• Insider identified 10 leaders helping write the future on diversity, equity, and inclusion in corporate America.
  • After a year of fierce political debate backlash against “woke” culture, these leaders are on the front lines of the social justice movement in business.
  • 100 People Transforming Business is an annual list highlighting people across industries who are changing the way the world does business. Check out the full list for 2022.

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Progress is not always linear. Looking at the events of this past year, many would agree American business is in a difficult place.

The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, effectively banning abortion in many parts of the country, put many employers in the position of determining how to ensure their employees could access reproductive healthcare. 

After Disney pushed back on legislation in Florida seeking to limit what teachers could say about sexual orientation and gender identity, Republicans targeted the business’ special tax status. 

The country was plagued by violence against Asian Americans as well as people working to advance rights and protections for LGBTQ people, people of color, and marginalized religious groups. The pandemic lingers, and the opioid epidemic continues to rage, imperiling workers’ health and safety.  

Despite these many challenges, business leaders are still working to advance social justice. Insider identified 10 leaders helping write the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion in corporate America. 

Included on the list is Alexis McGill Johnson, the CEO of Planned Parenthood, who’s on the front lines of the movement to protect abortion access; and Darrin Williams, the CEO of Southern Bancorp, who’s one of dozens of leaders of Black-owned banks working with top financial institutions like JPMorgan to decrease the racial wealth gap.

“We are in the midst of such a great loss,” McGill Johnson said, referring to a post-Roe America. “I’m sober. I’m full of purpose.” 

Looking to 2023, CEOs and executives can either make good on the promises they made after George Floyd’s murder in 2020 or retreat in the face of hateful rhetoric and violence. They can follow through on their promises to prioritize workers’ health or let that priority fall away.

“Fighting against backlash against diversity, equity, and inclusion for us simply means moving forward and doing what we were founded to do,” Williams said. “If we were moving backward or maintaining a status quo, these same people would have little to be upset about.” 

Actors outside boardrooms have choices to make, too. Union heads leading a labor movement in America will have to decide their course of action as concerns about the economy mount. Nonprofits that want to protect free speech and human rights are facing another intense environment before the 2024 presidential election.  

Insider’s list of transformers extends beyond executives. Chris Smalls, the head of the Amazon Labor Union, is demanding better working conditions at the retail giant. Josh Stein, North Carolina’s attorney general, has been working to hold companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis. And Minda Harts, a Fortune 500 diversity consultant, is helping CEOs improve their workplaces. 

“We have to focus on the progress. We are much further along in diversity, equity, and inclusion than we were two years ago,” Harts said. “We are actively making the workplace better than we found it.”  

Social crosscurrents have helped define everyday life in America. During the Jim Crow era, Black Americans faced lynching and racist policies; some of the backlash to the subsequent civil-rights movement still ripples through the US. Then there are the more recent battles about so-called woke culture that are likely to animate the race for the White House in 2024.

“Hate is on the rise for all groups that have historically been targeted,” said Cynthia Choi, a cofounder of the nonprofit Stop AAPI Hate. “It does take courage for those in power and leadership to say, ‘I want to be accountable for addressing racism.'”

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