Whether you choose to embrace and support it or not, the simple truth is that the recent prominence of the #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) movement has brought about a vital mindset shift in many areas of society and, equally importantly, in the halls of power of many businesses and corporations around the world.
For South Africans the spirit of BLM holds particular importance given that our nation is still grappling with the systemic socioeconomic inequalities brought about by decades of apartheid rule.
Against this backdrop, BLM goes beyond voicing society’s shared anger at the inhumane physical treatment of people of colour, which is what sparked and reignited the movement. Rather, it is a rallying call for all members of that society to renew their commitment to and vigour in addressing the systemic racism that is still ingrained in much of the world’s social fabric.
This call is not aimed only at people and politicians. It is also an extremely important one for businesses to heed, particularly given the extent to which the still-dire inequality and income gaps in our country have been exposed by Covid-19
The combination of the pandemic and the considerable attention garnered by BLM compels us to consider how businesses and brands in South Africa are truly positioning themselves to effectively address social, economic and political issues, not least the uncomfortable truth of lingering institutional racism in corporate South Africa.
It is obviously important that businesses take a stand against this scourge. And many have. But public pronouncements and strongly worded staff emails simply are not enough. South Africa needs its businesses to do more, and that demands strong, inclusive and empowered leadership that understands how important it is to make the real changes, and create the real opportunities, that our country’s youth needs to achieve its full potential.
It is an approach that we at Nedbank can confidently claim to be following, and one that is closely aligned with our sincere belief that our success is 100% dependent on our commitment to, and effectiveness in, helping to drive the sustainable development and transformation of the society in which we operate.
For us such transformation goes far beyond corporate social investment (although that is an essential component). It involves a proven and extensive commitment to full employment equity – starting at executive leadership level. It also requires a willingness to invest in, and fully support, a transformed supply chain as a way of extending our impact beyond our immediate industry. And, possibly most importantly, it demands that every leader in our organisation, irrespective of race, gender or physical ability, has a seat at the decision-making table.
Ultimately, one of the main responsibilities that any South African business has today is to ensure it is creating the opportunities that tomorrow’s young black business leaders need to be able to transform the world for good. And the best way to do that is to encourage and enable the black professionals already in leadership positions to challenge the status quo, make meaningful and valuable contributions in the boardroom, and create an environment in which tomorrow’s leaders can maximise their impact and effectiveness. That is real transformation. And when it comes to delivering it, black leaders truly matter.