Colorado business leaders have a ‘defining role’ in battling systemic racism

Like many of you, I have struggled since the video of George Floyd’s death was shared on screens across the world. I stared at my television in disbelief and wondered, “How could this be happening again?” I closed my eyes; I felt ashamed, and I got emotional.

The issues are complex, the answer on the other hand now seems so simple. We got here because the majority let it happen — despite cries for help from our brothers and sisters whose skin color may not look like our own. We have sat silently, and we have not demanded change.

Although I have not personally endured what our communities of color have experienced, I do know the difference between right and wrong. It is with this in mind that I pray we will come together and stand up and be heard, that we will serve as allies and not bystanders. Immediately following George Floyd’s death, I sent an email to all of IMA’s associates sharing my feelings about the need to take a stand against racism. In my 35 years at IMA, I have never received so many responses from our associates — and they were thoughtful, meaningful responses.

Many were messages of thanks, but some also challenged IMA’s role in this fight. I replied to every one of them reaffirming that IMA and me personally, particularly as a white male CEO, indeed have a role to play in this work. We hosted an all hands meeting at which four of IMA’s Black associates shared their personal stories. This was followed by virtual breakout sessions to give time for small group reflection. There were many tears. We were uncomfortable. But the stories shared are real and at this point, we all must be comfortable being uncomfortable.

The events in May did not begin IMA’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work, but they sure put them into a higher gear. Moving forward, IMA will have a dedicated manager of diversity, equity and inclusion. With guidance from the Inclusive Economy team, IMA’s Talent Acquisition group has begun work to improve our recruitment practices to diversify our workforce, and determine what changes need to be made to keep and advance a diverse team.

I believe that business has a defining role to play in addressing systemic racism and I am challenging Colorado CEOs and leaders to join me and leverage their organizational resources to create a more equitable Colorado. As a part of this commitment, I am proud to be among a group of business, nonprofit and community leaders who have pledged on behalf of their organizations to join Colorado Companies Uniting Against Racism. Those who take this pledge are committing to listen, to learn and to lead. We pledge to:

 Improve practices for recruiting, hiring and advancing employees of color
 Encourage diversity and partnerships in our business relationships, and encourage our partners and vendors to embrace diversity in the workforce
 Donate funds to support organizations addressing racial injustice and advancing equity
 Vote, and encourage our employees to vote
 Actively work with and support minority-owned businesses in our community
 Join and partner with community-based organizations advancing racial equity

Improving how we prepare, recruit, hire and advance people of color is the main driver to improve the diversity of our workforce. That’s why IMA also committed to be a founding member of the Inclusive Economy Movement led by Helen Young Hayes and 25 other founding CEOs. While Colorado Companies Uniting Against Racism plans to tackle the “what” of issues such as workforce, education, healthcare and criminal justice reform, the Inclusive Economy is leading the “how” to change, including how to evolve our organizations to be diverse and inclusive, how to revamp how we hire, and advance people of color throughout our organizations, how we build the workforce of the future, and concrete steps we can take to diversify our supply chain and procurement practices to work with more business owners representing all definitions of diversity.

The bottom line: The majority let this happen; it is up to us to course-correct and right the racial injustices of today and yesterday while building a stronger Colorado for tomorrow.  Especially those of us who are white, male, and privileged, we are at a crossroads where we have an opportunity to move the majority to right these wrongs. At IMA, our DEI mission is Diversity: Celebrate it. Embrace it.  Let’s not let these just be words in Colorado and in our companies, but rather a way we live our lives. As leaders, lean into your courage and sign the CEO Pledge and join the Inclusive Economy movement. We have a long road ahead, and we will go farther, faster together.

Rob Cohen is CEO of IMA Financial and a founding member of the Inclusive Economy Movement, a business-led movement seeking to build a more racially diverse and equitable Colorado. 

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