Since the police killing of George Floyd, companies across all industries have made statements to express support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Though all contained some semblance of support and were written to ensure audiences of righteous beliefs, many lacked accompanying actions to illustrate genuine intent for change.
In response, Tara Donaldson, editor in chief of Sourcing Journal, wrote: “When the statements supporting the movement and disavowing racism are, more often than not, crafted by brands’ white ceo’s, reviewed by their white colleagues and blessed by a white h.r. or p.r. department, you will not get the message right.”
“Overnight activism,” Donaldson pointed out, is not enough and it has become pivotal for companies to deliver more than a promise. So, what should you do? Experts say, more is more. Here, WWD asks leading experts how they have been advising companies to respond.
Elton Ndoma-Ogar, director of diversity and inclusion for the Americas and Asia at AlixPartners
“Without question, the events of the last several months have placed a global spotlight on the social injustices toward the Black/African-American community. As companies grapple with the need to deliver on strategic objectives in an extremely difficult business environment, they must also place a focused effort on dismantling the long history of systemic racism and its impact on the Black community. To achieve meaningful results, the approach needs to be genuine.
“Four specific actions that companies can take to make a difference:
1. Acknowledge that there is a problem. Leaders can no longer accept the ‘perfectly logical explanations’ as to why the Black community has not been able to overcome the inequalities that exist both in society and business.
2. Listen to your Black employees and clients. Leaders must create a space where they truly listen to understand what’s being stated. This means listening without formulating a pre-conceived solution.
3. Share your stories and make the interaction personal. Leaders will find the challenge insurmountable if they don’t become increasingly aware of their own personal diversity journey and how it translates into building an inclusive culture.
4. Commit to change, beyond the current crisis. The true test of the leader and the organization’s commitment to change, are the actions, processes and procedures that are sustainable and visible long after it’s no longer the top news story.”
Antony Karabus, chief executive officer at HRC Advisory
“The events of the past weeks have come at the worst possible time for retailers as they have been working extremely hard to get stores ready and safe for customers to return to stores and are now trying to recover some of the losses of the last three months. The rioting, property damage, etc. are likely to give customers another reason to be nervous to return to stores especially on the streets.
“However, this issue of unjust and unequal treatment of minorities in the country has been a reality and a simmering cauldron for as long as all of us can remember. We recommend that retailers limit public pronouncements to expressing support and solidarity with those communities that have been unjustly treated and now need to focus on protecting their property, ensure their employees are safe and compensated for the time they aren’t able to work as a result of their stores being closed due to the riots and damage and do everything they can to ensure a safe environment for their customers to return to their stores and then do what they can to reduce the unequal treatment in the communities in which they operate.”
Dr. Laura Hamill, organizational psychologist, cofounder and chief science officer at Limeade, and author of “Take Care.”
“Right now is a time where employers need to, first and foremost, focus inward — truly listen to employees and make sure employees feel cared for and supported. Communicate early and often — acknowledge what is going on and be as authentic and transparent as possible with your people.
“Do people need time off or time to reflect? Create space for people to voice their concerns and seek help. Leaders should also solicit feedback via meaningful one-on-one conversations with employees — and then use this feedback to drive change and inform approaches. Reflect on where as a company you can do more. Recognize areas of strength and areas for growth across your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. People want to know what their company stands for.
“From there, any external-facing communication should reflect what’s happening internally. Make sure whatever you are saying on the outside is true and aligned with what’s happening internally. The closer aligned these two elements are the more genuine it will be.”
Robert Foehl, executive in residence for business law and ethics at Ohio University’s online Masters of Business Administration program
“A company’s stance on a social issue must be calibrated with the company’s expressed values. Those values serve as the company’s guide star, especially during trying circumstances. Once that calibration has occurred, the company should communicate that stance publicly, making it clear that tangible actions supporting those words are forthcoming.
“Companies must seek the guidance of their stakeholders — employees, customers, suppliers, owners and the communities that affect and are affected by the company. Such collaboration will bring differing perspectives, experiences and viewpoints, that should be heard, acknowledged and harmonized. The goal of this collaboration is a tangible action plan for the company that demonstrates its commitment to the stance taken on the social issue and its core values.
“The company should communicate this action plan publicly and actuate it with appropriate resources and accountability mechanisms to ensure successful implementation. Finally, the results of implementing the plan should be evaluated by the company and its stakeholders. To help foster trust and accountability, the company should publish those results, along with any corresponding action plans in order to show a continuing commitment to the social issue and company values.”
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