Women of Color Deserve More Than Lip Service

The late U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan brought global business leaders together roughly 15 years ago to lay the foundation for today’s Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria—a set of standards for screening companies for ethical practices. That business must play a role in adhering to high standards of societal ethics is a concept that many corporations champion. But ESG, bold in concept and born of the best of intentions, has one flaw: It really hasn’t changed how businesses behave—especially when it comes to gender and racial parity.

Businesses tout the ESG criteria for everything from community projects to business mergers, but the sustainable investing initiative has not managed well with respect to the human resource model. Equity, especially for women of color, has been less impactful. Leadership must open their hearts and minds to new peers, not as visitors to the establishment, but as individuals who will prepare corporations for the next phase of growth.

ESG criteria and the value of racial and gender equity in corporate structures cannot be discounted. Women of color contribute heavily to corporate profits, yet there is a lack of hiring and promotion in the executive ranks. This leads us to ask: Does the ESG criteria take into account the realities of the world in which we live and do business? And, should the ESG criteria be a greater factor in building executive teams and corporate boards?

White women are being promoted, and many corporations are satisfied that this advancement addresses the gender issue. But when it comes to women of color, ESG stumbles.

While white women are adding their names to corporate ledgers and board rooms, some fear women of color are being teased with interviews that go nowhere. Sadly, for some, this signals a perceived difference. Gen X and millennial professional women aspire to rise through the ranks, but they still face societal pressures associated with childcare and caring for aging parents.

Pioneering women have sacrificed a lot to wrest leadership positions from men and gain access to seats of power, but they grapple with preparing their daughters for a reality that hasn’t much changed since the 1980s. Women of color appreciate the advances of white women in corporate America—movement anywhere is a plus. But if corporations truly embrace the ESG criteria, women of color should be more than the topic du jour for media conferences.