In 2020, the world was already reeling from a pandemic when George Floyd lay dying on a Minneapolis street. His death was caught on camera so people saw four Minneapolis police officers, including Derek Chauvin, who placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, murder Floyd in broad daylight during a traffic stop.
The killing sparked international and national outrage and protests, some violent, in every state in the U.S. It ignited a fire to stem inequities in the workplace and in American society by focusing on diversity and inclusion in all aspects of American life, including corporate suites.
Jobs in diversity and inclusion (DEI) were heralded as a way corporations could support the racial reckoning that was taking place in the wake of Floyd’s death. They pledged to increase hiring and to provide more training and opportunities to Black and Brown people. Diversity and inclusion became the catchphrases across multiple industries and a slew of high-profile hirings were the result.
But in just the last month, the departure of several DEI executives, all Black women, poses the question of whether those attempts to be more inclusive were a true reflection of corporate priorities.
Verna Myers, Netflix’s first head of inclusion, Disney’s chief diversity officer and senior vice president Latrondra Newton, Karen Horne, a DEI executive at Warner Bros., Jeanell English, executive vice president of impact and inclusion at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and Joanna Abeyie, creative director of diversity at the BBC, have all left their jobs in the last month.
While it appears that the majority of the executives left “on their own” their departures are concerning as Black diversity officers make up only 3.8% of diversity officers in corporate America overall, per a report by Zippia.
“I always say that it is so easy to make public statements and commitments because no one will eventually check if you’re committed to the things that you committed to,” Reyhan Ayas, a senior economist at Revelio Labs, a company that uses data to draw conclusions about the workplace told NBC News. “I can say: ‘I will be fully vegan by 2025’ because no one will ever call me in 2025 and ask me if I’m actually fully vegan. And that’s really what is going on here.”
Ayas’ comments were part of an NBC News story that concluded that diversity efforts across the board are lagging, despite promises made by corporations after Floyd’s murder that they would re-double efforts for a more inclusive workplace. Revelio’s report shows a 40% churn of DEI jobs as opposed to just 21% for other positions.
In Hollywood, actress Yvette Nicole Brown’s post quoting the many stories about the DEI executive departures struck a nerve with her peers.
“In ONE day, FOUR talented, smart Black women lost their jobs — or “left on their own accord” — in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion space. A day after #AffirmativeAction was gutted by the compromised and BOUGHT six GOP-chosen “Justices” #SupremeCourt #ThisIsAmerica,” Brown posted.
When told that some of the women left due to their own choices, Brown retorted, “Thanks for the ‘three of them left on their own accord’ comments and DMs but what we are NOT gonna do, Black people, is act like we’ve never left a performative position once we realize we aren’t making the impact we hoped to make.”
Other actresses including Yvonne Orji chimed in on the comments. She said, “Feels like we are moving back in time.”
Niecy Nash posted “SMH.”
However bad it looks, there are some caveats. At Netflix, Myers will be replaced in the same role by Wade Davis, who was her right hand for the last four years. Without any statements from the others, it’s unclear whether they have simply used the roles to move on to other things and whether or not all of them will be replaced.
In entertainment, at least from what is seen on the big and small screen, there is a more diverse slate of projects than ever before. And at Warner Bros., after Horne’s departure, the global head of DEI, Asif Sadiq, says the company will hire someone to replace Horne as they pivot to more “employee-related initiatives” and will expand its team.
“Importantly, these changes do not alter our commitment to or our plans for pipeline programs and content-driven initiatives — these are fundamental pillars of our DE&I strategy and will continue to be areas of investment and focus,” Sadiq wrote in a memo to the company.
Abeyie’s role at the BBC will also be filled, although it will be the third person in the role in two years.
As for what it all means in the long term across the board, we’d guess you’ll have to stay tuned.
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