As issues centered around race, gender and sexuality continue to impact America’s social, cultural, and legal landscape, Black chief executives have joined peers nationwide in taking a formal pledge: they’re vowing to make their workplaces more diverse, inclusive and trusting places. The ‘CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion’ initiative was launched in 2017, and a new wave of activity has happened in recent weeks. They include a “Day of Understanding” held on December 7, across the country. Billed as the largest mass dialogue focused on addressing bias in the workplace, about 150 organizations at more than 1,000 locations nationwide hosted a daylong discussion at their respective worksites. Complete with training materials, various resources and facilitators, the goal was to educate employees, promote greater tolerance and understanding, and build more inclusive cultures inside and outside of the workplaces. “Biases and social injustices in our communities affect so many of us throughout our lives,” said Tim Ryan, head of the CEO Action steering committee, and U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, (PwC), the global accounting and consulting firm. “By creating more opportunities for dialogue,” he added, “we are helping build greater trust and compassion about the experiences and challenges our friends and co-workers are navigating inside and outside of work everyday.” To date, some 500 CEOs and presidents of America’s businesses, academic institutions and nonprofits across the country have joined the effort. Procter & Gamble, Lowes, Mastercard. The Clorox Company and L’Oreal USA, are among the companies who’ve signed on. Black-owned firms and entities participating include Career Communications Group, Inc., Bashen Corporation, INROADS, and The Executive Leadership Council.  The National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable, K12 Inc., and Thurgood Marshall College Fund are among those who’ve taken the pledge, too. These organizations— which collectively represent more than 85 industry sectors in all 50 states, and some 12 million employees— have committed to taking specific steps to cultivate environments where diverse experiences and perspectives are welcomed. The goal is to help employees feel comfortable having an open dialogue around sometimes uncomfortable topics, and have organizations share best practices, as well as what not to do.

Photo of Dr. Aminta H. Breaux courtesy of Bowie State University

For Ryan, such issues have gained even greater urgency after tragedy touched his organization. In September, 26-year-old Botham Jean, an employee of PwC originally from St. Lucia, was fatally shot in his Dallas apartment by a White police officer, who was indicted in November on murder charges. Botham’s death helped inspire Ryan to plan the “Day of Understanding,” which follows a CEO Action gathering last month (November) in New York City. Executives and speakers such as Magic Johnson and Van Jones met for closed-door sessions; they focused on diversity, inclusion and how leadership can champion those principles within their organizations and beyond. Black women who hold leadership posts around the country are taking part in CEO Action. According to organizers, the list includes: Brenda Lauderback, Board Chair of Denny’s restaurant chains; Janet Bashen, founder and president of Bashen Corporation; Viola Maxwell-Thompson of Information Technology Senior Management Forum; and Veronica Nelson of Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering, among others. Dr. Aminta H. Breaux is the first woman president of Bowie State University, the oldest HBCU in Maryland.  Today’s diverse students, she said in a statement to ESSENCE, will become the workforce of tomorrow. “We prepare our students to become ethical and socially responsible leaders who value diversity and function effectively in a highly technical and dynamic global community,” Breaux said. Each of the organizations represented have at least one model program that highlights a commitment to diversity. At Bowie State, its ‘Summer Design and Think Technology Innovation Capstone Project,’ is led by Professor Lethia Jackson; the youth outreach initiative aims to strengthen the pipeline of people of color in the cybersecurity profession. CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion has also unveiled a “Check Your Blind Spots” 45-ft. custom bus that will make 100 tour stops nationwide. It features multimedia, interactive experiences designed to increase unconscious bias awareness and education. The coalition also wants to engage citizens and employees through the “I Act On” pledge—a personal promise that any individual can take “to commit to tackling bias and cultivating more inclusive behaviors in their everyday lives.” Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., President and CEO of TIAA insurance company servicing teachers, is among the African-American executives who called the pledge an important step towards creating a truly inclusive workplace culture. “By supporting an environment where individuals are encouraged to have honest and open conversations, we are building trust, raising awareness and helping employees embrace their differences,” he said. For more info:  


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