JBG Smith – Guilt or Good Intentions? Corporate Americas Response to the racial justice movement.

by Savoy Staff

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

It’s clear that Corporate America has been feeling pressure to respond to the outcry for racial justice across the nation. Pressure that has resulted in the appointing, promoting and hiring of Black people at rates we’ve rarely, if ever, seen. Companies are noticeably taking some very deliberate actions. From diversifying boards and executive teams, to accelerating career advancement opportunities, Black professionals are seemingly making some long overdue strides towards breaking the proverbial glass ceiling. But the question is, for how long?

For a lot of people, the spotlight on racial justice has exposed a harsh reality. One that has been a part of the Black experience in America for decades. The inequality and disparate treatment that many Black people have come to expect, has now been put on display for the world to see. And people outside of the Black community have, in some cases, been forced to process this reality in a way they never have before. Why? Because it was undeniably caught on video. The response? Guilt.

While it’s indeed refreshing to finally see a surge of Black professionals receiving well-deserved opportunities to shine, the fact is, the vast majority of them have been prepared, qualified and ready to step into senior level roles, advance to the next level, and have a seat at the table way before now. And it’s unfortunate that it took such a reckless act of injustice to create this heightened level of awareness. However, if organizations really want to impact systemic change, they’ll need to commit to much more than simply raising awareness and making a few staffing changes.

Hiring diversity and inclusion leaders, another way that organizations are responding, is only as effective as the company is committed. However as of late, companies of all sizes and industries are announcing their decision to hire – in many cases – their first ever diversity and Inclusion leader.  Many leveraging these announcements as an opportunity to validate their commitment to “doing the right thing” or “changing”.  Only to see these very roles being filled without regard for subject matter expertise, decision-making power, or budget. All of which tells a much bigger story.

One of the things that attracted me to JBG SMITH was our CEO Matt Kelly’s desire and genuine commitment to implementing real, sustainable change. Which starts with understanding that the burden of driving cultural and behavioral change does not fall solely on the shoulders of a D&I leader, but on everyone – employees and stakeholders alike. At JBG SMITH, the decision to elevate and prioritize the work of diversity and inclusion several years ago, was not in response to a moment in time, rather an opportunity to address a real, industry-specific business need. And our goal remains to change the culture and narrative around diversity and inclusion in Real Estate, not just for us, but for our industry.

As the guilt continues to manifest itself in corporate environments, I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. While I’m happy for those who have benefitted (and will benefit) both financially and professionally, I’m disheartened that it takes something as drastic as racial injustice to provoke this level of intentionality.   Which brings me back to my initial question; how long will it last?

Will companies (and the executives leading them) continue to appreciate and value our Black voices and perspectives at the table? Is this progress? Or just another a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
I wonder if, and when, the guilt subsides, will the intentionality subside with it. I sure hope not. But I suppose only time will tell.


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