Team JEDI talks to Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) about the role of businesses in achieving racial equity.
The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among numerous others, triggered an unprecedented national movement for racial justice. While systemic racism has plagued American history for decades and is yet to be dismantled, individuals and businesses are engaging in the Black Lives Matter movement and showing a willingness to help change America for the better.
Emory University’s Goizeutta Business school responded to this need for change by creating a case competition in honor of the late John R. Lewis (1940 – 2020). Lewis was born to Alabama sharecroppers in the Jim Crow South, where segregation was enforced by law. He grew up to be a prominent American civil rights leader and politician best known for leading the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. This was a landmark event in the civil rights movement, known as “Bloody Sunday.” The John R. Lewis case competition called for students and corporations to work together to find meaningful ways to address issues of racial justice. Each team was paired with a company to answer, “How can this corporation best use its resources to address issues of racial injustice in one or more of three areas: wealth/income disparities, health outcome disparities, educational / skills attainment gaps?”
One team of HBS MBA ’22 students (William Fields, Ashley McCray, Olutosin Sonuyi, Angel Wang, and Bailey Wilton) assembled in full force to answer this call to action. Fields notes, “One of my goals coming into HBS was to discover how to bring meaning to my life. For me it’s about supporting others and reaching back to minority communities, I didn’t hesitate when given the opportunity to participate in the case competition. It was great to see that you don’t have to go into the public sector to work on issues around social justice.” Wilton commented that “Long term this is the type of work I’d like to be doing, businesses play an important role in matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and the impact they can have, both good and bad, shouldn’t be underestimated. This was an opportunity for me to help corporates make a positive, and long-awaited, change.” The passionate group put all they’ve learned in the classroom to the test. The team, also known as Team JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) partnered with Truist, the 6th largest bank in the US, and were given a $1,000 research budget to answer the question, “How can Truist work to get unbanked and underbanked from minority communities into the banking system.”
Team JEDI’s presentation articulately described the racial wealth gap in America today and the drivers behind this divide. Their research demonstrated that a white family in America is typically ten times as wealthy as a Black and Hispanic household. 50 percent of this wealth gap can be attributed to factors banks, such as Truist, have direct control over, specifically income productivity and years of homeownership. Income productivity describes how $1 of additional income generates additional wealth. For white households, this number is $19.51, for Black and Hispanic households this is just $4.80 and $3.63 respectively. Additionally, Black and Hispanic families buy homes and start accruing equity, eight years after their white peers. The HBS team highlighted that the role banks can play is complicated by the fact that Black and Hispanic communities are five times more likely to be unbanked than their white and Asian peers, in part due to a deep mistrust of the banking system which has historically discriminated against ethnic minorities.
Team JEDI worked tirelessly throughout December and January to put together this fact base and put forward recommendations to Truist for re-establishing trust and addressing this racial wealth gap. Some of their suggestions included setting ambitious goals to ensure representation within the organization, expanding no-fee options for lower-income consumers, and reexamining potentially discriminatory credit policies. Wang commented, “I was so impressed by the willingness of Truist to listen and take our learnings onboard. There is a real desire to change and as students of HBS we need to play an active role in being part of this.” Wang also highlighted that the Zoom format helped foster a more diverse and interesting conversation, she notes, “Zoom was a big equalizer, typically students would have to travel and this isn’t funded by schools, so there is no doubt that a more socio-economically diverse set of students were able to participate.”
The HBS team was rewarded for their incredible hard work with the Audience Prize, worth $10,000. They chose to donate half of their prize to the Advancement Project, a next-generation multi-racial civil rights organization. McCray shared some of her learnings with us, “We can no longer just talk, we need to take action, there is so much information out there to support racial justice, you just have to ask the right questions. As HBS students, we also need to recognize that people listen to us if we’re in the room, this isn’t a platform or responsibility we should take for granted. I am hopeful for the future, all the teams presented compelling arguments for change.”
The Team’s hope is that going forward we continue to question and challenge the status quo, and engage in these honest conversations about racial justice with respect and open minds. We all have a role to play in stopping racial injustice, and the time to act isn’t when we’re future leaders, but now.
Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) is from the UK, and most recently made the move from London to Boston. She loves to travel, learn about new cultures, and enjoys eating her way through cities. She loves to cook and is passionate about great food.