Introducing Our Racial Equity in Action Series

Welcome to our new series, Racial Equity in Action. Here, we will explore how, as sustainability and impact leaders, we can move the needle towards a more equitable and just society. Our series will sit at the intersection of racial justice and social responsibility. It will feature insights from the PGS community as well as external experts and thought leaders. Our goal is that through these shared insights we can better address racial inequity as a part of our day-to-day interactions and careers.

In our first post, I wanted to share some of my findings from a recent stakeholder engagement exercise I conducted. I spoke with students and alumni, current faculty, and external industry leaders as a part of the launch of the PGS Initiative on Equity & Social Justice (E&SJ). The mission of E&SJ is to “leverage the PGS student body, faculty, and partnerships to collaborate and create/produce thought leadership, research, and programs on equity and social justice.”

The discussions brought forward valuable insights and I have summarized some of the findings below:

1. Focus on racial equity

Social justice is defined by the United Nations as “the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities.” There are different ways people are served unfairly by society (i.e., access to healthcare, education, housing, jobs and economic security, political power, treatment by the criminal justice system, etc.) and for a variety of reasons. These reasons include living in conflict and war-torn regions, being born into poverty, the impact of climate change and other environmental factors, and inequality and marginalization.

The ongoing killings of Black citizens by police which led to the BLM protests have been a stark reminder that we have not fully addressed the historic (and current) oppression faced by Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC). This systemic racism is very much top of mind for our stakeholders, as is the responsibility that we share to address these inequalities. As such, we will choose to focus this series and some of our other social justice work specifically on racial equity.

2. We need more diversity in our work and school

I heard very clearly from the entire stakeholder community that they want to see more racial diversity in all aspects of society, including where they work and go to school. Both the business community and the nonprofit sector are also looking at ways in which they can more fully diversify their workforce—at all levels. The same is true for PGS, where we continue to do our own work to address systemic change through the curriculum, student body, and culture.

3. We are all struggling with “how” to talk about race

Some students shared that they desired the skillset/language to talk about race with their peers and in the classroom. I also heard from external stakeholders that their organizations (both on the foundation and corporate side) were grappling with the challenges of having the internal dialogue on the topic of racial justice. Yet, our stakeholders all stressed that these are important conversations that need to take place.

It is our mission at PGS to “educate changemakers to build a flourishing future for all.” At PGS we must equip our students with the right skillsets and learning around topics such as racial equity, because employers need this and also, as one faculty member stated, “so that when they join those organizations, they can help steer the ship a different way.”

4. Diversity and equity need to be part of the sustainability discipline

We are seeing a shift, in that sustainability and impact professionals are starting to address racial justice as a part of their work more consistently. Integrating racial equity fits into existing frameworks we are already using as social responsibility professionals. These existing frameworks include company values, human rights policies, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). In addition, racial equity, much like gender equity, is a lens that investors will apply as a part of ESG to assess companies.

Our stakeholders recognize this shift and the role that they as sustainability professionals must play in advancing a more equitable and just society for all.

I am looking forward to bringing this new blog series to the PGS community. Please feel free to share any feedback or comments with me.