Microsoft’s Annual Report: ‘Racial Equity Initiative: Strengthening Our Communities’

Written by Fred Humphries – Corporate Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs For the original Article click here.

This past year has been difficult for many of us in the Black and African American communities. Technology brought images of violence against our community to the forefront of the public consciousness, and the pandemic revealed its deep economic fault lines. At times, the depth of the systemic racial inequality that has occurred in the United States for five centuries and still exists today can feel overwhelming. We have an opportunity to harness data and technology to accelerate and scale equitable solutions. That change starts with each of us. What motivates me is my African American son and daughter and what they experience in society. To work on racial equity issues every day and, in some small way, help improve things for them and the generations to follow, is what every dad wants. I’m also incredibly inspired and humbled by Microsoft’s employees, community leaders and partners who are channeling their impatience into action to address racial inequity.

Today, I’m sharing progress about some of our work with the release of Microsoft’s Racial Equity Initiative: Strengthening Our Communities report, focusing on justice reform, affordable broadband, skills and education, and nonprofit empowerment. During this first year of our five-year initiative, we have deeply engaged with employees, expanded existing programs and piloted new ones, hired new employees to focus on this work, developed new partnerships and deepened existing ones.

We are proud of the work we’ve done to set the foundation for the years ahead. We recognize that the company is at the very beginning of a sustained, long-term effort to help improve the lives of Black and African American people in the United States. We don’t have all the answers, but with data, innovation, partnership and a focus on policy, we believe we can help accelerate systemic change. And we are committed to being transparent, holding ourselves accountable and sharing what we learn along the way.

‘Seeing injustice in the world calls us all to take action, as individuals and as a company.’ – Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

This work is part of a series of commitments that our CEO Satya Nadella outlined in 2020 as part of a new Racial Equity Initiative, designed to address the racial injustice and inequity experienced by racial and ethnic minorities in the US, including Black and African American communities. We developed a set of actions that we believe are meaningful to improve the lived experience at Microsoft, as well as help improve the lives of Black and African Americans in the communities in which we live and work. We are centering our work specifically on three multiyear sustained efforts including: Increasing representation and strengthening a culture of inclusion, led by Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft executive vice president, human resources; engaging our ecosystem by using our balance sheet and working with suppliers and partners to extend the vision for societal change, led by Amy Hood, Microsoft executive vice president and chief financial officer; and strengthening our communities, led by Microsoft President Brad Smith and an effort for which I’m the executive sponsor. You can learn more about the Racial Equity Initiative here.

Key learnings: Sustainable impact requires working at scale  

Prior to announcing the Racial Equity Initiative, we sought out significant input and feedback from our employees, the community, our partners and experts. Throughout the development and expansion of our programs, we continued to engage this feedback loop. This “listen first” approach helped us identify what was working and how to adjust our initial assumptions when needed. For instance, we initially set out to address broadband affordability. After listening to the needs of the people in the communities in which we were working, we realized that providing a connection to broadband was not enough. We needed to work with our partners to make available affordable computers and other devices, as well as provide skills training. This holistic approach of going from connection to devices to skills will help more people realize the benefit of a broadband connection and the positive impact it can have on education, economic opportunities and more.

As we began working with nonprofits on their digital transformations, we learned that there was a significant demand for technology solutions to modernize and streamline their operations so they can spend more time delivering on their mission. We realized that to better reach the nonprofits we hoped to help, we need to raise greater awareness about the programs. We reached out to foundations and sought to create an understanding of the importance of technology to achieve sustainable racial equity. The result was that foundations educated their grantees about the opportunity and triggered additional investment in this effort.

Looking ahead

A significant learning from the past year centers on what it will take to accelerate systemic change. Our partnerships with nonprofit organizations, schools, colleges and universities, and small businesses were critical to test our theories of change for each focus area and accelerate direct impact. We came to realize that we could meet the goals we set, helping hundreds of thousands of people in the select communities we were operating in, but it wouldn’t be enough. We also need to take what we learn from those pilots and use it to help drive systemic change by focusing on policies that help people at scale, with an aim to help improve the lives of tens of millions of people.

This is a bold ambition that will require hard work over the next year to develop new ways to scale our work and translate it into systemic change. We will go into it clear-eyed about what worked and what our shortcoming are. Across the board, this will require data, even broader and deeper partnerships with nonprofits, community organizations and other organizations. And for change to last, we will need to work with government leaders to translate what works into changes in public policy.

‘Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society.’ – Congressman John Lewis

People are at the heart of our racial equity work – our employees, partners and the community are the change-makers.

Driving systemic change will be challenging, but I’m confident in our dedicated and passionate employees who have taken roles leading programs and advocacy work, and in the countless volunteers, including those from our employee resource group Blacks at Microsoft (BAM), who give their time. They bring innovative thinking and hard work to these complex problems. They help educate, promote understanding and turn our ambitions into action. And, importantly, they hold us accountable. We could not address racial inequity without this level of deep commitment. It’s truly inspiring.

We also recognize that there is a limit to what we alone can do. Our partners are on the front lines facing the impact of inequity on Black and African American people across the country every day. They’re working to help give people an opportunity for a more equitable future. We’re humbled to be a part of their effort.

This work is the beginning of a long commitment to helping drive lasting change. We have a lot more to do. Together, we can make a difference. We’re just getting started.

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The Strengthening Our Communities pillar has four focus areas where we believe Microsoft has the potential to make a difference at a national level. These include:

  • Justice reform, with a five-year, $50 million commitment that has already created 26 partnerships in 17 locations to use open data to partner with nonprofits and local communities and drive change in policing, prosecutorial reforms and alternatives to incarceration.
  • Urban broadband, with work up and running with local companies and nonprofits in 8 cities to expand access to affordable connectivity and devices for racial and ethnic minority communities.
  • Skills and education, with expanded work to help Black and African American individuals develop the skills needed for a digital economy, including new partnerships this past year with 307 high schools and seven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
  • Support for nonprofits, where one year into our work we’re already using technology to help more than 1,000 community-based nonprofits provide critical human and social services to Black and African American communities.

You can learn more here.

By CJ Sanchez (He/Him)
CJ Sanchez (He/Him) Career Coach CJ Sanchez (He/Him)