Some equity pledges are more show than substance
The local corporate community says it has accepted the call to action for systemic change since the murder of George Floyd in May. “The community has come together to put their values in action,” said the Minnesota Council on Foundations, which lists several new and existing initiatives to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.
But is the corporate community really committed to change? That was the topic of the Sept. 9 African American Leadership virtual town hall panel.
“Black and Brown people are tired of the game,” countered Marnita’s Table Founder-CEO Marnita Schroedi, whose organization works with individuals, groups and corporations on equality issues in a small-group discussion format.
Minneapolis-based General Mills’ website declared that Black employees, Black consumers and communities of color need to be listened to. The company also joined the Twin Cities Corporate & Community Coalition to work on diversity and inclusion and align corporate philanthropy efforts.
“A new and renewed sense of responsibility and action,” is what General Mills Senior Global Inclusion and Staffing Director James Momon pledged. He said the company has spent at least $20 million on Minnesota-based equity projects over the last five years, $40 million in recent charitable giving to advance social equity, and $8 million to help eliminate food deserts across the Twin Cities, according to the company’s web site.
Yet Momon questioned if the money was well spent: “When I think about the impact that $20 million has had, the disparities still exist, and in some cases [are] worse,” he observed. “Is it a money problem? A resource problem? An influence problem? The answer is yes, it’s all of the above. General Mills can’t fix all these issues. We are just one company.”
Jesse Ross, a local diversity and inclusion consultant, concurred that although some corporate leaders are well-intentioned, “I also continue to see people who really want to throw money at the problem [and] put out a statement.
“I know tons of Black, Brown and White professionals who are trying,” continued Ross. “There has to be that intentionality. Sometimes there are companies out here for show.”
“What is equity?” Schroedi asked. “It has to go beyond a multicultural brochure with multicultural cute kids. People need to come together more, but it has to be authentic and it cannot be always centered on White voices and needs.”
Advised Momon, “We got to push our White colleagues to have these conversations among themselves and their families. It’s not bringing the Black friend to dinner.”
“We can be emotional at this moment, but we have to have a plan,” said Ross. “I think we should raise hell in all aspects. It’s not just Black women, Black men, young Black men.”
General Mills since Floyd’s death has pledged to double the number of its Black managers. Currently, 6% of company officers, 15% of senior leadership members, and 17% of board members are Black. They have pledged to increase people of color representation to 25% and double the company’s spending with POC-owned suppliers.
Momon strongly urged the community to hold him, his company and the corporate community to task. “We make public statements, and I expect the community to hold us accountable and to be a check on the statements that we make. We’ve done a lot of talking, but talk has diminishing returns.
“I think accountability is important,” he explained. “It starts with folk inside these corporations holding our leaders accountable for progress. Folk like me and other leaders of color need to be the voice who advocates on behalf of our communities and our people.
“I do think the corporate community in the Twin Cities has a responsibility to step up to the plate,” Momon concluded, “and use both our resources, our voice, our influence to really drive change on the folk who do make policy and set legislation.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.