The Verdict: A D&I Rallying Cry

The trial over George Floyd's killing has ended, but experts say it isn’t the time to stop diversity and inclusion efforts.

The killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a White police officer, in Minneapolis last May became so much more than an individual act of violence. The case became a catalyst for worldwide protests about how Black people are treated by police, by political leaders, and by companies. Within weeks of the killing, scores of organizations said they must do better by their Black employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Hire more Black talent. Develop Black individual contributors into leaders. Treat them with respect. Listen to them.

The guilty verdict handed to Chauvin this week led to a wave of relief that the officer filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck is being held accountable for the man’s death. But while the trial may be over, experts say it is not the time for firms and private leaders to believe they can let up on the commitments they made nearly a year ago. “If I had a room full of CEOs, I’d say ‘Don’t you dare say case closed,’” says Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry’s global diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist. “The whole point of systemic racism is that it’s systemic. It’s not just one case.”

In the short term, experts recommend that leaders consider speaking to their employees now. CEOs and other managers don’t necessarily have to talk about the verdict itself, but they should acknowledge that many people are feeling frustrated, exhausted, or both. “There’s a lot of pressure for leaders to have all the answers. But I think people just want acknowledgment,” says JT Saunders, Korn Ferry’s chief diversity officer. “Help them manage through this complicated, historical challenge.”

After that, continue the drive to become a more inclusive organization. The trial’s outcome did not promote any additional Black employees, or help Asian American workers from feeling marginalized, or make other employees from underrepresented groups feel more respected. Since the killing, there has been only one additional Black CEO appointed to a Fortune 500 company. And while a CEO may not be able to mandate police reform, experts say he or she can force a firm to change its own hiring, training, and promotion practices. “These times demand attention and focus,” says Audra Bohannon, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who works with organizations on DE&I issues.

Creating a more inclusive organization often involves upending talent acquisition practices to root out issues of bias. Leaders can review professional selection or promotion metrics, as well as identify and coach unconventional high-potential employees. Such behaviors transcend differences in gender, race, religion, nationality, or social origin.

But Tapia says leaders also need to acknowledge that some White coworkers have fears and misconceptions about their Black coworkers, and vice versa. Being able to look at issues and problems through a cross-cultural and cross-racial lens will help reduce misunderstandings, he says.

If companies haven’t made an explicit commitment to become more inclusive, the end of the trial is a good time to start, Saunders says: “This can be a rallying cry for inclusive leadership.”