A third of Americans think the U.S. has made progress in addressing racism over the last year, according to global communications firm Edelman, which recently released its Trust Barometer on racism in America.
“What happened expectations were so high this time last year or in the summer ... After George Floyd was murdered, the nation rallied, we came together and corporations and brands and CEOs just kept talking about it. And so when you talk about something like that, you expect to see significant change and it just simply hasn’t happened,” Lisa Osborne Ross, Edelman's U.S. CEO, told Yahoo Finance.
The Edelman U.S. CEO believes that the nation is still very much polarized on race.
“We’re still polarized, we’re still seeing racial incidents every single day. And then we’re hearing about things that we know are happening, but then we don’t even hear about them until later. So there’s such a gap in trust in this issue.”
Edelman’s report also shows that Americans do think the media has done a good job in covering the root cause of racism.
“So that was the rub against the media. ... The media was actually seen as perpetuating stereotypes,” said Ross.
“The media was seen as paying more attention to when violence erupted at the protest rather than the peaceful protest. But this research says that the media has a responsibility, if not the opportunity, to educate. You’re talking at the surface about things, you’re doing things at the surface, you are not exploring and talking about the root causes of racism. That was the rub against the media this time.”
When it comes to the role business leaders should play in addressing racism, 80% of respondents said that CEOs should speak out against racism. But Ross says that CEO’s actions must speak louder than their words.
“CEOs have to not just say something, but they have to do something. CEOs have to look at what is happening inside their own organizations.I have to do that every single day. CEOs are expected to not just talk about racism as it exists in our function, but also to talk about other issues outside of their particular business.”
Using the new controversial Georgia voting laws as an example — Ross tells Yahoo Finance that Americans want to see business leaders be part of a larger discussion on social and race-related issues.
“There was a real question about whether the CEO should be getting involved. Over 55% of the people that we polled said, yes … They have a responsibility to be a part of the larger conversation about racism in this country," she said.
Ross tells Yahoo Finance that companies must demand accountability from their workforce in order to make progress.
“It is a zero tolerance. And I think that’s something that we simply have not done. We’ve said, ‘Please look at this, please watch your behavior. Please be careful, please be inclusive.’ But this has to be about accountability, this has to be about KPIs, and quite frankly, this has to be about their repercussions,” she said.
“If you don’t, one of the things I learned early on, in my process is that they always say it starts at the top, but I know that it falls apart in the middle. And unless you get people to really buy in in the middle, and you can’t. I am of the opinion, you cannot force people to do things, but when people see the value of any action, then they are far more likely to engage.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade