Brunswick’s Jon Miller looks at the landscape of challenges ahead for business.
As the lockdowns of 2020 began, Brunswick hosted a series of webinars looking at the expected societal impacts of COVID-19 and exploring the implications for business. One of the themes we stressed was that the pandemic would trigger a multiplier effect on the issue of inequality—a vicious spiral in which the pandemic would exacerbate inequalities, and inequalities would exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus.
And that’s exactly what happened. The pandemic quickly drew attention to the stark inequalities within many advanced economies: The poorest have been hardest hit by the health impacts of the disease, and also by the economic shocks that followed, even though they are often critical workers on the front lines. The rich, meanwhile, were better able to insulate themselves from the worst of the pandemic—even enjoying a stock market rally.
And then on May 25, George Floyd, a Black American man, was killed in Minneapolis by a white police officer, an event captured on video as it happened. The gruesome footage- shook the world. Mass protests took place in the US against racial injustice, but were also echoed in more than 60 countries—an unprecedented spontaneous global mass response.
Many business leaders and corporations were quick to speak out in support of Black Lives Matter, and against racial injustice and against systemic, structural racism. However, there’s a risk for leaders who speak up but don’t have anything meaningful to say on the underlying economic inequality issues—after all, companies are regularly challenged about fair pay, pay gaps, worker welfare, corporate tax, share buybacks, CEO bonuses or dividends. Responses on racial inequality need the same deliberation to avoid being seen as mere lip service.