One year after George Floyd’s death: 6 reflections on corporate America’s progress

The murder of George Floyd a year ago forced a reckoning among American businesses that more had to be done to take on systemic racism.

As protests unfolded in the weeks following his death, corporate America spoke out against racism and police brutality. Promises were made to invest in fighting racial inequity, supporting minority-owned businesses, lobbying for policy reforms that address police misconduct and accountability, and to provide more opportunities to Black Americans within these companies.

A year later, business leaders are being held to a higher standard and expected to take a more active role against racism.

CNBC reached out to a number of business leaders and activists to get their reflections on the early progress that’s been made in creating more inclusion in the corporate world. They were asked about where companies are making progress and where businesses are falling short. CNBC also asked about innovative approaches each has seen or participated in over the past year.

Doug McMillon has been president and CEO of Walmart, America’s largest employer, since 2014. He also is chairman of the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of America’s leading companies. In these roles, McMillon, has seen not only the steps Walmart is taking but those of the Business Roundtable, which formed a special committee to advance racial equality in June 2020.

“Both individually and collectively, we’ve seen the private sector step up in response to racial injustice and inequity and we’re seeing meaningful progress,” McMillon said. “One of the reasons for the progress we’re seeing is because company commitments and initiatives are being driven at the CEO level.”

Walmart is reporting its diversity metrics twice a year in greater detail. In its 2020 end-of-year report, its officers were more diverse, with a 1.97% increase in Black and African American officers and increases in representation for women and people of color as well. Many Business Roundtable members also are disclosing diversity metrics, and reforming hiring and advancement practices.

“Overall, I’m encouraged by the progress we’re seeing so far, but the structures of systemic racism are complex and deeply ingrained in society,” he said. “There are no simple answers to these challenges. There’s always more to do and so leaders need to ask themselves and their organizations if they can be doing more. And we must continue to go forward with a sense of urgency.

“It’s not that we’re necessarily falling short but, rather, we have to keep going. Change to complex systems takes a breadth of actions over time, and a systems-based approach requires working on explicit structural change (i.e. policies, practices, resource flows), semi-explicit structural change (i.e. relationships, connections, power dynamics) and transformative change (i.e. mental models). Companies should take a shared-value approach, not only investing in the broader community, but also looking to change the way in which we operate as a business.”

McMillon called out the Business Roundtable’s work on policing issues as an example of an innovative approach. The group is pushing to get policing reform signed into law.

“Historically, policing issues have been outside of business leaders’ usual focus,” he said. “But last summer, the BRT established a Special Committee on Racial Equity and Justice that released a set of recommendations to promote bipartisan consensus on policing reform. It signaled that corporate America cannot and will not sit this issue out. We have a moral imperative to ensure our associates and customers are treated fairly in our justice system, and our communities are safer as a result.”

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