It is the end of the world of business, as we know it. Corporate America is entering into a new stage and it’s all due to disrupters like my community and me – we are swinging the pendulum from one extreme toward a more perfect balance.

Let’s take a look at what used to be considered normal in business, and what I consider the new normal.

Old: Making money for shareholders is the sole roll of business (economist Milton Friedman’s proposition in a 1970 New York Times article, pre-Nobel prize).
New: Management, employees, and customers are the important parts of the organization (and “shareholder value is obsolete,” says Forbes; customers drive business in this day and age).

Old: Getting a job and gaining favor at work is dependent on membership to the good old boys club or the mean girls club
New: Conscientious actions govern employees’ decisions on whether or not to join a company, and leaders’ hiring practices are led with integrity and equality.

Old: Vendor conduct is overlooked, especially if that conduct is assumed not to impact sales.
New: Suppliers are subjected to rigorous reviews of their practices, by both organizations and end-user customers. They face penalties and fines when they’re caught participating in egregious behavior.

Old: Customers are brand loyal.
New: Loyalty frameworks are shattered, replaced with evangelism around sustainably produced goods.

Old: Consumers and communities we belong to were just means to a revenue end. The more underrepresented we were, the less we mattered to corporate America.
New: My voice and the voices of those like me matter. We are an integral part of the 99%.

Dr. Martin Luther King, whose memory and work we honor today, had a dream that included economic equality. His legacy of civil rights is only part of his story (our story), and we do him a disservice if we forget that. When he was assassinated in Memphis, he was there for the Poor People’s Campaign supporting sanitation workers striking for better wages and working conditions.

King was clear in his definitions of the history and conditions that kept black and poor people unable to build wealth. He once said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift themselves by their own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

Dr. King identified “excessive materialism, and militarism” as sicknesses western civilization was suffering from and called for a “radical redistribution of political and economic power” to end those evils. More than 50 years later, those evils still exist. In 2019, as Inequality.org observed, “GOP tax cuts have siphoned wealth from middle and working class Americans to the ultra-wealthy and big corporations” and federal budgets proposed increasing “military spending to a historic 61 percent of discretionary spending. Housing and community programs would receive a 35 percent cut.”

The test of economic justice is something we still fail as a nation and around the world.

But people like me are successfully championing change when we can and where we can. Welcoming an evolution in corporate America means we at least are moving closer to the dream of equality, economic integrity, and compassionate leadership in the workplace.

Read more about Dr. King’s views on economic equality in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

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