How 2 Fellows Are Creating Meaningful Change Every Day as Part of the CEO Action for Racial Equity

Sponsored by The Hartford

Photo courtesy of The Hartford.

Photo courtesy of The Hartford.

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June 14, 2024 at 2:10PM UTC

Have you heard about the CEO Action for Racial Equity (CEOARE)?  Founded in October 2020, CEOARE is a first-of-its kind business-led initiative to address structural inequities and social injustice and improve societal well-being. The business coalition will do this through identifying, developing and promoting scalable and sustainable public policies and corporate engagement strategies.

The program has an incredibly wide reach — including 100+ companies that focus on four key areas (education, healthcare, economic empowerment, and public safety) of our societal wellbeing. Together, these companies aim to make lasting and meaningful change by working with not only each other, but also local organizations, non-governmental organizations, and governmental policymakers.

One of the CEOs involved in this mission is Christopher Swift, chairman and CEO of The Hartford, a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits, and mutual funds. Swift serves on the Governing Committee of CEOARE and is a long-time advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Under his leadership, The Hartford has committed to providing two full-time employees to serve for two years as Fellows in support of the CEOARE efforts. Lisa Levin and James Stanley joined CEOARE as Fellows on behalf of The Hartford at the program's inception in 2020. 

The Hartford’s two newest Fellows — Nicole Carmichael-Keel and Robert Danels — will continue the work that Lisa and James started to grow CEOARE’s initiatives. As a Fellow, they “partner with signatory companies to develop, deploy, and share leading practices and learnings across the board,” said Nicole. This commitment is incredibly important, because “one way that CEOARE signatory companies demonstrate leadership and commitment to meaningful change is by supplying Fellows and leading the way with corporate engagement and public policy solutions,” Robert said. 

For more insight into this amazing work, we spoke at length with Nicole and Robert. 

Let’s start at the beginning. What led you to saying yes to becoming a CEOARE Fellow? 

Nicole: I have always been involved in community service, specifically addressing the needs of underrepresented and underserved communities. When the opportunity to promote change and address disparities in such a meaningful and organic way presented itself, it aligned perfectly with my true passion and purpose. Having our CEO play an active role and support us, while also partnering with others with the same purpose as me, was another draw for this role! 

Robert: Saying yes could not have been easier. This is an amazing opportunity, and I want to make a difference! The CEOARE allows Fellows to focus every day on achieving meaningful change that will positively impact the quality of life for Black Americans, address structural inequities, and improve societal well-being for everyone in our country.

What does your work mean for you and The Hartford?  

Nicole: My specific work is within the economic empowerment platform where we are aiming to close the racial equity gap between Black and white Americans. As part of this, we meet companies where they are and provide tools, resources, and networking opportunities to accelerate learning and improve their success rate. 

We then bring these learnings back to The Hartford and look for opportunities where we may be able to implement change and continue to make progress for our employees. Most importantly, we share The Hartford’s own best practices to create a broader impact and positive external change.

Robert: To be candid, a few years ago, it seemed difficult for some people to imagine white men (with clear historical privilege) leading in this space and/or serving as legitimate catalysts for change. I’ve been eager to change that perception, and my sense is that the tide has indeed shifted. We need everyone — especially white men — engaged in the process

I believe that our employees at The Hartford are proud of our company’s visible leadership. Many of the leaders at our company have inspired me and our fellow colleagues. Our commitment to racial equity is sincere, and our culture celebrates diversity, inclusion, and a sense of belonging for all employees.    

Finally, how can others who are not involved in this work help enact large change? 

Nicole: Everyone has a stake in establishing a sustainable future of equity, peace, harmony, justice, and leaving the world a better place than how we found it. There is power in words, voices, action, and everyone can absolutely have a positive impact whether small or large

So, be encouraged to have those tough conversations and be willing to actively listen with the intention of learning and understanding. Speak up for wrongs, applaud rights, guide, redirect, and become a participant instead of a bystander. Be willing to look introspectively and commit to doing at least one thing, whether that is reading an article of racial injustice, attending a workshop, or simply talking to someone new. Awareness, education, and empathy can make all the difference.

Robert: I believe in the power of deliberate social contact and expansion of our respective “circles of grace (a term I borrowed from Justin Jones-Fosu). There is significant evidence suggesting that the development of meaningful relationships with people who don’t look, think, or speak like us results in higher levels of empathy, understanding, and trust. 

New, meaningful relationships change our hearts and minds and often result in the desire to take action. And every action to support someone who wouldn’t ordinarily be in our circles of grace is a productive first step each of us can take. These steps form a path to large-scale, meaningful change that is good for all of us.

As I once heard John Amaechi OBE say, “dignity is not a finite resource. We can give it away and be left with more. So, take that first step!”

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