How will the CSR community respond to the Black Lives Matter movement?

The Black Lives Matter protests arrived in the UK this weekend, raising uncomfortable and sobering considerations for all communities and races. As the CSR profession continues to drive the world towards a green and just transition, how individuals and businesses respond to racism is critical.

Just 3% of environmental professionals identified as non-white minorities

Just 3% of environmental professionals identified as non-white minorities

The murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests in the US, which have now emerged across the UK, has reignited the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement.

It has left the corporate sector with some interesting questions to answer, especially in light of a renewed focus on “business purpose”. Is your organisation inadvertently contributing to the problem? Is your organisation predominantly white? And what will the response be?

As a white man who writes about, rather than operates in, the sustainability sector, I have no personal experience on this. I have, however, spent my time absorbing the passionate messages that have been born from the Black Lives Matter protests to observe and question my own actions and attitudes towards race.

Fortunately, many sustainability professionals and organisations that operate in the climate and sustainability sphere have articulated the issue with far more precision than I could.

Futerra’s co-founder Solitaire Townsend’s recent piece in Forbes lists numerous responses that business professionals should be making to respond to this “different pandemic, of injustice and brutality”.

In what has been described as a decade of transformation, Townsend notably calls for the creation of Environmental and Social Justice or ‘ESJ’ – enshrined through Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Peace and Justice – to drive new business agendas on climate and society through to 2030.

Townsend also demands that every business leader “visit the private places of our own hearts where bias can lurk”. There's also a need for the global climate movement to reflect this issue through a "just" social transition.

Diversity issues

Merlin’s Group head of sustainability Dare Ilori took to LinkedIn to post that “ the job to deliver a fairer world is that of everyone that values inclusion and equality” reiterating calls heard globally that it is up to the entire human race to stand up to racism and promote anti-racism.

Ilori’s message is echoed by the Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) founding trustee and President of the UK National Union of Students Zamzam Ibrahim. In a blogpost on SOS-UK’s site, Ibrahim states: “So what do we do next? WE. KEEP. GOING. We turn it up. We actively make space for racial justice. We don’t leave this work to Black students and staff – ending racism and white supremacy is all of our responsibilities. We put racial justice at the top of our strategies and comms platforms and campaign plans.”

Those actions are applicable to businesses and CSR teams, which is an area that has historically had a lack of inclusion.

The Centre for Talen Innovation has found that just 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the US are held by black professionals. This shrinks to just 0.8% for Fortune 500 chief executive positions.

In 2017, the think tank Policy Exchange found that “environmental professionals” were the second-least diverse profession in the UK.

There is an imbalance in the pipeline of new environmental professionals that is feeding this disparity also. In partnership with IEMA, the National Union of Students and the Equality Trust summarised that 3% of environmental professionals identified as non-white minorities; in comparison, 20% of all occupants across the working sector identify as non-white.

When looking at students, 9% of UK students in higher education studying direct feeder subjects to environment professions identify as non-white minorities. However, 22% of higher education students identify as non-white minorities.

Amanda Powell-Smith, chief executive at Forster Communications reflected on her organisation’s lack of BAME representation, something she admits she is “ashamed of”.

These types of reflections can be uncomfortable, but Powell-Smith outlines the steps the organisation and others can take to improve.

“Over the last few years, we have been trying to create change by supporting the Social Mobility Foundation, putting in place a blind recruitment process, and only being part of public panels that include women and people of colour. But like so many other organisations, we have been too complacent and must do more.

“We are going to talk about it more, within the business and with our clients, and call out problems, instances of racism and prejudice and take action to rectify them. We’re not going to ask people of colour in our team or elsewhere to explain the issue to us, or seek their approval to assuage our guilt – this is a problem of our own making that we need to take the lead on solving.”

Mother of creativity 

Evidence suggests there are benefits to opening up to this under-represented talent pool.

In 2015, McKinsey’s "Why Diversity Matters" report examined the financial performance of more than 250 global public companies and measured them against select diversity metrics.

The results found that companies listed at the top of the racial and ethnic diversity parameters were 35% more likely to deliver financial returns above expected national industry averages.

Diversity has been labelled the “mother of creativity”, and amongst a corporate profession tasked with repositioning global economies from linear, carbon-heavy actions to a circular, just and low-carbon transition, creativity is required in abundance.

It is clear that this isn’t an issue that can be addressed overnight. It may take long periods of reflection and action to address this imbalance. But there are steps to be taken in the meantime.

We at edie are reflecting on our own role in this area and will endeavour to provide a platform for those voices and are open to suggestions on how to do so.

There are plenty of funds to donate to, many of which have raised huge sums of money. Here are just a few of the more recognised ones to support black people and help the fight against racism.

Black Lives Matter

Black Visions Collective

Reclaim the Block

Official George Floyd Memorial Fund

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

American Civil Liberties Union

National Bail Fund Network or local bail funds across the US

National Police Accountability Project

Know Your Rights Camp

There are also a number of petitions, such as Justice for George Floyd that you can add your name to, in order to show your support.

Matt Mace



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