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Oct 29, 2020

AmEx pledges US$1 billion in push to promote racial, gender equity

First-hand accounts of racism in Corporate Canada


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American Express Co. said it will boost spending with diverse suppliers and develop more inclusive marketing as part of a US$1 billion push to expand racial and gender equity.

The firm’s spending with minority-owned U.S. suppliers will double to US$750 million annually by the end of 2024, AmEx said Thursday in a statement. The company also pledged US$50 million to support nonprofit organizations led by people of colour and will offer US$25,000 grants to 100 Black female entrepreneurs.

The card giant said it has sought to make its workplace more equitable in recent months. It has new protocols for when customers use abusive language toward employees, allowing workers to end calls or even exit those client relationships. The firm has also rolled out new mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all employees.

“We have always been focused on diversity and inclusion but it just seemed to me, along with the executive committee, that it was just time to take it to another level,” Chief Executive Officer Stephen Squeri said in an interview. “We might not be able to impact society overall but we can certainly impact the 64,000 people that work at American Express.”

The U.S. has spent much of the year engulfed in protests over police violence against Black communities. Sparked by the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, the unrest prompted companies around the country to pledge their support for causes that promote diversity.

AmEx, long known for its premium cards that offer perks for travel and dining, said it will also develop programs for underrepresented customers and offer products that drive revenue to small businesses owned by minorities.

As part of its research into how its brand is perceived, AmEx has found that Black and Latino customers feel better about the firm’s products than their White counterparts, Squeri said. Still, he said, AmEx hopes to make its products more relevant to those customers.

“We want our brand to speak to being inclusive,” Squeri said. “We want our brand to not just be for a certain type of people but for all people.”

AmEx also announced on Thursday that it had achieved 100 per cent pay equity for employees of all genders around the world and across races and ethnicities in the U.S.

Black employees were 12.5 per cent of AmEx’s workforce in the U.S. at the end of 2019, and Latinx workers were 12.9 per cent. Females now represent more than half of the firm’s workers. The firm said in its statement on Thursday it hopes to “ensure more balanced representation at all levels of the company.”

Squeri said Thursday’s announcement was the culmination of months of conversations with groups including the Black Engagement Network and the Hispanic Origin and Latin-American Network. Oftentimes, he said, those conversations reminded him of his own grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. through Ellis Island in the 1900s and were at times victims of bias.

“For me, it’s making sure that we have a company where everyone feels that their voice is heard,” he said. “We need to make sure that we first recognize that there’s both bias and unconscious bias in the workplace and we need to work to eliminate that.