Courtnee Carrigan says that a shared understanding that racism really does exist in the workplace is a good first step.

In an unprecedented break from the routine avoidance of political issues, major brands across the country have pledged their commitment and their resources to fight racism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and many other Black people by police.

In Columbus, some 750 organizations including the leaders of the city’s largest private sector companies signed a letter to City Council declaring racism a public health crisis. The group of supporters has grown beyond 3,000 and represents a major departure from the sideline sentiments of the past. With businesses putting themselves out there to advance racial justice and equality—supporting employees attending protests and wearing Black Lives Matter garb—many have asked: Now what are these large corporations going to actually do to create meaningful change?

Columbus CEO asked business leaders.

What can powerful organizations with far-reaching platforms do to spur meaningful change right now?

Courtnee Carrigan, CEO and executive trainer, Raising the Bar Performance Group: 2020 has decided that it is going to be the year of the reset, because physically, economically, socially, emotionally and systematically, we have all had to adjust in ways that we would not have seen coming five years ago. I think 2020 is demanding that we come together to actually do some work.

In my four years as a small business owner [doing diversity and inclusion work and executive training], my clientele has predominantly been the private sector. To support the advancement of this work, these white voices should start being anti-racist instead of just non-racist. First, create a zero-tolerance policy and a zero-tolerance culture.

For the July issue of Columbus CEO, we touched base with a number of business leaders on the topic of race. Here's what they had to say.

Franklin Templeton is an example that I use—remember Amy Cooper? (The white woman who called the police on a Black man in Central Park because he asked her to put her dog on a leash. He was there bird-watching.) Amy Cooper ended up losing her job because [investment firm] Franklin Templeton had a zero-tolerance policy for this. And for me, I have been telling friends of mine: I’m not letting go of Amy Cooper.

Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.

Amy Cooper is in every organization, agency and work environment. I have worked with many Amy Coopers. These are Amy Coopers who have stopped Black and brown people from getting promotions, from getting raises. And Black and brown people have lost their livelihood because of the Amy Coopers in the workplace. So, if our white corporate establishment wants to do some anti-racist work, create an anti-racist culture where that is not going to be tolerated and start to look at what policies can you have that protect Black and brown employees from the Amy Coopers.

The second piece of that is, with the racial equity training, I like to talk about creating this shared understanding [that racism is really happening in the workplace]. Because when you do that, it creates clarity, and we can all start from a place of knowing, and not being able to say, “I didn’t know that.” We should no longer be a culture of I-didn’t-know-that. Famous anti-racist scholar Dr. Ibram Kendi says the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it and dismantle it.

Katy Smith is editor of Columbus CEO.