In the midst of a global pandemic, there’s one death that has shaken the consciousness of a country and rallied millions of people around the world – the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes.
The protests commemorating the death cut across all fifty states in America and over sixty countries around the world. “I can’t breathe,” one of Floyd’s last words became the rallying cry for protestors who reminded the world that “Black Lives Matter”. The BLM movement has grown over the years in response to the disproportionate police violence on predominantly black men.
The incident spawned a number of conversations – the most important of which is racism. Several brands changed their logos in solidarity with the protests, businesses executives pledged millions of dollars towards anti-discrimination efforts and towards supporting black businesses. And there’s been a renewed examination of race issues, structural violence and the use of force in business boardrooms.
In a break from the past, many CEOs spoke out about the issue, and a number of companies put out statements in solidarity. Google’s Sundar Pichai was the first to order a company level response. Apple’s Tim Cook called on employees to reflect on America’s painful history of racism and inequality. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos all issued statements in support.
Josh Bersin in his blog post reflecting on this issue said that HR and business leaders need to think about the importance of trust and citizenship. He said “As employers, we focus on diversity, inclusion, pay equity, and minority representation. But as citizens, we have to think about justice, society, values – what is right, good, and fair.” The incident and the subsequent reaction holds several lessons on leadership, on addressing issues of injustice and in engaging with social issues responsibly.