To my fellow CEOs,
My heart truly aches because of the recent senseless killing of Mr. George Floyd and the long legacy of systemic racism that has caused the deaths of countless numbers of Black people and continues to contribute to the generational trauma of so many others.
As CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services, a Black- and woman-owned company committed to changing lives through energy efficiency, I wanted to speak to CEOs, who like me, lead companies of 100 team members or more.
Our companies are the economic engines of our region, state and nation. We help define the way residents live and help determine what community causes are important.
My 20-year old company is headquartered in Detroit, a city with a population that is about 80 percent Black. Part of our reason for being is to empower people and enrich communities. Our core value of Inclusive Stewardship is borne of the belief that we are not just an employer, but a steward of the very livelihoods and thus the well-being of our culturally diverse team members, customers and collective communities.
I fight every day to increase the number of Black people in the clean energy industry, where we are woefully underrepresented. I struggle to realize sustainable profits in today’s complicated business ecosystem. Even so, in 2018, our commitment to equity drove four new, key decisions:
- We instituted a $15-an-hour minimum wage;
- We adopted fair-chance hiring practices for citizens returning from incarceration;
- We doubled down on recruiting Detroit residents by setting a goal of hiring Detroiters for 60 percent of the jobs in our Detroit headquarters;
- We decentralized our company procurement process to spend money with diverse businesses in the communities we serve.
“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
I didn’t say it. Those words are sometimes attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and a slaveholder.
But I live by them. So do so many Black people, and our very hearts long for the fundamental “somethings” we have never had.
Something like justice.
Something like equity.
Something like the basic presumption of innocence.
Recently, in a historic act, the CEOS of some of southeast Michigan’s most influential corporations stood with Mayor Mike Duggan and the NAACP to pledge to eliminate racism and bias within their companies. Nationally, corporations are releasing beautifully crafted statements vowing solidarity with Black Lives Matter. These seminal actions give me hope that our corporate community will be instrumental in expediting the pace of change.
As we grapple with the necessary re-education that I believe is required to trudge the difficult trail to racial equity, Proverbs 4:7 reminds us that “Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding.”
This very scripture compels me to recommend a very quick read, “The Burden: African-Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery” written by Rochelle Riley, one of our community leaders whose commentary and commitment to our city have been profound for some time.
As your understanding of why we are where we are as a country grows, so will your commitment to be the change we all want to see.
I implore you to expedite the pace of change by paying a $15-an-hour minimum wage to improve the lives of Black, working-class families.
I challenge you to drastically improve corporate recruiting, hiring, training and promotion strategies so that all Black families can work.
I encourage you to spend procurement dollars with Black companies so that Black businesses can thrive.
And finally, I urge you to invite Black voices into the rooms where real decisions are made, the proverbial meetings before the meetings, typically hosted by people we do not know in places we do not frequent, the rooms where recipients of inherent privilege make decisions that disproportionally impact those who are not there.
Invite us in. Hear us. And take heed.
But only if Black lives really do matter.
CEO | Walker-Miller Energy