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'Keep The Momentum': How Mass. Companies Say They'll Start — And Continue — To Fight Racism

The front windows of Dorchester Brewing Company display a Black Lives Matter sign and fist. (Courtesy Dorchester Brewing Company)
The front windows of Dorchester Brewing Company display a Black Lives Matter sign and fist. (Courtesy Dorchester Brewing Company)

George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, but his death hit home for Boston Scientific because the company has nearly 9,000 employees in Minnesota.

“We immediately held listening sessions with our executives,” said Desiree Ralls-Morrison, a senior vice president and general counsel for the medical device maker.

With or without a link to the Twin Cities, many Massachusetts firms say they are committed to confronting racism — even within their own organizations — after Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality.

In recent weeks, companies have filled their social media feeds with black boxes and statements in support of the demonstrations. Businesses say they are examining their workplaces and seeking ways to support Black communities and employees.

For Ralls-Morrison, the conversations that have followed Floyd’s killing aren’t new. She’s the only Black executive at her company — something she’s gotten used to throughout her career. But this time, she said, many white people are starting to see things differently.

“You may not be racist, but if you are not an anti-racist, you are not advancing us to where we need to be,” Ralls-Morrison said. “Being anti-racist is very different than just not being racist. And I think that is a self-reflection that many of them are coming to, frankly — that they have to actively be involved in fighting racism and fighting for social justice.”

To that end, Boston Scientific said it will donate $2.5 million to groups that tackle disparities in everything from education to health care. The company also is committing $1 million to a local social justice fund created by Black and brown executives in Massachusetts.

Ralls-Morrison said the company is accelerating efforts to diversify its leadership ranks, as well.

“There’s so many benefits to diversity in the leadership levels: to ensure that we’re getting different views, different thoughts,” Ralls-Morrison said. “And, in our view, as a company, leading to higher performance and better innovation.”

Companies are thinking about diversity and inclusion in other ways, too.

Lovepop CEO Wombi Rose said he’s now looking to work with Black artists to diversify the Boston startup’s pop-up greeting cards.

“In the past, we’ve thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to try to avoid depicting human forms as much as possible so that we don’t have to have that of issue of how are we representing different people,'” Rose said. “But now, one of the things that’s become clear to us is: That’s actually not equality. Like, we actually need everyone to be able to see themselves in our product line.”

Other companies are reevaluating their supply chains.

“Can we find a coffee roaster that’s Black-owned that we can buy beans from?” said Justin Pronovost, owner of Curio Coffee in Cambridge. “And then we do a little bit of natural wine sales as well. … Are there Black winemakers that we could support and we could sell their product?”

Pronovost said he’s already found some good options.

Many Black-owned businesses have seen a boost in sales since the protests began.

“[The] weekend of Juneteenth, our take-out numbers were through the roof,” said Geo Lambert, owner of M&M BBQ in Dorchester. “Honestly, it was overwhelming at one point.”

Lambert said he hopes the current interest in Black businesses doesn’t fade.

“I don’t want it to be out of guilt that you’re doing it,” he said. “I want you to understand that this is for a bigger cause.”

That’s something Matt Malloy is thinking about. He’s the CEO of Dorchester Brewing Company, which is where M&M BBQ is located. Malloy said his team is now brainstorming ways to diversify the staff and clientele of the brewery.

“We’re going to probably have a coalition of five or seven people that join together to figure out what to do over the next 6 to 12 months,” Malloy said. “Because it can’t stop; we have to keep on doing this. Like, we got to keep the momentum.”

And long-term planning is critical. Tina Opie, who teaches management at Babson College, said companies that want to address systemic racism need to make it part of their overall strategy.

“Because honestly, if all you’re doing is plastering ‘Black Lives Matter’ on your organization or singing a song or doing a video one time, but you’re not looking into institutional policies, then what you’re doing is largely performative,” said Opie, who is also a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant.

Opie said companies need to examine their practices for hiring, recruitment, promotions and raises, among other things.

“You have to have metrics,” she added. “You need to have content experts. You need to have project plans and accountability plans before you just haul off and announce, ‘We’re going to do diversity group and a diversity plan, and that’s going to be great.’ ”

Opie and others will be watching to see whether businesses actually follow through with the efforts they’ve now begun.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 WBUR

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