John Hancock’s management got a wake-up call last month about lingering bias and lack of diversity at the Boston-based financial services company.
The jolt came within hours after its Canadian parent company, Manulife Financial, released a video featuring top executives rapping rhymes in hoodies and dark sunglasses like a wannabe Dr. Dre or Ice Cube.
Manulife posted the video on Dec. 12 to congratulate employees on their performance in 2019. But it was pulled from the company’s internal website by the end of the workday after employees, largely at Hancock, complained that it was misguided at best, and racist at worst.
In the video, Manulife’s largely white leadership team, including chief executive Roy Gori, danced, sang, and mugged like rappers, a “lighthearted” attempt to “reinforce the approachability” of senior management, the Toronto company said in a statement Monday.
But an Internet meme — the unauthorized creation of an employee — offered a sardonic critique: It was a still from the video with the label “Straight Outta Costfit” in a font similar to the cover of the groundbreaking hip-hop album “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A., whose members included Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. CostFit, the euphemism for Manulife’s aggressive cost-cutting program, was mentioned in the video.
“We regret creating this video, removed it immediately, and held a forum to apologize to and hear directly from our employees,” the Manulife statement said.
Hours after Manulife’s 36,000 employees received a link to the video, Gori responded to mounting criticism over the company’s internal chat network.
He wrote that some employees were amused by the effort to “poke fun at ourselves. . . . At the same time, colleagues have shared that they found the video upsetting. On behalf of the leadership team, please know it was not our intention to offend anyone. We deeply regret this and apologize to those who were offended.”
That was on a Thursday, and the following Tuesday, Gori flew to Boston for an employee forum with Harrison at Hancock’s headquarters on Berkeley Street.
According to Hancock officials, the meeting ran about 90 minutes and was attended by more than 160 employees, with 700 others linked in from other locations. Gori and Harrison spoke for about 10 minutes, again apologizing and emphasizing the company’s commitment to D&I — diversity and inclusion.
Employees followed up with questions about how — and why — the video was created and approved, but devoted much of the time to sharing their views about the company’s culture around race and gender, according to the Hancock officials, who asked not be named so they could discuss internal matters.
Props to the Hancock employees who raised a stink about the video and then let Harrison and Gori know that bias, even if it’s unconsicous bias, is still a problem.
For the record: I have not seen the video; the Hancock officials described the contents after the Globe got an anonymous e-mail tip about the flap, and they laid out how Manulife responded. Also, I worked at Hancock for four years, prior to its acquisition by Manulife in 2004.
I have interviewed Harrison, and I have no reason to doubt her people when they say she has made diversifying the ranks a priority. Of the company’s top 15 executives, four are women and two are men of color. That’s better than at many other companies, but there’s room for improvement.
Hancock is gathering diversity data for its 5,400 employees but isn’t ready to make it public. That’s a clear sign Harrison still has a ways to go.
“Our D&I is a journey,” said one Hancock official. “It’s never one and done. It requires constant learning and constant dialogue.”
At Manulife, the top 15 executives include three women and four men of color.
The fact that they thought it was OK to pretend to be gangsta rappers tells me the company also has a ways to go.