EY, a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company, hosted its 10th annual Black History Month Executive Conference on Feb. 25. This year, the theme was “Courageously Leading in Turbulent Times and Beyond: Economic Impact, Social Justice and Corporate Culture.”
The three-and-a-half-hour-long virtual event included talks about succeeding as a minority-owned business, creating paths for upward social mobility, acting as an ally and conducting boardroom talks about inclusion. It also featured a musical performance by Black Violin, a Grammy-nominated duo that fuses hip-hop with classical music. In addition to experts from EY, the event’s panels included discussions with other local and national companies, including The Boeing Company (No. 27 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020).
The event began with remarks from leaders, including Sam Johnson, EY America’s vice chair for accounts and executive sponsor of the Black Professional Network at EY. He celebrated the annual event as a forum for business and civic leaders, entrepreneurs and allies to all share stories and celebrate the Black community’s contributions. He talked about how this year’s theme embodied the responsibility corporate leaders have in leading the fight for social justice.
“As I thought of this theme, I think of the last 12 months. All of us have really been forced to ask the question: Am I doing enough? Am I leaning in to really make change?” he said. “I’m excited to tell you that I’ve seen great things happening in our communities and in corporate America.”
Johnson said he saw many business leaders, especially at EY, leading efforts to create sustainable, real change regarding systemic racism and inequality. He also took the time to acknowledge and condemn the hate the Asian American community has faced over the past year. Johnson viewed the current climate in the U.S. as the third reconstruction — the first being the abolishment of slavery and the second being the achievement of civil and voting rights.
“I think it’s important to stand and stop and think about where we are, and ask ‘Are we going to use our platform to drive change?’” Johnson said.
Next, Kelly Grier, U.S. Chair and Managing Partner and Americas Managing Partner, outlined the many efforts EY is undertaking to address racism both in society and within the company.
She said that 2020’s civil rights demonstrations after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others at the hands of white supremacist systems inspired greater action within EY to use its influence to create enduring change internally, externally and in the realm of public policy.
“We realized then that this was a moment of truth, in which we needed to do more than simply speak of our values,” she said. “We needed to live them in explicit, overt and courageous ways,”
Grier said some of the actions EY took in the past year included:
- Contributing $4 million to four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
- Investing $3 million into 12 social justice organizations committed to addressing excessive use of force by the police, mass incarceration of Black men, economic inequalities and healthcare disparities.
- Working to bridge the digital divide and learning gap for low-income families that had fewer technological resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Donating $1.5 million to United Way, an international network of local nonprofits that focus on health, education and financial stability.
- Launching the EY Entrepreneurs Access Network, an immersive program meant to elevate Black and Latinx businesses by giving them exposure to the EY entrepreneurial ecosystem, resources and investors — currently 121 businesses are participating.
- Evaluating internal talent experiences and business practices to determine where diversity and inclusion are lacking.
Although these actions and others that EY has taken demonstrate a growing commitment to racial justice and equity, Grier said the company knows there is still more work to be done. She said during Black History Month and through the event, EY is focusing on the past and present as well as the future.
“While it’s a time for looking forward, it’s also a time for looking back,” Grier said. “For reflecting and celebrating the incredible achievements and accomplishments of so many Black and African American trailblazers who have enriched our lives and revolutionized our culture.”
Dr. Virgil Wood, an educator and Civil Rights leader also made opening remarks, discussing the gravity and historical significance of the moment the country is witnessing now.
“We cannot go forward acting like the past is not what the past has been, but we cannot build on the past,” Wood said. “We have to build out of the past, and that’s where we are as a nation right now.”
He said influential organizations like EY have an important role to play in “right-siding” what is upside-down, which begins by taking stock of the crisis the country and world are currently in.
To view EY’s Black History Month Executive Conference’s agenda and watch a replay of the event, click here.