The American Public Wants Companies to Take Action on Advancing Racial Equity – Especially Black Americans

In our most recent polling of the American public, fielded in collaboration with our partners at The Harris Poll, we focused on how Americans believe companies should approach prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing global movement for a reckoning around systemic racism, we’ve examined how companies have been responding, and what concrete actions corporate leaders can take to support their Black colleagues.

We’re now turning to the American public to ask them what they’d like to see from corporate America during this time – and particularly, how Black Americans want companies to act.

1. Overall, Americans agree that companies should implement workplace policies that dismantle racism and advance racial equity.

While the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and corporate America continues to release public statements on racial equity and dismantling racism, the public believes that workplace policies supporting this issue are important. Overall, at least six out of 10 respondents (62%) agreed that 10 workplace policies to provide a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace were either somewhat or very important.

Most importantly, Americans want to see companies commit to paying all employees a living wage (84%) and provide accessible grievance mechanisms for employees to report harassment or discrimination without fear of retaliation (83%). Our earlier work has also shown that Black employees are battling two crises – a public health and racial one. And alongside these ongoing battles, Black men and women make 72 cents and 62 cents, respectively, for each dollar their White male colleagues make, and many feel uncomfortable raising instances of discrimination in the workplace for fear of retaliation.

2. 89% of Black respondents say that companies should pay employees a living wage and increase business with Black-owned suppliers.

Overall, Black Americans tend to place more importance on these issues than their White and Hispanic counterparts (up to a 23 percentage point difference) – suggesting that they may feel greater urgency in promoting racial diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Across the board, Black Americans feel more strongly about each policy but for companies looking to prioritize their needs, they need to consider focusing on these first and foremost. Specifically, Black Americans especially want to see companies:

  • Commit to paying all employees a living wage (89%).
  • Increase business with Black-owned suppliers (89%).
  • Provide accessible grievance mechanisms for employees to report harassment or discrimination (88%).
  • Fund local education, apprenticeships, and scholarship programs to support more diverse hiring (88%).
  • Tie company executive pay to progress and performance in meeting diversity and inclusion goals (87%).
  • Increase charitable giving, volunteering, and employee gift matching to organizations that support local Black communities (85%).

The largest gap we see between Black and White respondents is around charitable giving – with 85% of Black respondents prioritizing this issue while only 62% of White respondents do. Between Black and Hispanic respondents, we see key differences in their support for how important certain actions are. For example, while 77% of Black respondents and 60% of Hispanic respondents believe that racial and gender pay equity analyses are important, the main driver of that 17 percentage point difference is in how many consider this action very important. 33% of each group agree that a pay equity analysis is somewhat important, but there was less support among Hispanic respondents that it is very important. Again, we see a greater urgency and a higher recognition of importance among Black respondents.

3. Americans want to see companies take concrete actions and measure their progress along the way.

61% of Americans believe that companies’ commitments to advance racial equity ring hollow without any measures to hold themselves accountable. This may suggest that the public wants to see real metrics tracking performance with the hope that companies can identify gaps and improve. This finding is consistent with our earlier surveys around what the public wants from companies during the COVID-19 pandemic – to step up and show leadership through concrete action by protecting the health and safety of frontline workers through additional financial assistance, provision of PPE, and flexible work arrangements.

Interestingly, there were no significant differences between how Black, Hispanic, and White respondents answered this question (64%, 56% and 63%, respectively). However, people 65 and older were more likely to agree that accountability measures are necessary than their younger counterparts (72% for 65+ vs. 54% for 18-34, 63% for 35-44, 59% for 45-54, and 61% for 55-64). Together, these results show that, regardless of key demographic, a majority of Americans agree that companies’ actions or policies to drive for social change do not carry weight if they are not held responsible for follow-through.

It is essential that accountability be built into any actions around diversity, equity, and inclusion, in order for strides to truly be made in the eyes of the American public. For example, over the last couple of weeks we looked at which companies among America’s 300 largest employers made a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and whether those companies have disclosed a breakdown of the racial and ethnic composition of their workforces. And specifically what representation looks like for Black and Brown employees at 17 of America’s largest employers that released detailed demographic data. We can only start to have accountability on these issues if we increase transparency around corporate performance on these issues. Companies can use the prioritization of the public – especially among Black Americans – as a guide, as well as our list of what companies can do to support their Black colleagues.

4. Americans believe CEOs and business leaders should take a stand against systemic racism.

And as more companies and CEOs release statements of support and commitments for action in support of Black colleagues and the current Black Lives Matter movement, we also asked the public what issues they think corporate leaders should take a stand on.

84% agreed that business leaders should make statements on police brutality as well as Americans’ right to free speech and peaceful protests – issues at the heart of the current movement. But three in four Americans also believe that, in this moment, corporate leaders should elevate diversity and inclusion in the workplace and condemn racism and white supremacy. Overall, Americans want CEOs and high-profile business leaders to speak up and speak out on issues of racial injustice not only in the workplace but in society, as a whole.

We’ve been tracking notable corporate statements here, and will be continuing to build upon this survey effort – along with our ongoing racial equity work – in the coming weeks and months. Click here to download the topline survey results and methodology for the June 8-9 and June 25-29 surveys, and stay tuned for our ongoing updates.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of JUST Capital between June 25-29, 2020 among 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete research methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Fiyin Adesina, Senior Manager of Survey Research.

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