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It wasn’t obvious that a virus from China carried by global jet setters would create tinderbox conditions for the worst race riots since the 1960s. But so it did. Perhaps one reason why: Black adults were more than twice as likely as whites to have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic.
That’s the finding of a Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll taken late last month. The survey found 24% of black adults said they had lost their jobs, compared with 20% of Hispanic workers, 19% of Asian workers, and 11% of white workers. (Full poll results here.) Throw in a race-tinged police killing, and you have fire.
Racial unrest ended up dominating yesterday’s meeting of members of the Fortune CEO Initiative. Among those participating was Ryan Williams–a 32-year-old black entrepreneur who has built a technology-driven real estate investment platform called Cadre, which reportedly has a valuation of at least $800 million. The meeting was off the record, but Williams spoke with me afterwards.
“I could very well have been in that same position because of how I looked,” Williams said of George Floyd. “My professional accomplishments don’t matter that much at the end of the day.” Williams grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and said he had relatives who told stories of their experiences during the Jim Crow days. “Will I be able to tell my children and their children that the world they grow up in is more just? It hit me that we haven’t made that much progress.”
Williams applauded other CEOs for openly discussing the problem, but also called on them to take concrete actions. “Put in place immediate steps that increase diversity and inclusion at the table, actually make metrics related to diversity public, make your interviewing and hiring process public, and incentivize people off that,” he said. That may not prevent the next George Floyd, but “there is no one size fits all solution. There are going to be multiple paths that have to be invested in. As CEOs, one of the best things we can do is start with our own home.”
Separately, thanks to Bruce Simpson of McKinsey, our partner for the event, for surfacing this pertinent quote:
“There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.”
This may be one of those weeks. More news below.
Editor’s note: This post was updated to clarify that it was Williams who grew up in Baton Rouge, and that Cadre’s valuation is north of $800 million, not its assets.