Treasurers at major retailers discuss what’s been done so far and what lies ahead.
Calls for major societal change in the wake of the killing of George Floyd have sparked many corporations, including NeuGroup member companies, to take a range of actions in support of change and racial justice. For some, those actions included the observation of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the US.
- At a NeuGroup virtual meeting for retailers last Friday on changing regulation and business norms post-crisis, a member from a major American retailer described his company’s quick decision to make Juneteenth (June 19) a company holiday.
- Noting that the company doesn’t typically move as quickly, he credited its fast action to its cross functional crisis leadership team which is approaching the company’s reaction to recent events as it would a crisis such as a hurricane or COVID-19.
- The company kept stores open but paid time and half to hourly workers on Juneteenth; other, eligible workers had the option to take the day off with full pay; and the company’s headquarters offices were closed.
- “As we pivoted to this issue, we had to decide if we wanted to follow or lead,” the member said. “We wanted to lead.”
Education and sincerity. One participant, who is African American, encouraged others on the call to better educate themselves on matters of slavery and black history, noting that few on the call knew the meaning of Juneteenth until recently.
- This treasury professional said that what matters is sincerity and action, not talk, taken to address underlying problems. She said there is a difference between “what you know is expedient and what is taken to heart, what is sincere and what is a press release.”
A good start. Another participant noted the pride he felt in seeing how both his current and former employers have tackled the issue of race head-on, including the CEO of the company where he works now urging conversation and learning. “I couldn’t be prouder of how people have responded,” he said.
Accelerated change. In the last few weeks, the national conversation shifted from COVID-19 to racial justice crisis, focused on diversity and inclusion and black lives.
- That, observed NeuGroup founder Joseph Neu, highlights the extent to which COVID-19 has forced business thinking to be open to accelerated change and the urgency for companies and finance teams to embrace a faster pace of change for good.