Image Credit: Thibault Penin
Netflix has my attention. It’s true, it’s had my attention for the hours of binging I’ve indulged in during this global pandemic (hello, Ozark). It’s also had my attention for its leadership in funding and cultivating Black content creators. But most recently, the company has made news for its simple but powerful shift towards a more equitable world. Let’s back up.
When I sit down with leaders at large multinational companies to talk about diversity and inclusion, once they’ve rattled off all the changes they’ve made, the D&I officer they hired; the employee resource groups they’ve launched; the focus on recruitment, I ask them “With these changes, what results have you seen?” This question isn’t easy to answer.
Sometimes, when leaders already acknowledge that what they’re doing to create more diverse and inclusive companies isn’t working, they ask me “Can you point to a good example of a D&I policy that is working?” This question often makes me squirm, because there are few and far between. But also, what is a “good” policy? Is it merely one that yields a more visibly diverse organization? Or is it one that considers the unique way a given company can use its resources to positively impact marginalized communities at scale.
This week Netflix announced one such plan that seems to represent their understanding not only of the structural barriers facing Black communities, but how they can use their financial might to remove those barriers. The multi-billion dollar streaming service announced it would move $100 million of its cash to financial institutions serving Black communities. Earlier in June they pledged $120 million in scholarships for Black colleges and universities.
A recognition of the scale of structural barriers affecting Black and ethnic minority communities is what businesses need right now in their D&I plans. In the US, a 2016 report by the Congressional Black Caucus revealed that Black-owned businesses are three times as likely to be denied loans. When these businesses do procure loans, they have higher interest rates than their white counterparts. A 2017 report showed that just 1% of venture capital in the US went to Black founders, just 0.2% went to Black women founders.
So what does this inequality in financial capital have to do with Netflix, or corporate D&I in general? Everything. With companies like Netflix having $5 billion in cash at their disposal, changing internal HR policies is not enough to create sustainable change towards racial equality. If these companies want to demonstrate their commitment to change through diverse leadership and recruitment, they need to invest in large-scale access to capital and education for underserved Black communities.
Right now, the biggest asset multinational companies have in this conversation isn’t necessarily a nuanced understanding of social theory and racial prejudice (although that would be great!), it’s their cash. Other firms of this size should take a page from Netflix’s playbook and take out their checkbooks.