Commerce and the Coming Cultural Reckoning

Gustavo Grodnitzky Organizational Culture, Socioeconomics

Imagine for a moment that you are standing at the seashore. Ankle deep in water, toes digging into the wet sand, as waves crash in front of you and then gently roll past you toward the shore.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, we’ve seen a few larger waves come to shore recently – in the form of nonviolent protests where people articulate their displeasure with the status quo. These have been bigger than waves in the past.

Now look out toward the horizon – toward the future. Can you see it? What you are looking at is not a wave. It is a tsunami that will change the current landscape and reset the status quo.

Companies large and small are preparing for the coming tsunami and reckoning. As they do, they are beginning to change our culture.

Today, there are only three CEOs who are Black in Fortune 500 companies: Marvin Ellison of Lowe’s, Kenneth Frazier of Merck and Roger Ferguson of TIAA.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Black professionals made up only 3.3% of all executive and leadership roles in the U.S. in 2018. According to Black Enterprise’s Power in the Boardroom report in 2019, more than a third of S&P 500 companies did not have any Black board members.

But with the tsunami coming, companies are preparing for the new landscape. More than “doing the right thing,” these companies are looking at U.S. demographics and seeing what the future will look like. As Peter Drucker said, “Demographics are the future that’s already happened.”

We see these changes in a variety of areas:

Investment: Addressing Inequality

Bank of America is donating $1 billion over the next four years to community programs and small businesses to help address economic and racial inequality that has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Branding: Making Long-Awaited Changes

This year, after long resisting change while waves were crashing at their feet, a handful of large companies have finally acknowledged and committed to ending their brand identities with racist origins. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat all announced marketing changes in light of the anti-racist movement sweeping the country.

C-Suite: A Wave of Resignations

Top editors at Bon Appétit and Refinery29 stepped down after facing claims of racism. The CEO and founder of The Wing, Audrey Gelman, also resigned following allegations of racist incidents and a walkout by employees.

CrossFit’s CEO Greg Glassman was forced to retire from his leadership role following intense backlash from gym owners and athletes over the company’s lack of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Glassman made the move easier for his company by making comments on a call with gym owners that CrossFit leadership was “not mourning for George Floyd.”

Hiring: Improving Representation

Adidas plans to fill a minimum of 30% of new positions in North America with Black or Latinx people, one of several racial equity-related initiatives the company announced. Adidas also said it will announce an additional “target aimed at increasing representation of Black and Latinx people within our workforce in North America.”

Commerce: Adding Diverse Products

Sephora is the first major retailer to take the 15% Pledge. They have committed to dedicating 15% of their store shelf space to products from Black-owned businesses.

The pledge calls on America’s big box retailers, such as Target and Whole Foods, to include more products from Black-owned businesses in their inventories.

What’s Next?

Expect to see more changes, from the boardroom to the shop floor.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, a White man, set the example for others to follow. He resigned from the company’s board and asked to be replaced with a more diverse candidate. Several days later, Reddit named Michael Seibel, CEO of Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator, as the first Black board member in the company’s history.

Additionally, Generation Z, the generation that follows Millennials, will be the most diverse generation in the history of the U.S. If your company isn’t prepared to recruit, retain and develop this generation now entering into the workforce, it will likely join the long list of companies that failed to look toward the horizon and prepare and adapt for the future that is clearly coming our way.

Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!