May 17, 2023 - Economy

First look: 6 in 10 want employers to call out racism

Share who say companies are not living up to promises to address racism
Data: Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Business and Racial Justice; Chart: Axios Visuals

Six in 10 employees say they won't work for organizations that fail to speak out against racial injustice, the Edelman Trust Barometer finds in a new special report shared first with Axios.

  • About the same number — 62% — say companies are "doing mediocre or worse" in living up to their promises to address racism at work and in their communities, the survey says.

Why it matters: The findings suggest that most employees favor diversity and equity initiatives even as Republicans in Congress and officials such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) want to punish companies and agencies over what they dismissively call "woke" policies.

Zoom in: Those saying that companies aren't doing enough to address racism rose 8 percentage points from last year, the Edelman survey said.

  • About 65% of women respondents agreed, compared with 58% of men — both increases from last year.
  • Among the employees who said their company or organization isn't making meaningful progress in addressing racism, unfunded (diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives ranked as the No. 1 reason.
  • 73% said employers must ensure diversity across functions and levels to address racism. Hispanic employees (81%) were the largest percentage to agree with this statement.
  • The survey also found divisions between executives who believe companies are progressing on inclusion, and employees who are far less optimistic.

What they're saying: "I think the takeaway for business is, if you thought you were doing well, you're not," Lisa Osborne Ross, Edelman's U.S. CEO and senior sponsor of the study, tells Axios.

  • "Companies should respond by realizing that when you do not have a representative workforce, your work suffers."
  • Those companies that don't heed the call on diversity will "eventually become extinct and irrelevant," Ross said.

State of play: DeSantis signed into law this month a bill barring Florida officials from investing public money to promote environmental, social and governance goals.

  • The bill also outlaws the sale of ESG bonds, a popular way to fund renewable energy projects or lower debt costs for borrowers if they meet gender diversity or greenhouse gas emissions targets, per Reuters.
  • It's part of a larger movement by Republicans to stop private companies and corporations from pursuing policies supporting racial justice, LGBTQ rights and the fight against climate change.

Many companies have backed away from such programs to cut costs or because of political pressure and new laws pushed by conservative Republicans.

Yes, but: Ross said companies that have walked away from such goals "weren't committed in the first place."

The bottom line: The report did find that a significant majority of people — 72% — trust employers "to do what is right when it comes to responding to systemic racism and racial injustice."

Methodology: The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Business and Racial Justice was conducted online between April 4-12 by Edelman. The poll is based on a representative sample of 2,000 adults among the general population, and an oversample of 500 respondents in each of three racial and ethnic groups (AAPI, Black Americans and Latinos).

  • The margin of sampling error is ±2.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the total general population sample; and +/- 2.8 percentage points for the non-Hispanic White segment of the general population
  • The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.4 percent points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the oversample of AAPI, Black Americans and Latinos racial and ethnic communities.
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