Should companies respond to Black Lives Matter?

Black Lives Matter

In the midst of outrage over police brutality, protests in the streets and even looting, some companies are breaking their necks to put out messages of solidarity with the Black community to let everyone know that they are publicly stating that Black Lives Matter. But is this what companies should be doing?

There are a number of things to examine when considering if your company should take a stand on social issues.

  1. What are your company values? Is diversity or inclusion among those values?
  2. Where do you make your money? Does your profit come from diverse communities?
  3. Are you trying to connect your brand with diverse and emerging communities and culture?

In short, I say YES. Companies should take a stand.

In today's environment, diversity or inclusion should be among any company's values. When looking at profit, many companies profit from diverse communities, but many companies also align their brand with diverse cultures and communities as a way to connect and build its brand. If any of these are among the company's key goals, taking a stand is necessary.

A statement is just the beginning. We've seen everything from the benign - "we value all people and strive to make a better world" type of statement - to the uncompromising - "dismantle white supremacy." The right answer for most companies is in the middle.

So, how does a company go about developing the right statement and strategy in response to this particular time.

  1. Define your connection. "Our customers make us who we are and we wouldn't exist without them.  All of them, including members of the Black community. That is why it is imperative for us to categorically state that Black Lives Matter." or "Seeing the incidents of social injustice made us reflect on our employee population which is more than 50% Black and take notice of what they go through in our society. We stand with all of our employees but especially our employees of color in saying Black Lives Matter."
  2. State why it is important to speak out. "Inclusion and fairness is core to who we are as a company. To see the incidents of discrimination and injustice in our country is painful and can not be blindly tolerated."
  3. Explain specifically how your company will make a difference. "We intend to be part of the solution. Within our company, we are developing a management training program for employees of color to ensure they are trained and ready for more opportunities as positions at higher levels become available. Externally, we are committing to add two members of color to our corporate Board of Directors to ensure inclusion has a seat at the table as big decisions are made about the company. Likewise, our customer base reflects our society's demographics, and we know that we can help in furthering the financial stability of our customers and their communities. To that end, we are beginning small business training and loans to help communities of color own more of their community, thrive financially, and live in a safe and peaceful environment."
  4. Authenticity is key. The goal is for employees and customers to find all of these gestures compelling, worthy and believable. All areas must be touched. A company that supports communities of color externally but makes it difficult for employees of color to succeed internally lacks authenticity. These companies are being called to task as employees speak out about their working conditions.

These are just examples of statements that companies can use as they develop their response. Not all companies will want to go this far. But keep in mind, words without actions and commitments are meaningless. Likewise, employees and customers are quick to go public as they admonish and criticize companies who are all talk and no action.

More than anything, companies need to be authentic. They need to review their overall situation, assess their gaps in diversity and inclusion, identify a plan of action and communicate it using the steps above. A lot can be gained with the right statement and actions at this time in history. Communities and companies are paying attention.

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