Why Do Some Corporations Tolerate Discrimination?

Tolerate. That’s a powerful word in the context of racism and discrimination. During my time as a consultant, I’ve had the opportunity to review policies and practices and conduct many DE&I assessments across a variety of industries with organizations of various sizes.

More often than one would like to think, assessment results reveal a perception of bias within some segments of the employee population and the general public.

Whether that manifests itself through diverse talent turnover, equitable practices, or lack of promotion and development opportunities, once this information surfaces there seems to be an inclination or in some cases a knee-jerk reaction to deny or sweep this information under the rug. But why?

There are many reasons that could contribute to this head-in-the-sand approach. Blind spots, denial, ambivalence, justification, and the inability to honestly and maturely look at one’s practices and policies of course play roles. But one aspect that is continually overlooked or disregarded is the profit motive.

Balancing the quest for growth and profits with social responsibility has always been a delicate dance. Most organizations view anything in their operations that are not generating revenue or reducing costs as budget-consuming and not essential to the business, we can thank B-schools for that. And in a majority of cases, DE&I is viewed as less than essential.

In today’s business and political environment, some corporations may worry about negative media attention, facing legal consequences, or being branded as “woke” if they are perceived as supporting DE&I efforts or taking action to address racism and as a result, may not address the very real issue of discrimination to avoid negative attention. Especially when their stakeholders and shareholders would rather have a singular focus on improving profits and growing market share rather than worrying about societal issues.

But is this really an either-or proposition? Shouldn’t a focus on DE&I and growth be two things that are important at the same time? These are ultimately belief systems, business priorities, and moral compass questions that can only be determined by leadership.

It’s important to note that not all organizations tolerate discrimination and racism, and many are taking deep and thorough reviews to address systemic racism and promote DE&I efforts.

However, there is still much work to be done.

Tracy Barac is CEO of Fluency Advertising, a digitally focused diversity recruiting firm, and Account Director at GVC, an Inclusion Business Strategy firm.

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