Open Letter to Corporate America: Where do we go from here?

By Johnnetta B. Cole, PhD and IDEA Practitioners

Racial unrest in the US motivated many of you to issue heartfelt messages, statements of solidarity and/or conduct employee town halls and listening sessions with black and brown employees.  You expressed your commitment to ensuring racism-free work environments, frequently calling for a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

You reached out to your internal communications and legal teams and have your diversity offices working overtime. You are connecting with your Boards of Directors and other leaders, discussing the current protests, developing short-term approaches to quell the palpable anger, sadness and frustration your employees are feeling, and are establishing a list of actions your organization will take to respond to the calls for racial justice. To eradicate disparate treatment, and stop the psychological, economic and emotional damage will require more. Much more.    

As a group of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA) practitioners, we have some recommendations for corporate executives. Collectively, however, we must share our consternation that it took thousands of protests sparked by unconscionable incidents of racial animus to get your attention.

We have previously attempted to include the topic of race in our IDEA strategies.  And, while noting your discomfort talking about most diversity topics (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, ethnicity), we have observed that you are most uncomfortable talking about race; choosing to lump the unique issues of black and brown people under the broader diversity umbrella to avoid having a candid conversation about race.

Clearly, denying, minimizing or ignoring racism is no longer an option and you are hearing a resounding message from the many voices that are speaking out globally-- from your C-suite to the entry levels of your organization. The message? The daily racism your black and brown employees live with is killing them literally and figuratively. 

We urge you to develop and implement a strategic action plan, measure outcomes and with incentives and/or consequences, and hold leaders accountable for creating a more equitable and anti-racist work environment.  

We recommend the following approach:

  1. Recommit to, update, or build your global IDEA strategy. Fully support your organization’s inclusion, diversity, equity, accessibility (IDEA) strategies, statements and commitments including sharing ownership of measurable goals and accountability metrics.

  2. Commit to learning and talking about the history of racism.  Undertake a personal course of study and require all of your leaders to learn this history. Incorporate anti-racism education into your portfolio of leadership, management and employee education, and conduct facilitated discussion sessions to pull-through the learning concepts. Agree to plans that encourage, sustain and reward mindset and behavior change.  

  3. Scrutinize company policies, practices and procedures. Look for ways existing processes encourage and perpetuate unequal and inequitable treatment of black and brown employees. The baseless claims against, and disparate scrutiny of black and brown people we see reported to the police (e.g., Central Park, Starbucks, etc.) occur in the workplace as well; in talent and performance discussions, handling of employee relations matters, assignments, promotions, etc.    

  4. Focus on your culture.   Solicit input from black and brown employees and champion a “speak up” work environment. Take action to create and reinforce psychological safety across the organization so that these employees feel they can speak candidly without repercussions. Acknowledge that doing so, for many employees, will be difficult due to years of mistrust and fear of being labeled as angry, militant, not a team player, etc.   

  5. Invest in what you value. Give your inclusion and diversity offices the voice and the financial and people resources they need to effectively lead. Too often IDEA offices have limited budgets, are thinly staffed, and, in many cases, receive limited support from their HR, Legal, Communications, Procurement and Philanthropy colleagues.  Set clear expectations with the leaders of those five functional areas about the level of transparency you want, and the amount of risk you are willing to take to accomplish the strategy to eradicate racism in your organization.

  6. Stay the course. You will no doubt receive messages from some departments, divisions, employees and perhaps external stakeholders opposing any more focus on race. You must trust your decision to focus on addressing racism. You must stand on what is fair and just; doing your homework to arm yourself with the understanding and facts to build support for your efforts and elevate IDEA strategy. 

  7. Be an exceptional corporate citizen.  Take a public stance against racism.  We consider Ben and Jerry’s approach an example of best practice. Partner with, and donate to community organizations dedicated to anti-racism. Examine all of your giving and government affairs efforts to ensure that you are not supporting organizations that are advancing racist ideas or policies. 


It will take commitment, grace, and frankly, grit, to undertake the recommended actions to further and sustain IDEA in your organization.  

“Somebody has to stand when other people are sitting. Somebody has to speak when other people are quiet."  Will you be that somebody? Commit to doing more than issuing a statement or scheduling a town hall. Commit to bold action. Commit to real change.  We stand ready to partner with you.

 1.  Bryan Stevenson, attorney, social justice advocate and founder of the Equal Justice Institute


Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole is the Chair of the Board of the National Council of Negro Women, and former Principal of Cook Ross, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and President of Spelman and Bennett Colleges for Women.

Thanks to this dedicated list of IDEA Coalition volunteers

·   Allyson Wynn, President and CEO, The Wynning Experience

·   Candi Castleberry, Founder Dignity & Respect Campaign

·   Christine L. Bryan, Director of Marketing & Development, Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh

·   Darlene Slaughter, Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, March of Dimes 

·   Dawnita Wilson, Vice President Diversity & Inclusion, JBG SMITH

·   Deborah Dagit, President, Deb Dagit Diversity, LLC

·   Eric Watkins, Executive Consultant, Kaleidoscope Group

·   Lynn Banaszak, President, Caileigh Lynn McDowell Foundation 

·   Lynn H. Harris, President, MOSAIC Coaching & Consulting, LLC

·   Martine Charles, President, Chief Communications Officer, MARC Global Communications

·   Rosalyn Taylor O'Neale, Principal Consultant, Cook Roos, Author, 7 Keys 2 Success: Unlocking       the Passion For Diversity

·   Dr. Sheila Robinson, CEO, Diversity Woman Media

 © Copyright IDEA Coalition 2020

We, the undersigned* IDEA practitioners and supporters

recommend the above approach.

Adaeze Nwakobi

Ade Odutola

Aida Sabo

Alfred Hankins

Alfred Ramirez

Alieu Nyassi

Allison V. Manswell

Amber Haggins

Andres Cisco

Angela Roseboro

Arthur Breese

Arturo Jacobus

Asher Ailey

Barbara Ramirez-Kerecz

Barbara Whye

Barbara Williams Hardy

Bernardo Ferdman

Bianca Stringuini

Brenda Anderson

Camille Chang Gilmore

Candi Castleberry

Cecile Shellman

Chanin Kelly-Rae

Christine L. Bryan

Colleen Schuller

Cory Schneider

Cynthia Augustine

Cynthia E. Williams

Dalana Brand

Damien Hooper-Campbell

Daphne B. Latimore

Darlene Slaughter

Dawnita Wilson

Deborah Dagit

Debra Engel

Deidra Thorpe

Delphia Howze

Desiree Dancy

Dianne Hackett

Djuana Beamon

Eileen Nelson

Elizabeth A. Morrison

Elizabeth Adams

Eric Watson

Erin Santana

Gemma George

Genhi Givings Bailey

Gennadi Nedvigin

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Wilson

Greg Jenkins

Gwen Mcdonald

Hayward Bell

Heather B. Brock

Helena Johnson

Herbert Sims

Holly Brittingham

Howard Ross

Jackie glenn

Jeanette Kilo-Smith

Jeffery Wallace

Jennifer Brown

Josy Laza Gallagher

Judy Heyboer

Julie O'Mara

Kaye Craft

Kelly Sudderth

Kelly Tonina Cooper

Kevin Bradley

Kevin Neal

Kimberly Freeman, EdD

Kimberly Strong

Kirt Morris

Krystal Studavent Ramsey

Kumea Shorter-Gooden

Leslie Traub

Lybra Clemons

Lynn Banaszak

Lynn H. Harris

Mandisa Diggs

Margaret Regan

Mari Marques-Thomas

Mary Frances Winters

Melanie Harrington

Melonie Parker

Michael Davis

Michael Leslie Amilcar

Michele Reeves

Minjon Tholen

Monica Francois Marcel

Monica L. Bankston

Monica L. Villalta

Mydria Clark

Nancy Field

Nicholas Pearce

Nichole Barnes Marshall

Nicole Rogers

Noelle Hylton

Pamela Whitacre

Rachel O'Marra

Randall Lane

Robert Ingram

Ruchi Jalla

Sabrina Saunders Mosby

Samantha Warren

Sandy Harris

Sara Oliver Carter

Schenae Rourk

Sharon Story

Shavondalyn Givens

Sheila Robinson

Sherika Ekpo

Shirley Davis

Simone Morris

Stacey Gordon

Stephanie LeBlanc

Stephanie S. Chester

Steve Humerickhouse

Sunny Slaughter

Talethea Best

Tamika Curry Smith

Tana M. Session

Tanya M. Odom

Thomas Fowlkes

Tia Buckham-White

Tiffany Smith-Anoa'i

Toni Wilson

Tonya Jackman Hampton

Tonya M. Richards

Tricia Ekholm

Valeisha Butterfield Jones

Vidhi Data

Wilfredo Colon

William J. Makell Jr.

*The names above represent individuals not companies.

To become a supporter of the recommended actions above, please complete this form by

August 30, 2020. Upon receiving your completed form, only your name will be added to this website. Thank you for your dedication to creating an inclusive world and working to challenge racism and elevate IDEA, globally.

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