Protests this summer following the death of George Floyd should spark conversations about race.
 - Photo: Patrick Behn via Pixabay

Protests this summer following the death of George Floyd should spark conversations about race.

Photo: Patrick Behn via Pixabay

"If there ever was a time to speak up loudly and clearly against racism and hatred, it is now.”

That was Brad Jacobs, chairman and CEO at XPO Logistics, in a comment on LinkedIn last month, as Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

As a country and as an industry, we can debate the best ways to address racism. But before we can do that, we must acknowledge and understand that it exists.

“Racism is real,” said Mark Walker, CEO of TransLand, a 180-truck fleet based in Springfield, Missouri, in an interview. “I think as a company we have an incredible responsibility and obligation to address it head-on.”

Deborah Lockridge, HDT Editor in Chief - Photo: HDT File

Deborah Lockridge, HDT Editor in Chief

Photo: HDT File

The best way to start to understand racism, and the discrimination and challenges faced by not only African-Americans but also by other minorities, is to listen. Let’s face it ­— the overwhelming majority of leadership in the trucking industry is white. As white people who have benefited from generations of white privilege, we cannot truly understand what our Black colleagues, coworkers, and employees experience. But we can listen and learn.

J.B. Hunt last month held a video call with its executive leadership team and more than 2,000 employees, “having open, honest, and enlightening conversations about race, racism, and the impact of both,” as one member of the fleet’s management team described it in a LinkedIn post.

Similarly, XPO’s Jacobs wrote, “We’ve been doing town halls with our African-American colleagues, and the pain they are expressing is eye-opening.”

"We’ve been doing town halls with our African-American colleagues, and the pain they are expressing is eye-opening.”

Fighting racism must be part of efforts to promote not only diversity but also inclusion. You can have a very diverse workforce, but that doesn’t automatically mean your organization is truly inclusive of those minorities, or that they don’t experience racism, prejudice, or bias.

The intersection of the George Floyd protests, Juneteenth, Pride Month, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people under the Civil Rights Act was a powerful reminder of how important it is to promote diversity and inclusion in the trucking industry.

In a June 22 LinkedIn article, XPO’s Jacobs wrote: “I’ve always looked to hire bright people who are more skilled at what they do than I am. And I’ve always felt a duty to shareholders to go fishing for talent in the whole pool, not just a part of the pool. We give all job candidates equal consideration, because it makes no sense to limit anyone’s chance of success, including ours.”

That echoes something J.B. Hunt’s Shelley Simpson told me in an interview several years ago. Simpson, who is executive VP, chief commercial officer, and president, Highway Services, has a “passion for diversity” and in fact moderated the recent J.B. Hunt conference call on race. A team with a diversity of ideas, culture, and backgrounds, she told me, makes for a stronger company, with “better ideas and thought leadership.”

But you don’t have to be a giant company like XPO or J.B. Hunt to take action. You can start by listening and learning.

Listen to your employees. Listen to Black voices. Seek out and read anti-racism books and other resources. Keep an open mind, and you might discover your own unrealized biases. I know I have. And I’m still learning.

Then be willing to take action based on what you learn. Speak out against racism. Find ways to improve diversity and inclusion in your company. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes keep you from making the effort.

“We know we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to misstep,” said TransLand’s Walker. “But we’re a learning organization, so we’re trying to understand and do better.

“We’ve got a ways to go, and I’m pretty sure as an industry we have a ways to go. I look forward to leaders in our industry creating improved forums where we can all be learning organizations.” 

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