Carolyn Berkowitz on Racial Equity and the CSR Field

ACCP President and CEO Carolyn Berkowitz recently appeared on Carol Cone’s Purpose 360 podcast to provide advice and insights relevant to the current state of CSR and ESG.

Over the course of several blog posts, we are sharing an expanded look at some of the topics that Carolyn and Carol covered, including racial equity, the role of CSR within the company, and advice Carolyn has for CSR and ESG professionals at various stages of their careers.

The first blog in the series focuses on the role and function of social responsibility within a company, while this post focuses on racial equity in CSR.

In 2021, ACCP’s research found that 87% of company respondents had changed their funding strategies in response to racial equity movements. What key changes have you seen to internal and external commitments and programs?

Externally, we have seen a lot of progress including adding equity or racial justice as a focus area, layering a racial equity lens into existing focus areas, unrestricted funding, disaggregating data collection by race, specifically identifying BIPOC-led organizations, and bottom-up community engagement.

Internally, we have also seen companies more deliberately recruit for inclusive teams and a more transparent reporting of HR and equity data. We have also seen a growing focus on salary parity and transparency.

These strategies are taking hold we hope will continue.

What about the diversity of internal CSR teams?

Last year we published a report on our original research entitled Advancing Equity in the Corporate Social Impact Profession. There are a few highlights from that report I’d like to share:

  • Demographically, we found that the prototypical CSR leader is a white woman who has a team that is at least 75% white.
    • Of CSR department heads, 56% are white women, 30% BIPOC women, 11% white men, and 6% BIPOC men.  This compares to CEO demographics from the same companies of 78% white males, 13% BIPOC males, 8% white women, and 1% BIPOC women.Twenty-six percent of our respondents worked on a team with no BIPOC CSR staff, and 34% were on teams with less than 25%.
    • Fifty-eight percent worked on teams with none or a few staff coming from the communities they served.
  • There is a gap in the career opportunities of BIPOC CSR staff when compared to white staff in multiple areas. The gaps include breaking into the field and career advancement
    • Fifteen percent of our white respondents said that there are often or always opportunities for upward mobility, while only 4% of BIPOC CSR staff agree
    • 41% of whites say that racial equity is often or always taken into account when considering promotions, while among BIPOC professionals, only 17% agree.
  • There is a difference in the perception of the effectiveness of DEI initiatives among BIPOC and white CSR professionals, including a concern about sustaining the company’s DEI commitments.
    • Only 7% of all participants indicated that their company’s DEI initiatives have been very effective in creating a more equitable workplace. More than 25% of BIPOC respondents indicated that DEI efforts were ineffective compared to 4% of whites.
    • Recognition of a company’s DEI efforts is much lower among BIPOC. In developing recruiting strategies to increase staff diversity efforts, there is a 34% spread between white and BIPOC professionals. One of the only strategies they agreed was happening in their companies was creating a DEI function.
  • There is a concern among BIPOC respondents that the focus on racial equity in companies will be fleeting.

I’m personally observing changes, especially as leadership turns over, but it is more anecdotal and not measured.

What recommendations does ACCP have for advancing equity in the CSR profession as a whole?

Coming out of the study, we made five recommendations for companies and ACCP:

  • Create a diverse pipeline into the field.
  • Create pathways to leadership by investing differently in the career advancement of BIPOC CSR professionals.
  • Advocate for a sustained commitment to supporting DEI efforts.
  • Educate and resource CSR departments so they have the skills and support to deliver equitable processes and outcomes.
  • Build partnerships across industries, companies, and sectors that support racial equity.

ACCP is focusing on each of these recommendations in our 5-year strategic plan and currently reviewing strategies and programs we might undertake for the greatest impact. However, for any solution to get traction,  corporations must make a sustained commitment to take action and collaborate for meaningful change. It is the work I am most excited about and the most challenged by.

You wrote an opinion piece for The Chronicle of Philanthropy on racial injustice in the workplace, saying: “Billions of dollars in pledges will not have the intended impact unless companies also invest in the people doing the work.” What kinds of investments do you think will be most impactful in meeting the bold promises of companies?

There are many pledged commitments for external spending, but too often, a company’s internal spending doesn’t match. When CSR and DEI teams are under-resourced and lack the requisite skills and lived experience, they cannot achieve the stated goals. Companies must build their internal infrastructure to support their external commitments.
There must be leadership buy-in and action for sufficient staffing levels, commensurate salaries, opportunities for growth, and ongoing learning and education. Companies don’t launch products this way. And they shouldn’t make racial equity commitments that way either.
Money will get out the door, but will it have the intended impact? I say no, not unless resources change.

Please share some outstanding examples of companies or programs that serve as thoughtful and impactful initiatives that successfully promote racial justice in the workplace.

Comcast NBCUniversal: The company has committed to transparent annual reporting and diverse hiring practices. People of color comprise 45% of employees, 57% of new hires, 24% of VPs, 30% of Directors, and 30% of their Board.

They have increased their funding to organizations led by people of color by 68% since 2019. The structure of their DEI and social impact departments is streamlined, in that all serve under one senior leader.  They have made a $1B commitment to digital equity, including broadband connectivity, digital skills building, and economic opportunity and reporting on their progress.

T. Rowe Price: T. Rowe Price is a very different kind of story – and company – from Comcast NBCUniversal. T. Rowe Price prides itself on interacting with communities with the same standards of respect and agency as they do with their customers. They are a model for trust-based philanthropy.

Their collaborative community efforts are incredibly powerful and brave. Following the fatal shooting in downtown Baltimore of Freddie Gray (in front of the T. Rowe Price building), which was linked to windshield washers and their interaction with drivers, the collaborative effort was established by the mayor and co-chaired by the heads of the T. Rowe Price Foundation and the Center for Urban Families.

The goal was to eliminate the need for individuals to squeegee by providing positive pathways to work, education, entrepreneurship, and support services while providing enforcement that considers the public safety interests of workers and motorists.

Click here for the full podcast. We will be highlighting more of Carolyn’s episode in upcoming blogs.

Hands of different colors raised

Thank you for your submission.