6 Principles For Shaping Racial Justice In High-Tech

Following George Floyd's murder, big tech made a combined financial commitment of nearly $4.6 billion toward racial justice, but little actually changed on the ground. Here's why—and how to fix it.

Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, the national and global outcry spurred protests against police brutality and racial injustice. In response to Floyd’s death, several leaders in the tech industry made public pledges to promote racial justice and adopt anti-racist strategies, practices and policies.

In 2021, Blendoor published a study on 240 prominent technology companies who made a combined financial commitment of nearly $4.6 billion—double the amount of pledges made over the previous six years. Despite these commitments from tech companies, researchers also found that those same technology companies making statements of solidarity had on average 20 percent fewer Black employees than companies that did not make similar statements. Incongruence is one of the common problems among companies who make verbal commitments to racial justice while falling short of what they write and say in comparison to what they do.

As tech companies re-double their efforts to follow through on promises, there are six principles that will help encourage alignment between a company’s racial justice efforts and their goal attainment.

Principle 1: Fighting Systems

Racial justice is about fixing systems of injustice: policies, programs, practices and procedures. All too often, people feel personally attacked when participating in an unfair system that advantages one group over another. And sometimes, it may seem like those interested in creating more fairness, equity and inclusion across the organization instead spend their efforts trying to change people. Those efforts do not tend to create the desired outcomes. In contrast, we should seek ways to transform the culture and systems of inequity by focusing on changes to specific policies, programs, practices and procedures that create the inequity.

Principle 2: Centering on the Historical Excluded

Prioritizing the voices of those historically excluded, with lived experience and directly impacted by the decisions made is critical to avoiding people feeling ignored and made invisible. We oftentimes will attend solely to investors, customers and those privileged and closest to influence and authority. Those farther from power and influence have invaluable perspectives and insights that are needed to produce the best outcomes, including greater innovation and creativity, for an organization. By flipping our priorities and intentionally attending to those often ignored instead of those traditionally (over) privileged, we are centering our efforts on the historically excluded.

Principle 3: Root Cause vs. Immediate Problem

Focusing on the root cause instead of the perceived immediate problem is critical to creating sustainable cultural change. Solving for the immediate problem is an approach that attends more to our sense of urgency to deal with short-term challenges facing the organization instead of cultural and systemic change needed over an extended period. Consequently, the company does not solve for the deep-seated problem that persists despite implementation of new programs and initiatives. The short-sighted approach feeds into the impression that companies are not interested in creating meaningful change or is an intentional “do nothing” strategy that is designed to frustrate and delay cultural change.

Principle 4: Centering Anti-Racist Practices

Aligning our work and company strategies for culture change requires adopting anti-racist and anti-bias practices and principles to build an equitable and inclusive leaders and culture. For meaningful change to be actualized, our work should be based on the best data available and with a focus on race/ethnicity and gender.

Principle 5: Congruence

Companies oftentimes do not attend to the differences between what we aspire to become in comparison to their employee’s lived experience. The written word oftentimes is also valued and recognized over lived experiences. For example, our diversity, equity and inclusion statements, marketing materials and public statements reflect an outward commitment to racial justice, equity and inclusion ideas and good intentions. However, when it comes to the experiences that employees have on a regular basis when it comes to hiring, promotion, product design, cultural experiences, among other aspects, there is a clear disconnect, which leads to people feeling efforts are at best disingenuous or a blatant deception strategy. Intentionally ensuring we act on what we say we are going to do helps to create the transparency needed to ensure consistency and demonstrate a commitment to change.

Principle 6: Inclusive Excellence

A common perspective people ascribe to assumes that the company is lowering their standards to make room for women and people of color to join leadership or the company.  In actuality, adopting inclusive excellence requires that we raise our standards and meet our highest expectations from an equity and inclusion lens. Leadership must recognize that a company’s success is dependent on how much we value, engage and integrate the rich, cultural diversity of people. The integration of different values, traditions and perspectives allows us to tap into the natural brilliance and talent represented across all cultures and communities. We also safeguard that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts are integrated throughout operations.

People fulfill their greatest potential as we uncover social and cultural inequities and the means to remedy them. We also help provide a guide for identifying effective programs, practices, procedures and policies for sustained organizational culture change and greater innovation, creativity and profits. Leadership must recognize that inclusive excellence is critical to the business and well-being of the company as it helps achieve and sustain excellence in services, recruitment and retention, research and development, leadership development, operations and engagement.