they mean when they say, ‘Oh I’m dedicated to diversity, inclusion and equity,’ because the very saying it gets applause,” Lazu said.

What’s different about this moment of corporate America’s reckoning with race is that there are signs executives are taking diversity and inclusion more seriously, Lazu said. White-led organizations are discussing “anti-racism work” more than they have in the past, she said, and that could lead to some significant changes.

“The philosophy reflecting social justice now being introduced into corporate America is where we are going to get the levers we need to make actual change during this moment of intention,” Lazu said.

When she discusses issues of race and equality with white executives, Lazu said she always tries to “identify why they’re uncomfortable.” She’s discovered that many leaders get offended by the idea that “they have privilege” when they’ve given their lives to their companies, often to the detriment of other personal joys, like attending to the birthdays of loved ones.

She noted that a significant percentage white Americans don’t have one non-white friend. For white executives who have never experienced deep relationships with people of color, it’s hard for them to see the value in hiring people from diverse backgrounds.

“I think it’s all very understandable about why we’re here, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are moving forward now and we would love to have you come,” Lazu said.

As a new generation of workers assume leadership positions, executives would be wise to ensure that their place of work is welcoming to people of color. This is the time for businesses to “build a different corporate culture,” and ultimately, one that suits a more socially aware younger generation, she explained.

"Everyone is invited to the social justice barbeque, but everyone notices when you come late," Lazu said.

Jonathan Vanian 


On Point

The hidden bias in the tort system This opinion piece, written by law professors Ronen Avraham and Kimberly Yuracko, offers a compelling look at how biased sex and race data informs jury awards. Here’s a clear Black and white example: Using likely lifetime earnings data to calculate an award for an injured plaintiff. “The use of data that explicitly distinguishes and defines people based on race and sex ensures that victims who are female, Black, or from other marginalized communities receive lower damage awards than do victims who are White men,” they write, bringing receipts. The practice is common and longstanding.
Washington Post

White entrepreneurs are increasingly likely to embrace inclusion from the start This is the optimistic conclusion from my colleague Mitra Kalita, who ticks through the many reasons why 2020 was a clear inflection point. But the proof is in her reporting, she says. “Newer companies can build with the advantage of hindsight,” says Kalita. “Entrepreneurs treat their mission statements as gospel. Many say baking diversity, equity and inclusion into that mission is the only way to ensure work around DEI actually gets done.” Click through and know hope.

Why Nomadland is necessary Rolling Stone has the definitive profile of the film’s extraordinary director, Chloe Zhao, published earlier this year. But perhaps one of the best ways to understand the power of the film is to understand the extraordinary mission that filming the Oscar-winner became. For one thing, the director, cast, and crew became intertwined with real life older, working class nomads, many of whom played themselves in the film. And credit goes to Frances McDormand who produced and starred as the grieving and unmoored Fern, and who optioned journalist Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century.” The result is a film so beautiful that it takes a minute to notice that it draws attention to the very people who a capitalist society has tried to make invisible. What’s next for the talented director is less important than what’s next for the Ferns who are driving to their next low-paying seasonal gig right now. Read the story, The End of Retirement, that inspired the book and film below.

On background

The tragic history of Filipino style in the early 20th century There was a time when Hollywood style belonged to one suitmaker, a bespoke outfit called Macintosh Studios, based in San Francisco. Because they were made to order, Filipino immigrants, mostly farmworkers who were in the U.S. on a colonial visa, were able to find suits that fit their frames. And so Macintosh found a dedicated customer base of Filipino men determined to assimilate with style. “These suits telegraphed a status and wealth that belied the backbreaking toil of their day jobs,” writes Joshua Bote. “It didn’t matter where you came from, or what work you did, if you looked like money.” It didn’t take long for a scandal to turn the anti-Filipino resentment that had been brewing into violence. Tragic tale, resplendent archival photos.
SF Gate

Harlem through a painter’s eyes At the same time Filipinos were embracing fashion, Alice Neel was making her move from bohemian Greenwich Village to Harlem in 1938, which positioned her to be important chronicler of a renaissance that would shape the world. Her work was featured in an exhibit curated by New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize winning critic Hilton Als, accompanied by this wonderful profile helps to explain both who she was and how she worked. She called herself a “collector of souls” and her portraiture reflected a deep curiosity about the world that was both intimate and compassionate. “For Neel herself, everyone was equal in all their idiosyncrasies and racial differences,” Als told The Atlantic. “Everyone was a member of her club. She painted people no matter what their color, creed, or social standing, and this is what makes her oeuvre so unique.”
The Atlantic

This edition of raceAhead is edited by Daniel Bentley.

Today's mood board

Spare a thought for T-Pain who just realized he'd be missing years' worth of Instagram DMs from hundreds of celebrities including Viola Davis, Fergie, and Diplo. "Sorry, just seen this..."

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