From the earliest days of the pandemic to the now early days of the country’s economic recovery, workers have remained in the spotlight for corporate leaders and policymakers. While this focus first prioritized protecting jobs, today it’s shifted to how to retain and hire. The “Great Resignation” has continued for months, with August marking the fifth straight month of record numbers of workers leaving their jobs. Those on the job are also fighting for better pay and working conditions, with some now deeming it “Striketober” after the surge in labor strikes and protests across industries this month.
The impacts of the pandemic and continued reckoning with racial injustice in the United States, among other factors, have provided the kindling for this trend. Workers’ expectations of employers and policymakers have expanded – and, in turn, so must the leadership needed to meet them. That’s why, together with the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, FSG, and PolicyLink, we brought together leaders from the private and public sectors to discuss what it’ll take to lead an economic recovery that centers racial equity and economic opportunity for all workers.
Building on tools like the CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity and the Coalition’s Framework for Inclusive Capitalism, these leaders touched upon how to secure fair wages, equal opportunity for advancement, and robust benefits for workers – among other measures – at a time of transformation in employer-workforce relationships. Hosted by JUST CEO Martin Whittaker, the conversation kicked off with a fireside chat between U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves and Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism Founder Lynn Forester de Rothschild. They were followed by a panel discussion moderated by PolicyLink Managing Director of Corporate Racial Equity, Mahlet Getachew, featuring Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder in Residence at PolicyLink, Damon Jones, Chief Communications Officer at Procter & Gamble (P&G), and Scott Ullem, CFO at Edwards Lifesciences.
“I just can’t believe the moment we are in. It is just one of those decisive, once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-generation opportunities to continue on this project which has enormous responsibility, enormous possibility, to be able to really create a society where all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential,” Glover Blackwell said on the leadership significance of this moment.
Watch the full conversation here and read on for key takeaways.
Recognize – and act on – the amplifier effect of good jobs
The tight labor market has confronted many employers with the need to step up on pay and benefits, and, to Deputy Secretary Graves, ultimately provide good jobs for workers. “A job is a lot more than just a paycheck,” he said. “Frankly, it goes back to the stability of our communities, the health of our families.” He raised the Department of Commerce’s Job Quality Initiative as one example of how corporate leaders and policymakers can work together on this imperative.
For Deputy Secretary Graves, the influence of the Department of Commerce stretches beyond business to helping people “convert their hopes and dreams into lives of dignity.” And that starts with quality jobs, which can bolster economic growth, drive community development, and advance racial equity. He brought up research from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that shows how eliminating racial health, education, incarceration, and employment gaps could add $8 trillion to U.S. GDP by 2050.
His sentiments were echoed by Jones and Ullem who each stressed that providing quality jobs is a key part of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at their companies. Jones also touched upon the impact good jobs have on workers’ families and communities as well as the broader economy, referencing McKinsey research that shows closing the wealth gap for Black families could add $1 trillion to U.S. GDP by 2028. “At P&G we employ 100,000 people around the world,” he said. “We want them to go home and to walk out into communities that are fairer and equal.”
Share data, learnings, and progress across sectors
Discussing P&G’s DEI work, Jones noted that allowing the time and space to reflect on what is or isn’t working, ask questions, and adjust strategies has been a significant help. “One of the things businesses are very good at doing is analyzing the root cause of why things aren’t working the way that they should be,” he said. And, in addition, he finds sharing those insights with other businesses both in and outside of P&G’s industry an increasingly important move. “This isn’t a competitive sport, it’s a collaborative one,” Jones said.
Deputy Secretary Graves made a similar point around the scale and range of data the Department of Commerce houses in its Bureaus including the Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Minority Business Development Agency among others. “We have the types of data that the country would love to be able to use, but we need to make that more transparent,” he said. Making this data more accessible to groups like PolicyLink and corporations like P&G and Edwards Lifesciences, he said, could help improve workforce diversity and develop good jobs for workers.
Use the unique influence your sector, company, or role carries
Speakers also touched upon the unique influence policymakers and corporate leaders each have. Forester de Rothschild noted that “good policy can be the lever for business and investors to do the right thing” and Glover Blackwell emphasized the power of corporations in advancing racial equity, particularly in helping close the racial wealth gap. “Corporations have a big role to play. Some of these levers are only in their hands. Some of these levers are disproportionately in their hands,” she said. “This is a moment for that power and that leverage like no other.”
Glover Blackwell said that at different moments throughout history we’ve been more dependent on leadership from government, civil society, or business. She brought up the example of the civil rights movement as a time for government and civil society to lead. But this moment, to her, is a significant opportunity for corporate America’s leadership. “While government has a role that is essential, we can’t count on it. It’s inconsistent from state to state, community to community, and at the federal level. And that inconsistency is a threat to progress that can be made,” she said.
Jones and Ullem both noted the power of harnessing the unique influence of their business function. “CFOs have this ability and responsibility to help organizations allocate resources,” Ullem said. He shared how, after reaching out to employees on community engagement and racial equity efforts, the company decided to reallocate money that typically would have been spent on commodity securities to economic development for Black communities in the U.S. “Other CFOs that I talk to recognize that there are opportunities for companies to play different roles, more unconventional roles than they would have played historically,” he said.
As Chief Communications Officer, Jones made the point that the question for companies in moments of crisis shouldn’t be “What should we say?” but rather, “What should we do?” To him, that comes down to ensuring employees and consumers can see substantive action over performative gestures and asking “If this is what we want to stand for, what needs to be true within our four walls to make that a reality?” Jones wants companies to think about how “build it in, not bolt it on” when it comes to racial equity to the point where you’re making “equality the job of the many, not the few.” He also encouraged businesses to “find the intersection of equality in all you do, and then lean into the lane where you can have disproportionate impact,” raising P&G’s Widen The Screen initiative as an example of the company leveraging its influence as a major advertiser.
At a higher level, for Jones, businesses have an opportunity “to step into the void of misinformation and mistrust that exist in our country right now.” “There’s a very clear and very compelling opportunity to bring people together around shared values,” he said. To Jones, acting on that opportunity is not just inherently good for workers and communities, but good for business. As the “Great Resignation” and tight labor market persist for employers, it’s also an opportunity many cannot afford to ignore.