Michael and Grady spoke just a few weeks after the death of George Floyd, as protests demanding justice for Black Americans filled the streets and social media feeds were alight with hope, anger, and self-questioning. “What we saw was just a response to really what has been building up in our society for some time now,” Grady said: police violence, the underrepresentation of African Americans in corporate leadership, not to mention the fact that COVID-19 is disproportionately sickening, killing, and impoverishing people in the black community.
These protests have engaged so many people in America, the two acknowledged, and yet resistance to the need to change is fierce, too. “I’m so hopeful that this is something different,” Grady added, “but I’m optimistically cautious that the heavy lifting is still ahead.”
Being good corporate citizens
Corporations have a critical role to play in doing this heavy lifting. “The corporate citizen is a very special citizen in society. It has super citizen rights if you will,” he said. “The corporate citizen lives in perpetuity, the corporate citizen pays taxes at a different rate, the corporate citizen doesn’t even have to serve jury duty, the corporate citizen can’t be handcuffed and hauled away to jail, and no one can put a knee on the neck of the corporate citizen. So, with super rights of corporate citizenry come super responsibilities.”
For Johnson Controls, those responsibilities can span the arenas of ethics, diversity, and sustainability:
Employee experience: Making sure employees are aware of the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, starting with the onboarding process, and ensuring every initiative takes into account its impact on Johnson Controls’ diverse workforce.
Supplier relations: Building strong relationships with women- and minority-owned companies.
Philanthropy: Pouring millions of dollars into black communities in Milwaukee, as well as the United Negro College Fund and the International African-American Museum
“Everything that builds equity inside a company ultimately can build equity outside of a company as well,” he said.
Investing in Talent
One way that Johnson Controls invests in its own future, as well as that of African American communities, is through education: helping expose kids to science and technology careers. (Michael spoke to Ashley Szofer a few weeks before about building the STEM pipeline.)
The company partners with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) such as Howard University, North Carolina A&T State University, and Tuskegee. HBCUs produce close to half of the African American engineers in the United States, Grady said: “If companies are really serious about identifying African-American talent, the HBCUs continue to be that gem — and they need our support now more so than ever.”
“Businesses have to challenge each other to do better,” he concluded. “Businesses are known for competing against each other, but this is a space, when we talk about corporate social responsibility, where we can share with each other what are some of the best practices in order to gain impact in the communities that we serve.”
Listen to the full conversation with Grady Crosby here: