Ebony Thomas Urges Action

As the keynote speaker at the second Latino ERG Digital Summit, Ebony Thomas advises ERG members and businesses alike to become change agents

Like the first, historic Latino ERG Digital Summit, the second Digital Summit—hosted by Hispanic Executive and its partner, the Consortium of Latino Employee Organizations (CLEO)—aimed to unite employee resource group (ERG) leaders from around the nation, facilitate impactful connections, and spark thought-provoking insights. But even more than that, the Summit centered on the idea of action.

ERG Summit
Pedro Guerrero (left), Dr. Robert Rodriguez (center), Ebony Thomas (right) Photo by Guerrero Media

“There is no more pressing time than now to lead in our effort to make our workplaces inclusive, diverse, and equitable,” said Pedro Guerrero, CEO of Guerrero Media and publisher of Hispanic Executive, at the outset of the Summit. This desire—this need—to drive tangible change also motivated the other speakers at the August 13th Summit.

Francisco Salanga, who serves as the lead trailhead editor for strategic partnerships at Salesforce as well as the global communications chair for Latinoforce, Salesforce’s Latino ERG, explained Latinoforce’s efforts to build and promote an inclusive network of Latinos—and allies—dedicated to advancing the career growth of Latinos working at the company, supporting community members in need, and inspiring meaningful engagement and involvement among Latinoforce members.

Dr. Robert Rodriguez, the founder of CLEO and coauthor of Auténtico, further emphasized the ability of ERGs to drive change. To his mind, there are five areas that Latino ERGs must focus on in order to effectively serve as advocates for equality and justice: intra-Latino divides, intersectionality, allyship, Latino leadership development, and issues of inequality.

All of these ideas, and more, featured in the keynote conversation between Dr. Rodriguez and Ebony Thomas, a senior vice president and racial equality and economic opportunity executive at Bank of America.

Below are a few of Thomas’s thoughts on effective allyship, the intersecting areas of inequality facing communities of color, and the critical importance of serving as an agent of change.

On Allyship

“I hear the word ‘allyship’ a lot,” Thomas noted. “But allyship isn’t about words. It’s not about a declaration of ‘I’m an ally.’ It’s about action.”

In the workplace, Thomas explained, allied ERGs and other organizations need to take action in order to achieve strategic clarity. Up until three years ago, she said, the Black executive leadership council and Latino executive leadership council at Bank of America had not collaborated or worked together in any significant way. Yet, a lot of the issues the two councils discussed—and the strategic priorities they had set—were exactly the same. When the two councils finally came together in 2017, Thomas said, it was a game changer.

“Get strategic with each other,” she recommended. “Get alignment. What are those two to three things that we’re all saying we need to double down on?”

On Bank of America’s $1 Billion Commitment to Minority Communities

As Thomas explained, Bank of America has committed to distributing $1 billion over a four-year period to help minority communities and businesses recover from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These funds won’t solve every issue of inequality facing those communities, Thomas acknowledged, but they will be a start. And even more than that, “The symbolism of putting capital in these communities is a big deal,” she emphasized. “We’ve progressed so much over the past four hundred, sixty, thirty years—but still today, when you find inequality, you often find communities of color. When you find economic disadvantages, you often find communities of color.

“What we [Bank of America] want,” she continued, “is to be agents of change and really lead the way for other companies that can come into this mix and start supporting these communities financially.”

That widespread financial support is more critical than some might realize. As Thomas pointed out, reports have estimated that around 40 percent of Black- and Latino-owned businesses will not be able to recover once the pandemic subsides.

“We can’t allow that to happen,” Thomas said firmly. “When a fully Black and Hispanic economic power is delivered, we [America] really are a superpower. But without us fully in the economy, [the nation] is not going to thrive and come back the way that it should.”

The next Latino ERG Digital Summit will be held on December 3rd, 2020. In the meantime, join the #LatinoERG Index LinkedIn group created by Hispanic Executive and CLEO to bring together leaders of Hispanic ERGs at some of the most prominent companies in the nation.

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