Everyone acknowledges that discussing social justice and racial equity involves having hard conversations. So, let’s start with one of the hardest when it come to the business world.
It’s nice to release (carefully crafted) statements, create (purposely named) positions and throw (millions of) dollars at the issues. But, how do you really make change?
How do you show that you truly are about being a change agent?
David Gould was recently promoted to chief diversity and impact officer at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment — the owner of the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center, among others, which has committed $20 million to the issue. And he attacked this issue head-on.
“I think there’s a lot of skepticism sometimes when these positions are created,” he told ROI-NJ. “I can say that we have had a lot of conversation within the company, with our managing partners, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, and on down, about making sure that what we’re doing is thoughtful and intentional and is real.
“It’s our goal not just to throw dollars at a problem. We really want to be intentional about how we do business.”
The ability to do this in significant ways is everywhere, he said. And it involves actions that do not necessarily draw headlines. In fact, in many cases, few people know about them. Their impact, Gould said, can be huge.
“Our focus on racial equity and equality really needs to expand to be more intentional in certain areas of our business practices,” he said. “That includes the diversity of our staff and our interns, creating a more inclusive work environment. It includes making sure we’re working with more diverse businesses and finding opportunities to create opportunities for them to grow.”
Using the business community to make change has long been advocated.
In Newark, Deputy Mayor Allison Ladd, Newark Alliance CEO Aisha Glover and Invest Newark CEO Bernel Hall created a jobs portal in an effort to do just that earlier this year. John Harmon, the head of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, has long said that business opportunity ties to equal opportunity — and that business should be held accountable.
Gould agrees — and said you’ll see the Devils, the Prudential Center and the Philadelphia 76ers’ training facility in Camden working toward more equity and equality. There will be more internship and job opportunities for those from underserved communities. More relationships with businesses that historically would have been considered too small for a global organization such as HBSE.
This is the way you attack the problem as a whole — not a sound bite.
“Systemic racism is deeply ingrained in our economy, in our society,” Gould said. “It affects where people live, the opportunities they have, what schools they go to, what job opportunities they have, whether they’re able to qualify for a loan — all of the things that really impact your quality of life and your ability to lead a successful life.”
Take the business world.
“We know minority-owned businesses, because a lot of the things that I just mentioned, tend to be smaller,” he said. “And, when you’re a smaller business, it’s harder for you to do business with a big company … or a university or government. The contracts are too big — and you don’t have the networks to know when there are those opportunities.
“There are just a lot of barriers that are in place. We’re doing a lot of work internally about identifying those barriers, reaching out to the minority business community to make sure that we’re addressing those barriers and being part of the solution. Hopefully, through their work with us and with others, they’re able to build their capacity — and then it becomes easier for them to get more work with us and others. This helps to break down some of these longstanding disparities.”
For everything Gould and HBSE will do behind the scenes, Gould said the organization still will have a public presence, taking advantage of the fact that sports and entertainment figures command attention.
The organization is fortunate, he said, to have major sports teams anchoring both ends of New Jersey. And more fortunate because of this factor: The Devils’ players are predominantly white; the 76ers’ players are predominately Black.
Gould doesn’t pretend that’s not the case. In fact, he embraces it. He said it shows that these are issues that all sides need to be involved in. At HSBE, he has seen that is the case.
“We can only expect or affect change if this is more than just a Black problem or a minority problem,” he said. “It’s got to be an American problem that we all look at as something that we’re committed to changing.
“I feel the current conversation we’re having is more sustained and broader in terms of the number of people that are engaging in it than we’ve had in the past. I really think it’s about meeting people where they are and just providing them the support and guidance to help them continue to learn and grow and be supportive of the change that we all want to see.
“We’re all going to start from different places. The NHL and the NBA are two very different leagues. But I’m really excited, because it seems that both are moving in the right direction. And our players are demonstrating that.”
Which all goes back to the original tough question: Is this about making change or checking boxes?
For Gould, it’s very clear.
“I think the creation of this division shows that we are serious about investing resources and using our voice and our business to help advance these values and these goals,” he said.
Then, there’s this.
“The guiding light of my career has been to find opportunities and organizations that allow me to give back to the community and really advance issues related to diversity and inclusion and economic opportunity,” he said.
“Personally, I’m a Black man. I have dealt with issues of racism and discrimination. So, it’s very personal to me as well. And I wouldn’t be moving into a position or be comfortable working in an organization if I didn’t have confidence that this is going to be something that’s taken seriously as an opportunity to make real change.”