The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative wants to fight racism. It's failing.

CZI talks a big game and makes the right noises about diversity and inclusivity, but often leaves Black employees feeling unheard and Black communities wanting.

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Following the wave of protests following George Floyd’s murder, Mark Zuckerberg published a lengthy Facebook post, extolling the virtue of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) when it comes to racial justice. CZI is a charitable foundation created by Zuckerberg and his, Priscilla Chan, that among other things, seeks to "build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone."

The Washington Post revealed this week that CZI’s Black resource group penned a letter in June to Chan (who runs the day-to-day operations) outlining the ways the organization misses the mark. From employee advancement to deciding which organizations get to benefit from its benevolence, the letter and interviews with CZI employees paint a picture of an organization that says the right things, but often has a hard time seeing the wood for the trees.

BLK at CZI — A group of Black employees at CZI under the banner Building Leadership & Knowledge (BLK) wrote about five ways CZI could improve. Some of what the BLK group called for included the hiring of a diversity chief who would report to Chan, a pay equity audit, transparent data about Black employees’ churn rate, and the establishment of succession planning to prepare Black employees for senior roles.

The group has reportedly met with Chan three times since June. The mixed results included a diversity chief who reports to CZI’s chief operating officer, Josué Estrada, rather than Chan herself and the admission that Black employee attrition was higher (though specifics haven't been shared).

Much more to do — CZI leadership is still considering succession planning, but seems to lack a basic understanding of how equity and equality should work internally, let alone how to foster it more broadly. Chan said they were trying to avoid “just teeing up our Black employees for new opportunities.” Though the number of Black employees is up to 7.2 percent, they are rarely represented in director and executive roles.

While Black executives who spoke to The Washington Post underscored they didn’t feel as though they were treated differently due to their race, they agreed with other Black employees that the organization was lacking inclusion and diversity. The rise of Donald Trump has pushed Chan’s bipartisanship to the point of stifling racial justice efforts for the sake of “balance.” Even grants and other funding for Black organizations meet the same “risky” classification that plagues communities trying to access loans and housing.

The illusion of the middle — Chan and Zuckerberg distanced themselves from Trump — removed from the context of their respective companies — back in June. At work, however, they bend over backward to ensure the right feels represented and included. If they could channel that same energy towards Black people, maybe the $40 million CZI spends on racial injustice each year could break the meter instead of just moving the needle.