How Should Boards Be Addressing Black Lives Matter And Broader Issues Of Systemic Racial Inequality?

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Dec 20, 2020
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How Should Boards Be Addressing Black Lives Matter And Broader Issues Of Systemic Racial Inequality?

Read the fourth and final summary from the 2020 annual meeting of the Salzburg Global Corporate Governance Forum - Putting Directors to the Test: How Does Leadership Measure Up in a Time of Crisis? The Salzburg Global Corporate Governance Forum was held online for the first time in October 2020

The 2020 annual meeting of the Salzburg Global Corporate Governance Forum took place virtually this year due to the pandemic. At "Putting Directors to the Test: How Does Leadership Measure Up in a Time of Crisis?" from 9-10 October 2020, 58 participants spread across 18 time zones, mainly directors and principals of corporations on four continents supplemented by additional stakeholder voices, explored crisis response and leadership, addressing what it takes for a business to survive an existential threat, and how companies should tackle both the distinct issues and converging risks around income inequality, COVID-19, climate change, and broader issues of systemic inequality.  

This online program – sponsored by BNY Mellon, CLP Group, the Diligent Institute, and Elliott Management Corporation, with university partner Simon Fraser University Beedie School of Business, Centre for Corporate Governance and Sustainability – consisted of four highly-interactive modules that facilitated participants engaging in candid, in-depth, and practical discussions in a conversational non-webinar format over two days. The first discussion asked, "How Should Boards Be Addressing Black Lives Matter And Broader Issues Of Systemic Racial Inequality?"

Salzburg Global Seminar would like to thank the Forum's Advisory Committee members for their programmatic advice, insight, and support in leading these conversations. Members include Melissa Obegi (Chair), Stephanie Bertels, Walt Burkley, John J. Cannon III, Bharat N. Doshi, Christopher F. Lee, Simon M. Lorne, and Robert H. Mundheim.

How Should Boards Be Addressing Black Lives Matter And Broader Issues Of Systemic Inequality?

The harrowing events of this year have galvanized a conversation on systemic inequality that has rippled through corporate boardrooms and executive meetings.  Whether prompted by their convictions and a desire to act as allies, pressure from customers and employees, new expectations for disclosure, or repeated studies demonstrating how diversity and inclusion lead to better decision-making, business leaders are exploring how to diversify their executive teams and boards.  But they will need to do more than attract female candidates or those who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. They must also address systemic inequality and foster more inclusive conversations and decision-making processes.

Reflective of this, on September 30, general counsels of 12 global financial institutions published an open letter calling for greater inclusivity in the legal profession and laying out three pillars to further diversity and inclusion initiatives.  After hearing more about how this statement came about and what it may mean for the firms that signed it, we asked: What can executives and board directors do to help ensure greater diversity and representation among directors and senior executives?  How can boards help to establish and reinforce a culture that makes room for and embraces diverse insights and ensures that they are incorporated into corporate decision-making? What can current directors and senior executives do to mentor and champion future directors and future executives from diverse backgrounds?

Key Questions for Boards on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion:

What does it mean to be an ally?

  1. What investments are needed to help directors and corporate leaders learn the history of key terms and to adjust their everyday speech and language?
  2. How can directors create space, help to amplify key messages, and stand up in the moment?
  3. How can directors build and demonstrate their compassion?
  4. How can directors encourage companies to explore opportunities related to people, purchasing, partnerships, place, and pace?
  5. What new resources or recruiters can be deployed who are more skilled at recruiting diverse candidates?

What is the role of targets and quotas?

  1. Can government-imposed quotas prompt a wider search process, increasing the talent pool?
  2. Can quotas and targets be successful without addressing the underlying structural issues that lead to discrimination?
  3. Is it better for companies to set and monitor their own targets?

How important are public commitments?

  1. Is it important for boards to make a public commitment to combatting systemic inequities?
  2. Is it necessary to tie statements to metrics with financial incentives and penalties?
  3. Should they be reporting on their progress?

How do you build a strong talent pipeline?

  1. Should companies be providing scholarships and other supports to members of historically disadvantaged groups during their time in college and university?
  2. Should companies be making investments at the high school and community level?


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The Salzburg Questions for Corporate Governance is an online discussion series introduced and led by Fellows of the Salzburg Global Corporate Governance Forum. The articles and comments represent opinions of the authors and commenters, and do not necessarily represent the views of their corporations or institutions, nor of Salzburg Global Seminar. Readers are welcome to address any questions about this series to Forum Director, Charles E. Ehrlich: cehrlich@salzburgglobal.org To receive a notification of when the next article is published, follow Salzburg Global Seminar on LinkedIn or sign up for email notifications here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/corpgov/newsletter

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