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Guests have their makeup done during a Sephora event celebrating equity advisers and social impact partners back in 2019. Al Drago/Getty Images for Sephora
Race and Economy

A year later, how are corporations doing on promises they made to fight for racial justice?

Janet Nguyen May 24, 2021
Guests have their makeup done during a Sephora event celebrating equity advisers and social impact partners back in 2019. Al Drago/Getty Images for Sephora

This story was updated on May 24 at 3:57 p.m. Eastern time to reflect new company statements.

In the wake of last year’s protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, companies began making general statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism efforts. 

Phrases about how companies were standing in solidarity with the Black community or how they were committed to change likely inundated your Instagram feed. 

Some also decided to set quantifiable goals on changing their hiring practices and the businesses they work with. For example, nearly two dozen companies are working with the 15 Percent Pledge — a nonprofit that’s called on major businesses to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. 

“I think there was a consensus and a shared understanding that there have been groups of people that have been disenfranchised by the corporate structure,” said LaToya Williams-Belfort, executive director of the 15 Percent Pledge. 

Williams-Belfort said corporations needed to take real, tangible action for change to actually occur. Which is why she said the pledge’s founder, Aurora James, has emphasized the importance of financial investment. 

There is no central database tracking company promises, with each business deciding whether to share this information to the public through news releases. A year after the protests, there’s the risk that companies may have only been paying lip service to that particular moment in time, and lack the interest in making any meaningful change.

Following Floyd’s murder, U.S. companies pledged $50 billion toward racial equity, according to a study from Creative Investment Research. But the firm says that since then, only $250 million has been spent or devoted to a specific initiative. 

Marketplace reached out to a few companies across different industries, including some that set their own goals independent of the 15 Percent Pledge, to check on the progress they’ve made so far. 

Sephora

Sephora, one of the companies that’s partnered with the 15 Percent Pledge, plans to dedicate 15% of its shelf space, or what the company is calling its “brand assortment,” to products from Black-owned brands. 

A Sephora spokesperson said the company had eight Black-owned brands in June 2020, which included singer Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, and is on track to double that by the end of this year. The Sephora website lists 13 Black-owned brands (if you count Fenty Beauty by Rihanna and Fenty Skin by Rihanna together). Although some of the brands are sold in stores and online, several are sold online only.

The products it added since last year include Topicals and LYS Beauty, according to a spokesperson.

But the retailer sells more than 400 brands online, according to the Sephora website, putting its current percentage of Black-owned brands at roughly 3%. Sephora did not confirm this figure by press time, but a spokesperson did note that the number of brands it sells is “constantly changing.”

This summer, Sephora said it plans to share a detailed progress update on the 15 Percent Pledge, and other commitments it has to racial equity. 

“We began by bringing together the collective knowledge of our leaders and partners to design a plan that will diversify the full cycle of our supply chain – from sourcing and vetting brands, to securing funding and supporting them at Sephora,” a Sephora spokesperson said over email. 

Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble — the parent company of more than 60 brands, including well-known names like Crest, Tide and Gillette — said last year it wanted to reach 40% representation of “multicultural employees” in the U.S. 

In June 2020, that figure stood at 25%. A P&G spokesperson said it is now at 28%. 

P&G is also aiming for Black employees to comprise 13% of its U.S. workforce. That figure was 10% in June 2020, and currently still stands at 10%, according to a P&G spokesperson. 

The P&G spokesperson noted that other examples of work it’s done over the past year include launching “Widen the Screen,” an initiative to “improve the portrayal of Black life on screen to challenge expectations and stereotypes,” and providing $1 milion in funding to Black communities in America that were hard hit by COVID-19. 

Adidas

Adidas promised last year to hire Black and Latinx people for at least 30% of all of its new positions, including those at its subsidiary Reebok; finance 50 scholarships each year for Black students over the next five years; and invest $120 million in Black communities.

When asked about its progress, an Adidas spokesperson pointed Marketplace to a company fact sheet from February with the company’s efforts and noted that the next update will come in June. 

Its fact sheet says it is “continuing to make progress” with its hiring goals, although it does not specify how many additional Black and Latinx hires it’s made. 

The company’s February update noted that it’s also aiming to hire 20% to 23% Black and Latinx employees specifically in corporate roles by 2025, and 12% in leadership positions. (Note: While these goals include Reebok, Adidas announced in February that it plans to sell the company

Since last year, the company has decided to make Juneteenth — the day the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached slaves in Galveston, Texas — a paid holiday for all its employees. It also says it’s contributed a total of $500,000 in debt relief grants to students at historically Black colleges and universities. 

Intel 

Last May, Intel said that it would pledge $1 million to address social injustice and anti-racism across nonprofits and community organizations. 

Since then, an Intel spokesperson said that Intel distributed that money, along with an additional $200,000, to organizations that include the Vera Institute of Justice, Living Cities, PolicyLink, the Obama Foundation, UNESCO and the Greater Houston Community Foundation. 

Intel has also announced new goals, and said earlier this year that it plans to donate $5 million over the next five years to North Carolina Central University, a historically Black college and university, to establish a law and policy center. 

Another new goal includes spending $250 million with U.S. Black-owned suppliers by the end of 2023. An Intel spokesperson said this amount of money would be spent on an annual basis. 

Yelp

Miriam Warren, chief diversity officer at Yelp, said in an interview that the company has been able to reach all of its goals as part of its commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge. They include ensuring:

  • 15% of community events feature Black-owned businesses
  • 15% of the vendors at internal events are Black-owned
  • 15% of its Instagram feed content feature Black-owned businesses
  • 15% of its Yelp’s lists focus on and include Black-owned businesses 

“We’re not a retailer. We don’t have any shelf space,” Warren said. “But what we do have is a big megaphone, a big platform. And we also do a lot of internal activities where we have a lot of say over who we work with and who we purchase from.” 

Warren said they were able to learn about and feature companies like Brickhouse Gourmet Coffee & Tea, Partake Foods and Oh-Mazing Food.

The co-founders of Brickhouse Gourmet Coffee & Tea, for example, were invited to talk with the company as part of a “fireside chat” where they discussed how they started the business and what it’s like being an entrepreneur in their industry.  

Warren explained that when choosing the businesses it works with, Yelp either is sometimes already familiar with them, or it partners with other organizations, like My Black Receipt, that can share the names of businesses they know. 

She noted that Yelp evaluates these metrics on a quarter-by-quarter basis, and she sees the company meeting these goals throughout the rest of the year. 

As for whether this will be a permanent commitment, Warren said the company hasn’t discussed that, but she doesn’t see “any reason why it wouldn’t be.” 

“We want to continue to do this beyond 2021,” she said. 

As for its internal hiring practices, a Yelp spokesperson said it has not shared any of those goals with the public. 

The company released a diversity report in late 2020. It found that as of Sept. 30,  26.8% of its employee population identified as part of an underrepresented minority group, with the number of employees from this group increasing by 13.6% from the same time last year, and the number of underrepresented minority managers increasing by 12.9%. 

Yelp defines underrepresented minorities as those who are “Black, Latinx and Native American.” Its Native American grouping includes “Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders.” 

Snapchat

For the first time ever, the company released a diversity report last July that showed Black people represented 4.1% of their workforce and Hispanic/Latinx people represented 6.8%.  

Snap said that it was committed to doubling the total number of employees from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups by 2025. The report defines underrepresented U.S. racial groups as those who are “Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Indigenous, Middle Eastern/North African/Arab and Multiple Races.”

In a new diversity report released this April, Snap said it has made “21.4% progress towards this goal and is on track to achieve it.” 

Snap has also set new goals, which include increasing people from underrepresented U.S. racial and ethnic minority groups, plus Asians, by 30% in leadership. The report explained that it is including Asian people as part of this particular goal because ”the Asian community is underrepresented in tech leadership roles, but not across the tech workforce generally.” 

PepsiCo

Last year, PepsiCo released a series of goals committed to racial equality, which entailed expanding its Black managerial population by 30% by 2025. That would bring its Black managerial representation to 10%, according to a PepsiCo spokesperson.  

The company said it would add more than 250 Black associates to managerial roles by 2025, including adding a minimum of 100 Black associates to their executive ranks. 

On Thursday, PepsiCo said it’s increased its Black managerial representation to 8% as of the year’s first quarter, and it’s added 28 Black associates to its executive ranks. 

Last year, the company said it would also invest $50 million over five years “to strengthen local Black-owned businesses.” Through its Pepsi Dig In Initiative, PepsiCo said it’s been able to disperse $5.8 million to Black-owned restaurants, and aims to invest $11.4 million by the end of this year. 

The company had also said it aims to double the amount it spends with Black-owned suppliers, with an incremental spend of $350 million, in total, by 2025. This year, it is planning on spending incrementally more than $28 million.

The 15 Percent Pledge: A year later

In an interview with Marketplace, the organization’s executive director, LaToya Williams-Belfort, said she thinks the companies the pledge has worked with have been honest and transparent about “reimagining equity” within their supply chains and overall culture. 

Williams-Belfort said that the pledge, which is a multi-year agreement, has account directors that it assigns to each corporate pledge taker. 

Their partnership agreements state what their goals will be together for each quarter, and they use those goals to track and analyze each company’s work.

“We work with them to make sure that they have all the tools that they need to meet their goals,” Williams-Belfort said, noting that they have quarterly and sometimes even bi-weekly check-in calls. “We use different survey mechanisms to make sure that the pledge partner is staying the course.”

Williams-Belfort said she found some companies are working at a different pace than others. Some companies had an infrastructure supporting Diversity, Equity and Inclusion goals, while others had none at all.  

“We force companies to even make — and I say force lovingly — but we push companies to even make additional investments and time,” Williams-Belfort said. “I will say that it’s important to note that this work is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. It took us many years as a society to get here, to the moment that launched us into this work a year ago. So it is going to take time to do the work in a sustainable, strategic, lasting way.” 

Activists and the heads of diversity consulting firms have been skeptical about whether corporations will actually fight for racial justice and do their part in, for example, closing the racial wealth gap. 

When asked if it was a concern whether companies may lose interest in making change, Williams-Belfort said the pledge is a growing organization and it still gets many inquiries from companies that are interested in partnering with them. 

“So we feel like the momentum is continuing,” she said.

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