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6 actions corporations should take to address racism

Business plays an immense role in our national

Business plays an immense role in our national life, and major corporations can play a significant role in speaking out against racism. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Vladimir Obradovic

Amid the current racial strife, Americans are seeking solutions from institutions such as local and federal governments, the police and the courts. But business plays an immense role in our national life, and major corporations can play a significant role here. By this time, big companies should have adopted anti-discrimination policies, issued statements against racism, and beefed up their charitable contributions to organizations on the front lines fighting for racial justice. But none of these steps requires companies to do anything different in the running of their businesses. Surely the moment requires doing things differently if we are to see real change.

Twenty years ago, when I was a chief executive, my company, which is in the residential mortgage business, routinely ranked among the top in surveys of most admired companies and best places to work for women and minorities. Some of the policies we pursued then might provide at least a partial road map today for companies trying to do what is right. Here are six actions that can make a difference:

  • First, make changes in how you do business within communities of color. For us that meant explicitly trying to increase the homeownership rate among minorities. For others it may mean expanded loans to minority businesses, or changing pricing on products aimed at those communities, establishing retail outlets, or scrutinizing the services you provide or the advice you render to see if it reflects bias.
  • Second, make a pledge to have your workforce look like America. Then act on it. That means keeping track of the demographics of your employees, actively recruiting in categories where you lag, and tying performance ratings and compensation for executives to how well they are meeting employment diversity goals. For every hire and promotion, you have the choice to sustain the status quo or to make progress. Make the right choice.
  • Third, confront racism in the workplace. We created a corporate justice system to enforce our code of conduct. The unit took in complaints, conducted investigations and rendered judgments with punishments, including withheld bonuses and termination. Most important, the system was fast and transparent. This provided credibility to our policy of fostering a nondiscriminatory and hospitable workplace.
  • Fourth, after you have completed your performance evaluations and pay decisions, go back and audit them for evidence of implicit bias. Even in as diverse a company as ours, we would routinely find disparities in pay and promotions that could not be justified. So we fixed them on the spot.
  • Fifth, create a constellation of minority suppliers with sufficient orders to enable them to achieve financial viability. Our efforts to create a network of rental apartment lenders led to the establishment of multiple minority-owned firms worth millions of dollars each.
  • Finally, don't bemoan a lack of qualified minorities, go make some. When we could not find enough minority technologists, our chief information officer created a course to teach liberal arts graduates to do the job. And it worked. Today, with the various online education platforms and coding academies, it would be much easier. If Amazon, Microsoft, Google or Facebook truly want more minority developers, they should invest the time and money to train them by the thousands.

These steps don't address every problem in our corporate workplaces, but they can keep companies busy for the near future.

Raines was chairman and chief executive of Fannie Mae from 1999 to 2004.