Eastern Bankshares Inc., as highlighted by the Washington Journal, knew that their history of POC representation was sparse at best. The Boston based bank, founded in 1818, had a history of racial disparity in bank positions, particularly evident in management roles. The bank’s current President, Quincy Miller, noted, “There are 400 years of inequity. It is not going to be changed in 12 or 24 months. It is going to take hard work and time.”
During Black History Month, after a year of acknowledging the deep trauma and injustices Black people continue to face in our nation, it is our responsibility to look at how our small business culture responds to this reality. Below we have outlined a few ways this company has taken responsibility for pursuing diversity in their workplace, and what we can learn from them.
1. Acknowledging the problem
The bank took a lot of time to acknowledge the racial inequities and make changes to address them. In 1995, after 177 years of operation, the Eastern bank appointed its first Black director, Wendell Knox. His appointment to director propelled the company into addressing some of the deeper divides in their employee makeup, particularly in their leadership. The previous CEO, Stanley Lukowski, remarked that the bank’s board of directors was full of qualified individuals, but they were all white, creating a group that did not cultivate diversity of opinion and experience. As the corporation leaders looked at their ongoing diversity initiatives, they knew there must be more they could do.
2. Seeking help in implementing diversity initiatives
To tackle this huge shift in company mentality and improve diversity, the organization knew they needed help, and they were not afraid to seek it. Hiring a Black president was a great step, one that helped inform the changes that needed to be made on multiple levels of the company. Former CEO Richard Holbrook noted that Knox’s viewpoint allowed introductions to be made throughout the business and community members that otherwise may not have happened.
One of the main areas to address was the Board of Directors. Lukowski, previous bank CEO, remarked that he wanted to the board to be filled with people of business who had the life experiences that could inform the bank’s actions moving forward. Having leaders who faced discrimination and experienced different environments could offer the bank different points of view, informing future policies and initiatives.
Before COVID-19, Robert Rivers, Eastern’s CEO, was regularly attending multiple community events a week. His participation in multicultural networking events allowed him to create relationships and make recommendations for future hires. Rivers helped bring more diversity to the two advisory boards that exist outside of the Board of Directors, getting more POC and LGBTQ+ influence in the boards’ decisions.
3. Addressing failures and places for improvement
Eastern has made great strides toward progress. Some notable successes include that POC represent 1/3 of the Board of Directors, 17% of management committee, and 40% of new hires. The Board of Directors is now 34% POC members, an increase from 4% just a decade ago. Additionally, the bank’s lead director and president are both Black.
While acknowledging these successes, there is still a disparity between the levels of diversity in lower and higher ranks. The company still has no Latinx employees at the senior level. Similarly, the company officials noticed that the way they have quantified the amount of diversity has even promoted erasure of specific groups. In hope of meeting a “quota,” lumping all Black, Asian, and Latinx employees together has obscured the view of the work that is left to do.
Kathy Henry, Eastern’s Chief of Human Resources, summed it up plainly, “We get whiter and more male as we go up.”
4. Keep learning
Lastly, it is evident that this company, through every success and failure, has continued to learn and grow with the changing workplace culture. They recognize that diversity is not a milestone, but a total shift in the collective workplace mentality. Because of this, senior management and the Board of Directors are staying vigilant in pursuing equity in their workplace.
Moreover, company leaders have taken actionable steps to ensure future success. In 2017, they founded the non-profit FBE (Foundation for Business Equity) aiming to address the disparity of wealth in Latinx and Black small businesses. Moreover, they have developed a team to help ensure they are investing in woman and minority-owned small businesses and continue to encourage diversity initiatives in and outside their workplace.
What does this mean for small businesses? Following the above four steps can begin to spark conversations about what progress can be made in your small businesses, ensuring that diversity and equity remains a pivotal part of your workplace.