AEP CEO: 'We will talk about race openly, even if it's uncomfortable'

Katy Smith
Nick Akins, chairman, president and CEO of American Electric Power

In an unprecedented break from the routine avoidance of political issues, major brands across the country have pledged their commitment and their resources to fight racism in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and many other Black people by police.

In Columbus, some 750 organizations including the leaders of the city’s largest private sector companies signed a letter to City Council declaring racism a public health crisis. The group of supporters has grown beyond 3,000 and represents a major departure from the sideline sentiments of the past. With businesses putting themselves out there to advance racial justice and equality—supporting employees attending protests and wearing Black Lives Matter garb—many have asked: Now what are these large corporations going to actually do to create meaningful change?

Columbus CEO asked business leaders.

What does your organization plan to do to address systemic racism and inequality?

Nick Akins, CEO, American Electric Power: The unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many more Black Americans are appalling and underscore how much work we need to do to address the racial divide in our country.

It was incredibly moving for me when an African American employee recently commented that he “can breathe here” at AEP. I won’t stop working until he can breathe everywhere.

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AEP is committed to a culture where everyone is valued and treated with dignity and respect. Our leaders participate in unconscious bias and inclusive leadership training, and I actively support the work of our employee resource groups to increase understanding among employees from all backgrounds. We’ve made it clear that anyone who can’t support our inclusion and diversity commitment doesn’t belong at AEP.

We also focus AEP’s community giving on basic human needs and STEM education in struggling communities. And we track our progress to increase diversity on our leadership team and among our suppliers.

For the July issue of Columbus CEO, we touched base with a number of business leaders on the topic of race. Here's what they had to say.

But we need to take bigger and bolder steps toward equity.

We’re committed to creating positive social change both within and outside the walls of AEP.

We will talk about race, prejudice and inclusiveness openly, even if it’s uncomfortable.

We will partner with other companies and the public sector, including law enforcement, to find solutions and take meaningful steps to do better for our communities.

We don’t have all of the answers. But we are going to be part of a solution.

Katy Smith is editor of Columbus CEO.