It's Monday, the beginning of the work week. My job is to focus on #corpgov. But, looking at everything that is going on in our country at this particular moment, it's hard for me to feel like corporate governance means a damn thing right now.
Those were words I tweeted earlier today. Some friends/colleagues jogged me out of this funk and got me focused on how corporate governance can play an important role in today's predicament.
Today reminds me of the day at my old company when a colleague sent an email to the entire legal department to share an incredibly sexist joke. My knee-jerk reaction was to get up from my desk chair and walk out of my office into the hall. Why? I really don't know. I just did it. When I walked out my door, I was taken by what I saw. Literally, every other lawyer was walking out the door at the exact same time. We all looked at each other with mouths agape and shocked looks in our eyes. It was a collective reaction that you can't really explain why then and not in other instances and a moment you will never forget.
Today, we're experiencing something like that moment I just described, but a million times more serious. Americans are looking on at the riots and the triggering events that brought our country to this point in collective horror.
Some corporate leaders are stepping outside of their offices with something to say, regardless of the criticism that will come from the traditionalists who believe corporate leaders must not use their positions to wade into social and political issues or the cynics who will see PR stunts. To list a just few of these leaders:
Apple (Tim Cook)
BlackRock (Larry Fink)
Citigroup (Mark Mason)
CVS (Larry Merlo)
Goldman Sachs (David Solomon)
IBM (Arvind Krishna)
Lowe's (Marvin Ellison)
Medtronic (Geoff Martha)
Procter & Gamble (David Taylor)
Starbucks (Kevin Johnson)
Target (Brian Cornell)
Uber (Dara Khosrowshahi)
Western Union (Hikmet Ersek)
The messages from these statements all focus on:
Diversity, inclusion, tolerance, and nondiscrimination in the workplace.
Concern for the communities, both geographic and demographic, impacted by these events.
Support for employees grappling with and trying to make sense of it all at the human level.
Even for the companies where their facilities have been looted and ransacked, the message is not one of enforcing law and order; it is one of empathy.
I believe these leaders wrote these messages themselves and the feelings they express are genuine. To these and other corporate leaders who have spoken out and signed their names to these statements, thank you for your leadership.
What these messages show is that corporate governance can mean something right now. Like with past social causes (e.g., affirmative action, equal protections and benefits for same-sex couples, immigration), corporate leaders can demonstrate real leadership when the leadership we need from our political leaders is absent or misguided.
In recent years, we have seen more examples of corporate leaders weighing in on social and political issues. The reaction from the corporate community about today's racial injustice is part of that trend, but will not set an entirely new standard or precedent. Today was a singular moment in history when the entire country had a collective reaction to the treatment of African Americans in today's America. Thankfully, the reaction was more about unity than anything else.