JUST Report

Americans Agree That Advancing Racial Equity Starts With Paying a Fair Wage

This report was written by JUST Capital Managing Director of Survey Research & Insights, Jennifer Tonti.

It has been nearly two years since the killing of George Floyd ignited protests and forced a reckoning with our nation’s history of systemic racism. In response, many of America’s largest companies released statements acknowledging the existence of systemic racism in their organizations and vowing to address inequities. Now, nearly two years after the protests, uncertainty remains as to whether companies will continue to prioritize and invest in realizing the culture shift promised just a few years ago.

During our qualitative focus groups held at the beginning of 2022, we asked participants whether they felt large companies have actually made progress toward advancing racial equity in the two years since their initial commitments. Many were dubious. One participant mentioned:

“I would say it’s unlikely that much has happened for most companies, because I think [the announcements] were reactive, I think there were no real strategies or plans put into place.”

For the past two years, JUST Capital has been tracking the specific steps that companies have taken via our Corporate Racial Equity Tracker, which we have updated this week to highlight how companies are making progress and how they’re lagging behind on policies and practices from analyzing pay equity to disclosing workforce demographics to implementing hiring pipelines for formerly incarcerated individuals. The key takeaway? We’ve seen progress over the last two years, but more is needed.

In order to understand how the American public views corporate efforts to advance racial equity – specifically, what concrete actions corporate leaders can prioritize – we worked with our polling partner SSRS to survey a representative sample of 1,202 U.S. adults, as well as an oversample of Black and Hispanic American panelists. 

Key Findings

  • A strong majority (92%) of Americans say that it is important for companies to promote racial equity in the workplace.
  • Across all demographics, Americans universally agree that wages are key in doing so: 77% say that racial equity cannot be achieved without all workers being paid a living wage.
  • 68% of respondents say companies have more work to do to achieve racial equity in the workplace, a slight increase from 64% in 2021.
  • When looking at a range of policies that companies can implement – including pay equity analyses, demographic disclosure, and training opportunities – three-quarters or more say every policy is important in advancing racial equity. 
  • Strong majorities agree that the implementation of various racial equity policies – including equal opportunities for advancement and board diversity – would have a net positive impact on a company’s long-term financial success.

The public supports companies’ efforts to advance racial equity.

In 2022, nine in ten respondents – with strong majorities across demographic groups – say it’s important for companies to promote racial equity in the workplace. Compared to polling fielded in April 2021, these numbers are substantially higher, indicating that there continues to be significant support for advancing racial equity in the workplace, even two years after these issues came into the spotlight (NB: due to differences in sample methodology between the 2021 and 2022 surveys, any comparisons between the two are directional in nature and should be interpreted as such). 

Among Black and Hispanic Americans, there is near universal agreement on this question, reinforcing our findings from last year’s polling on the matter:

 

 

Across party lines, we see strong percentages of respondents who agree that workplace equity is important. And even though Republicans show the lowest percentage of agreement compared to Democrats and Independents, it is still a substantial majority, at 87% – and a significant increase from 62% in 2021.

 

But companies have more work to do.

Improving racial equity in the workplace is almost universally deemed important; yet more than two-thirds of respondents say that large companies have more work to do with regard to achieving this goal, a percentage that has increased slightly from what we saw in our 2021 polling. 

 

 

And when looking at the responses across race/ethnicity, there are even higher percentages for some groups who agree more work needs to be done – 87% of Black Americans and 77% of Hispanic Americans.

 

 

Americans acknowledge that workers of color continue to encounter obstacles to achieving equity in the workplace. Majorities (more than eight in 10 respondents) say that each of the following are problems for workers of color in America’s largest companies: 

  • Being passed over for a job offer because of race or ethnicity (84%).
  • Being passed up for promotions (84%).
  • Being paid less than white workers for doing the same job (80%).

 

 

When we look at this question by demographic, we see that higher percentages of respondents of color agree that each of these issues is a problem. And while lower percentages of white Americans view these issues as problematic, three in four (74% or more) agree that their colleagues of color face these challenges in the workplace.

 

Paying workers a living wage is key to advancing equity.

A crucial step toward advancing equity in the workplace is paying a fair wage – in other words, both a living wage that covers the local costs of basic needs and equal pay for all workers at the same level. A strong majority (77%) agrees that racial equity in the workplace cannot be achieved without all workers being paid a living wage – reinforcing our findings from similar questions in our June 2020 and April 2021 surveys. 

 

 

When we look at this question across demographics, there is near universal agreement among respondents. For example, majorities of Republicans (69%), Democrats (84%), and Independents (76%) agree that a living wage is critical to achieving racial equity, showing that when it comes to workers and wages, Americans are largely aligned. 

 

 

This demographic alignment suggests that paying a living wage is not only a key step toward advancing racial equity but a clear and urgent expectation among Americans, 92% of whom agree that promoting racial equity in the workplace is important overall.

Corporate leaders looking to put racial equity front and center should consider starting with evaluating their employees’ financial health. JUST Capital’s Worker Financial Wellness Initiative – created in partnership with PayPal, The Good Jobs Institute, and Financial Health Network – provides a framework by which companies can evaluate their employees’ financial well-being and ensure they are able to cover the basic costs of living. Additionally, our CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity, which we created with PolicyLink and FSG, provides a roadmap for C-suite leaders looking to advance racial equity in their workplaces and identifies paying a living wage as one of 12 foundational steps corporate leaders should take in prioritizing racial equity.

Other key workplace policies also move the needle forward. 

To advance racial equity in the workplace, majorities of Americans (73% or more)  show strong, universal agreement on the importance of instituting a range of corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and actions. What is more, in the year since we last asked this question, remarkable consistency has evolved in how important Americans consider each policy to be.

 

 

At the top of Americans’ list (for the second year in a row) is a safe process for addressing workplace discrimination or harassment – which 84% of Americans agree is a problem in the workplace and 41% say is a major problem. Second and third in overall importance are providing training and education (92%) and conducting pay analyses across demographic groups (89%) – other key steps featured in our CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity.

Finally, we asked the public whether they believe that these policies would ultimately have a positive or negative impact on the long-term success of the companies that implement them. Once again, strong majorities agree that the implementation of these policies would have a net positive impact on a company’s financial success, indicating that Americans see a clear correlation between equity and market advantage. (Note: These responses underscore the overall impressions of the public, and aren’t necessarily informed by concrete knowledge of the impact of these policies and programs.)

 

 

Two years into our nation’s reckoning with systemic racism, Americans are telling us that racial equity is even more important, with near universal agreement that companies should work to advance racial equity in the workplace. But they also agree that there is more work to do. The latest findings from our Corporate Racial Equity Tracker confirm this belief, showing that while corporate America is making progress in some areas – like disclosing workforce and board diversity – companies still have a way to go to catch up to the expectations of the public and not just talk the talk but walk the walk.

Among the key actions companies can take, Americans widely agree that racial equity cannot be achieved without paying a living wage to all employees. As corporate leaders continue to deepen their commitments to racial equity, prioritizing a living wage is key, along with providing equal opportunities for hiring and advancement, a safe process for reporting harassment and discrimination, and education and training. 

With racial equity a core pillar of our work, JUST will continue to track corporate progress in these areas, while continuing to take the pulse of the public on how they believe corporate America is measuring up – and what they want to see companies do to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive economy.

Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by SSRS on behalf of JUST Capital. Survey field dates were between April 12–15, 2022. SSRS interviewed a representative sample of 1,202 U.S. adults (age 18 or older) for this survey from among its online Opinion Panel, a nationally representative, geographically diverse and probability-based web panel reaching respondents in all 50 states. The survey was conducted via web (n=1,172) and telephone (n=30) and administered in English (n=1,173) and Spanish (n=29). In addition, sample drawn for the web survey was pulled disproportionately by race/ethnicity to obtain oversamples of Black American panelists and Hispanic American panelists. The margin of error is +/- 3.3% at a 95% confidence level. Results were weighted to U.S. Census parameters for age, gender, education, race/Hispanic ethnicity, Census Division and specifically surrounding party identification in order to ensure representativeness of the U.S. population. All margins of error include “design effects” to adjust for the effects of weighting.

The 2021 survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll in partnership with JUST Capital from March 11–15, 2021 among 3,024 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 survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Jennifer Tonti, Managing Director of Surveys & Polling [jtonti at justcapital.com].

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