Industry the July/August 2020 issue

Hearing and Being Heard

The search for a role in racial justice
By Sandy Laycox Posted on July 8, 2020

Everyone is making a statement. But it was one I had been struggling with.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of statements of solidarity with the Black community from myriad companies. And I’ve also seen some backlash toward some companies and their leadership for making statements that haven’t necessarily been lived by their workforce.

So before I could make that statement of solidarity, I had to know if we were living it. The first place I went was back to the conversation former editor in chief Rick Pullen and I had three years ago with Vernā Myers. We sat, for three hours, in an empty restaurant in Baltimore, where Vernā had grown up and returned to. Vernā is an inclusion specialist, now at Netflix, who helps people talk through cultural and racial differences. She’s also a black woman from Baltimore who opened up her life to us to help us understand a little bit better what racism in America really is like. She was honest. She told us about her own experiences—she was shocked, for example, to be the first black person hired at her Boston law firm in 1985. Not everything from that conversation made it into the article, but a lot of it did. For me, it was worth reading again as a reminder of history and lessons to learn as I go forward.

It was also a reminder that Leader’s Edge has not shied away from difficult conversations in the past, and perhaps that is where we can live our statement. In addition to racism, we have written about sexual abuse in athletics, gender inequality in the workplace, shootings in schools, and opioid addiction. These are issues and struggles that we face as a society, and if there is a role for us to play in helping overcome them, then we should be a part of the conversation.

Part of eliminating racism, I think, is recognizing the full weight of life experience that we all bring with us to the conversation and understanding that each perspective is needed to really understand where we are, how we got here, and where to go.

I remember when I first pitched the opioid story to Rick in 2016. It had been written about quite a bit by then but not by Leader’s Edge and, from what I could tell, not by many in the insurance industry either. “What else can you say about this?” I was asked during my first interview. And to be honest I wasn’t sure. But it was a conversation with a workers comp risk control strategist that helped me see what we could say about it. With the depth of subject matter knowledge and a risk management approach that is part and parcel of insurance, the industry has a place in issues of public health and safety. And racism, perhaps, is one of those.

At Leader’s Edge, we do stand against racism and for an equal and just society. We have only started this conversation, but we have started it, and we will continue to explore how we can bring to bear the expertise of our industry to help us move forward.

I believe in the power of storytelling. I believe in the power of firsthand accounts of what goes down. Hearing directly from Vernā about her life was enough to change my perception of things—and to be honest, going in I didn’t realize my perception needed changing. My perception is also shaped by the conversations I have with my husband, who grew up in a family with police officers who served their community faithfully and honorably. I say this not to diminish the importance of addressing police brutality but just to remind us that we all come from different places and we’re each traveling a different journey. But that doesn’t mean we’re not moving in the same direction. Part of eliminating racism, I think, is recognizing the full weight of life experience that we all bring with us to the conversation and understanding that each perspective is needed to really understand where we are, how we got here, and where to go.

We need more honest tellers of the story. We have to share all of the details—even the parts that don’t sit well with us. I hope that Leader’s Edge can do that and that you all will join us. I want to hear from you on this issue, so please reach out and share your perspective so we can continue our journey.

Sandy Laycox Editor in Chief Read More

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