As protesters took to the streets in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, cries of solidarity rang out from the unlikeliest of places: the boardrooms and C-suites of the world’s most prominent companies. Protesters channeled their anger into demands of accountability from institutions they believed had long been complicit in promoting—and perhaps even profiting from—racism. A handful of companies looked inward for ways to further diversity, equity and inclusion. They began hiring, promoting and creating new positions for people of color.
TIME spoke with two of those newly appointed leaders: Bozoma Saint John, chief marketing officer at Netflix (and the first Black C-level executive at the company), and Jason Wright, president of the Washington Football Team (the NFL’s first Black team president), about the future of America’s racial reckoning and the dual burdens of performing high-profile corporate roles while also promoting change.
TIME: What excites you both about your new positions? And what are the main things you’re working on right now?
Bozoma Saint John: This has been quite a complicated year. Lots of personal introspection. For me, there has been a lot that has gone behind my decision to go to Netflix. I find it to be a really important moment, not just for Netflix, but for all of us as consumers who are watching what is happening around the world, trying to understand each other’s perspectives, trying to understand each other’s stories and struggles—and be inspired.
Jason Wright: On both sides of my family, I come from a lineage of civil rights activists, and the values that they brought were of social elevation over time, one generation’s ceiling being the next generation’s floor. For me, the underpinning of inequity and racial injustice is the lack of equitable distribution of capital. The Washington Football Team is a franchise that is in its own reckoning, that needed to shift from something that was not universally inclusive to something that is healthy, inclusive, dynamic and innovative. We’re getting ready to invest several billion dollars of capital to build a new venue and entertainment complex and to be an economic -development engine for the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. For a 38-year-old brother from L.A., to be able to oversee the distribution of that sort of generationally shifting capital, it was a no-brainer for me to jump into a role like this.
Read more: 40 Ways to Build a More Equitable America
What do you both think about the role that companies should play in creating and pushing for societal change?
Wright: The NFL sits at a true cross section of America. That’s why so many of the challenging conversations around racial equity and other topics have found themselves a home in and around the NFL. That is both an opportunity and a challenge. As a former NFL player myself, I think the players have learned the power of their voices. They’ve become incredibly sophisticated and educated on topics they care about.
So coming out of the summertime narrative around Wisconsin, and the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, our players—along with many other athletes around the globe—decided to take a pause and say, “We’re not playing right now”; “We need to have a robust discussion on this.” They said, “Look, No. 1, we want to effect policy change.” Across Virginia and Maryland, our guys were able to participate alongside law-enforcement leaders and state legislators to get police-reform legislation through those states. One of our stars—Chase Young—was testifying in the Maryland legislature as this bill was passed. I see it as my job as a business leader to hear what they want to do, put the infrastructure and resources around them, and then promote the crap out of it with our brand, and tie it to the values that are universal.
We also did a big voting campaign; we led the way here in the area to put our stadium and our infrastructure to be a registration and polling site. We had to really effect change in a nonpartisan, unambiguously good way.
Saint John: We forget that businesses are made of people. It’s really important for all of us who are leaders in these businesses to show up with our concerns on our sleeves, in our hearts. I take it as a personal responsibility to make sure that my own beliefs are also coming through the work that I do. As business leaders, that is actually our responsibility too, and we can’t shy away from it. We can’t hide behind logos. We have to have a voice. For us, we find that there are ways to do that in the storytelling, providing different types of views into a diverse body of people. When we talk about Blackness, for instance, it’s not just about the American Black experience, but you have Lupin, about a French Black man, and Zero, which is about the Black Italian experience. I think those are examples and how we want to make sure that when we think about diversity and inclusion or societal change, there are many ways in which we can do that. It’s not just through policy; it’s also through culture. You don’t mind having people’s opinions shift and change because they see somebody has experience in storytelling and entertainment.
A lot of Black executives in positions like yours feel like they have two jobs—the one on their business card, and a completely separate role helping bring about a more inclusive culture in their organizations. Do you feel that in your current roles? And if so, how do you juggle those demands?
Wright: The first and best thing I can do is do my job well. And if I’m successful in this role, there’s a little bit of a copycat syndrome across industries, where a brother who looked like this did well in this role, maybe we can hire another one [who] looks like that. And that’s the most superficial, cynical way of looking at it, but it’s real; it’s how the human brain works. And so first and foremost, how do I get us to becoming a top five performing financial franchise in the NFL? How do I steward a transition from a football franchise into a media and entertainment company? How do I successfully launch a new brand, and identity?
Saint John: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I do feel it as a duality. Being a Black woman just adds to it. I used to think it was a real burden. Early in my career, I’d fight against it. It’s like Jason was saying, you just want to do the good work. I just wanted to do my job, and wanted to be recognized for my work. Often, I found that I very much had to represent so much more than just myself.
And on top of that, a failure meant it wasn’t just me failing. It meant every Black woman could fail in that job, which then added the pressure and the burden of having to succeed. Now I see it as a real opportunity. I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to show out, actually. I will do it better than everyone.” Therefore, you won’t even question whether a Black woman can have a C-suite job in one of the biggest companies in the world, because I can do it—and I do it better than everybody. I see it as a real badge of honor, to represent. But I certainly don’t want to be the only representative forever. I would like there to be more of us, for sure.
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