Time for Action on Equity – and Results

We are in the midst of a racial reckoning in America. There is a broader recognition of and concern for the systemic racism that persists and the vast racial disparities that result. A deeper commitment to addressing these inequities has emerged, together with a societal expectation that we must.

As a society, we have a moral imperative to act on equity. We all should be moved by that imperative: by the murder of George Floyd and so many other Black people at the hands of the police and by the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic. We should be moved by the vast disparities in income and wealth and health as well as education and housing, criminal justice and environmental justice, and opportunities that have been tolerated for far too long.

The various levels of government that serve us also have an institutional imperative to act on equity. Government is unique in that it is the one institution that represents all of us. Its purpose is to support us, protect us and empower us – all of us. Consequently, government has a special responsibility to take action. Many in the public sector are doing so.

One of my clients, the City of Salem, Massachusetts, recently established a Race Equity Task Force that is charged with reviewing all City policies, services, ordinances and systems for inequities and making recommendations to address them. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently enacted police reform legislation. The City of Boston is taking new steps to rectify its dismal record of contracting with minority-owned businesses for the provision of goods and services.

These steps and many others being taken by governments are encouraging. Governments are acting in their roles as regulators, as employers and as market participants. It is our responsibility as citizens to hold our governments accountable for making sure these actions lead to positive results.

The private sector has a role to play, too. Aside from the moral imperative to be part of the solution, those in the private sector have a business imperative to act on equity. There are notable signs that more and more consumers, clients, investors and businesses are prepared to make decisions based on the actions a company takes and the results it achieves in addressing inequities. Businesses need to be part of the solution, or their bottom lines will suffer.

Coca-Cola just provided one of those notable signs. Its new general counsel, Bradley Gayton, recently issued a directive to the law firms that work as the company’s outside counsel requiring that at least 30% of time billed for their account must be by attorneys who are diverse by gender, race, LGBTQ or disability status, and at least 15% must be billed by Black lawyers. The directive also requires that at least 15% of all new relationship partner candidates who receive origination or matter credit must be Black lawyers.

In issuing the directive, Coca-Cola made the following statement: “As a consumer of legal services, we believe that diversity of talent on our legal matters is a critical factor to driving better business outcomes. We will no longer celebrate good intentions or highly unproductive efforts that haven’t and aren’t likely to produce better diverse staffing. Quite simply, we are no longer interested in discussing motivations, programs or excuses for little to no progress – it’s the results that we are demanding and will measure going forward.”

Other companies are also raising the bar. Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a non-profit working to transform leadership pipelines and increase access to the American Dream, recently announced that 25 major employers have committed to attaining MLT’s Black Equity at Work Certification. MLT developed the certification with the Boston Consulting Group. The certification requires that employers take a systematic and comprehensive approach to increasing Black equity and making measurable progress in the areas of people, purchasing and philanthropy. Some of the participating companies include BlackRock, Deloitte, Nike and State Street.

The Boston Chamber of Commerce recently established the Pacesetters program for interested members. The program’s vision is to close the racial wealth gap in one generation, make at least 10% of all business and government contracts with businesses of color in Massachusetts within five years, and have 20% of the state’s largest minority-owned businesses generate over $50M of annual revenue within five years. Participating “Pacesetter” companies are helping to achieve this vision by using their purchasing power to contract with more in-state businesses of color for goods and services. John Hancock, Tufts Health Plan, Northeastern University, Gilbane, Citizens Bank and the Boston Red Sox are just some of the Chamber’s Pacesetters.

There are many ways in which we all – individuals, governments, non-profits and businesses – can contribute to achieving racial equity. We can, we should and we must.

Jay Gonzalez, Partner in the Public Finance Group and member of the firm’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.


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