Washington has work to do on racial equity. Take a look at the data. Compared to white residents, Black Washingtonians are 150% more likely to die as infants, 30% more likely to be taught by a less experienced teacher, 45% less likely to own a home and six times more likely to be incarcerated. Our state’s Black households earn only $0.74 on the dollar compared to white households, and only 1% of the state’s businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs.
Such inequities are widespread and are not explained away by education and socio-economic factors. In fact, the Black-white income gap in our state is greater among those with a bachelor’s degree than among high-school graduates.
These findings and more are part of a new report analyzing the experiences of Black and white Washingtonians across multiple dimensions of life — education, health care, criminal justice, personal finance and the corporate workplace. The data confirm that Black Washingtonians experience racial inequity in multiple aspects of life, the effects of which compound over a lifetime and set the next generation back from the start. The COVID-19 pandemic and recession have only deepened these impacts. There is clear and compelling evidence that racial bias and structural inequities exist in our country and our state. Importantly, these findings reflect the lived experience of many in our community to which we must seek to listen and better understand.
Our nation is engaged in an urgent conversation about racism and how to build an equitable future. Over the past six months, a coalition of Washington’s business leaders have been on a journey to listen and learn; to better understand the causes and impacts of racism; and to put forward a plan to build an equitable future for all of Washington. We have sought the input and insights of Black community and business leaders; national racial equity specialists; data and research experts; diversity, inclusion and equity professionals; and those with lived experience.
What is clear is that we must act. Corporations and employers must own their part of the problem and make changes to address inequity in the workplace. In Washington and throughout the U.S., Black talent is underrepresented in higher paying and leadership positions in the corporate sector. Black employees face barriers to promotion and career advancement, and Black-owned businesses make up a disproportionately small share of corporate spend.
As a first step, a statewide coalition of Washington’s CEOs and corporate leaders committed to a racially equitable future have come together to form Washington Employers for Racial Equity. This growing list of 55-plus companies has set out clear collective goals, including to achieve parity in hiring, pay, and promotion for Black Washingtonians; support Black-owned businesses; and invest a combined $2 billion over the next five years to support racial equity. Knowing what gets measured gets done, the coalition will set measurable targets, assess progress, and publicly report collective results. Finally, the coalition is committed to joining its voices to those advocating for racial equity in Washington.
The coalition will start with an initial focus on Black Washingtonians because of the long history of injustice and degree of inequity experienced by this community. That said, racism impacts everyone and contributes to inequities for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander and many other communities. The ultimate goal is equity and opportunity for all people in Washington state.
Achieving an equitable future will take all of us. We must come together to support changes in public policies and institutions that enhance equity and opportunity. We will need to collectively hold ourselves accountable — establishing robust data and measurement tools to ensure our community is clear-eyed about the drivers and effects of racism, can identify the actions needed for change and can continually assess whether we are making progress.
The road ahead will not be easy — it requires the challenging work of changing hearts and minds along with policies, practices and systems. Words will not be enough — actions must follow. We must sustain our commitment until the work is done. We must listen to, learn from and partner with communities affected by inequity, and we must be transparent and open to change. We’re here and ready to start. Failure is not an option. Racial equity for Washington is achievable, and it is essential to a healthy and economically vibrant future. We begin now, and we are committed for the long haul.