A New York Times op-ed argues companies should hire more Black leadership for the cause of racial justice. Ava DeSantis writes: let’s start with improved working conditions.
Today in the New York Times, Greg Bensinger penned an op-ed calling for corporations to put their money where their mouths are on Black Lives Matter, by hiring more Black employees in leadership positions. While I agree that many corporations’ statements in support of the movement are simply posturing for the benefit of their customers, Bensinger’s suggestion misses the point. Making improvements to the treatment of low-wage workers will always have a bigger impact than improving representation in the boardroom.
Take Amazon, for example. Bensinger complains that only 8.3% of Amazon’s managerial roles are filled by Black employees. He argues that this is consistent with a larger failure of corporations to hire Black employees in leadership positions. I’d like to point you to the racial makeup of Amazon overall.
Amazon does not release data broken down by role, but we can assume that there are more workers than managers in each warehouse. Overall, 26.5% of Amazon employees are Black, which is a high figure, considering only 13% of the total US population is Black.
In these warehouses, workers face dangerous conditions for poverty wages. Pickers, the employees who take items off the shelves to be shipped, are expected to pick one item every seven seconds. They are monitored by an algorithm, and those who fall behind multiple times are fired routinely.
Jimpat Lacewell, a worker at the Staten Island facility, asked to describe the conditions at Amazon, said: “I would rather go back to a state correctional facility and work for 18 cents an hour than do that job.” The average wage of an Amazon warehouse worker at the Queens, NY facility adds to $29, 481 per year. The average monthly rent in Queens exceeds this salary, at $36,192 per year.
Even if you don’t care about workers, better wages and conditions are how you get representation in higher-up positions. As I’m sure Bensigner would agree, the reason boardrooms are so white isn’t due to any fictional racial hierarchy, it’s because of the real economic hierarchy built on the exploitation of black labor for white gain, beginning in 1619. If you want more representation, pay low-wage workers more. That’s how families save and send their children to college. And that’s how their children become CEOs.