Juneteenth Q&A with Nat Irvin
Q: What do you see as the biggest problem that black employees face in the workplace?
Very broadly speaking, the lack of representation of blacks in senior leadership roles within America’s major employers is reflective of the unrecognized talent that exists within America and the black community in particular. How is that in 2020, the nation’s largest health care company, CVS, has no black people on its senior leadership team? There are no black people on the senior leadership teams of Bank of America, JP Morgan, or Wells Fargo. In technology, there are zero black members on the senior leadership teams of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. In total, there are just four black chief executives among the 500 largest companies in the country (NY Times June 6).
It’s not a question of talent, capacity, or whether black people have the skill, ability, and sagacity to lead in the business world. It’s the fact that white America has been unwilling to open the doors beyond a crack. The problem for many black employees remains the invisible glass ceiling which appears, in 2020, to be even more impenetrable than in the past 30 years.
Q: What role should business leaders take in solving racial injustice inside and outside of their companies?
At this point, I’d find it difficult to believe that business leaders don’t already know how they can have greater impacts on social justice inside of their companies and within the broader communities outside. The question is: Are they willing to re-balance their perspectives on shareholder vs stakeholder so that the issues of racial justice are included in their management of decisions? Is the idea of a more just and equitable society as important as they say it is? Do their boards reflect the larger community? What commitments have they made towards strengthening the pipelines of talent in the community? Are they willing to take a leadership role on the tough issues of race in America, or just leave it to others? They have to decide if these matters are important and then act. There are no blueprints…there is an absence of footprints.
Q. Tell us about your Juneteenth documentary? Why did you create it? What is your vision for it?
Todd Mooradian, Dean of the Business School, thought that the University of Louisville College of Business should take the occasion of Juneteenth to challenge ourselves and to do a bit of soul searching. The video is a reflection of the voices from our community reflecting on where we have been, where we are now, and where we could be and perhaps what steps a business school and the university at large should do in this incredibly tumultuous time. What is the role of Business School in the fight for a more just and equitable society?
Q: What does this Juneteenth, 2020, mean to you?
Juneteenth is but a reminder of the incredibly difficult road that black people in this country have traveled, the extent to which others have tried to impede their progress, and yet, after our ancestors managed to fight through each generation, that they were worthy of this place we call home. It’s the story of people who were enslaved, freed, then ONLY to begin again the journey toward freedom but this time facing the chains would be invisible… they would be enshrined into the laws of economics, written by those who had previously enslaved them.