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HBS African American Student Union Pens Letter Calling on Corporate Leaders to Work Towards Racial Justice

Harvard Business School's African American Student Union called on corporate leaders and executives to work towards racial justice within their organizations and in American society in an open letter.
Harvard Business School's African American Student Union called on corporate leaders and executives to work towards racial justice within their organizations and in American society in an open letter. By Daniel J. Kwon
By Ellen M. Burstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Business School’s African American Student Union called on corporate leaders and executives to work towards racial justice within their organizations and in American society in an open letter published Friday.

The authors of the letter acknowledged the influx of corporate statements in support of racial justice and the Juneteenth holiday and decried what they dubbed “performative corporate activism.”

“During this month, companies are also raising their Pride flags but failing to acknowledge the growing number of Black trans men and women who are being killed across the country,” the authors wrote.

The African American Student Union did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The authors also noted the lack of representation of Black Americans in the upper echelons of American corporations.

“The American economic system of capitalism was built upon racial stratification and this insidious system has led us to today, wherein Black professionals hold just 3.2 percent of all executive or senior leadership roles, less than 1 percent of all Fortune 500 CEO positions, and receive 1 percent of all venture capital investment,” they wrote.

The Business School itself has long faced allegations of systemic racism within the school culture. Dean Nitin Nohria announced plans for an anti-racist initiative in a letter to HBS affiliates sent Monday.

In the letter to executives, the authors asked business leaders to undertake a four-pronged approach to addressing issues of racial injustice in order “to ensure that this is the last generation of Americans who are forced to take to the streets to demand basic human rights for Black people.”

First, the authors urged executives to “escalate” concerns about racial justice to the CEO and board level by publicly disclosing racial equity data and implementing diversity initiatives.

The authors also call on business leaders to “calculate” the success of their diversity initiatives. They wrote that corporations should link leadership teams' success on racial equality initiatives to their incentive pay, “grow the pipeline of Black talent” for executive positions, and collect diversity and inclusion data to determine achievements.

In addition, the letter states that executives should “educate” themselves on the experiences of their Black employees and “lead by example,” demonstrating the “learning mindset they should exhibit as they navigate conversations about race.”

The authors wrote that corporations should also “advocate” for racial justice beyond their internal statistics. The letter advised corporations to appoint a task force to analyze and ultimately address “the role your company has played in perpetuating racist systems,” donate to anti-racist organizations, address disparities in wages and benefits, and align their lobbying efforts with racial justice.

The letter urges executives to attend “corporate racial equity office hours” with members of the AASU.

“America’s demographic future points inexorably towards a more diverse, multi-racial community. We urge you to wake up, step up, and lead your organizations and institutions towards that future. Let us together be a part of the solution,” the authors wrote.

—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

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