by Lara August
I called and texted clients last week to ask what they were planning to do to address the movement that was triggered by the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police while in custody in Minneapolis on May 25th. While most had discussed current events with their leadership teams, very few had decided to take any direct action. I don’t believe it was out of apathy. I believe it was because they just didn’t know what to do.
Some of the responses were:
- “We are just trying to get through the coronavirus.”
- “We don’t take political positions as a business.”
- “I don’t see how this relates to our company.”
- “I don’t think that as company there is anything that we should do.”
- “I am very concerned and acting personally.”
Many asked me what I saw other businesses doing and I thought this was as worthy list of information to spread further. There are lots of things you should consider doing internally and externally.
It Does Affect YOUR Business
If you are feeling paralyzed as a business leader, and if you are struggling with whether this issue affects your company or not, know that it does affect you if:
- You have customers
- You have employees
- You have vendors
- You work with human beings
While police brutality may not feel like a business issue, racial discrimination and human rights are issues to all citizens of this country, and we have reached a critical boiling over point as a nation. If your business is made up of people, or works with people, your silence will be interpreted one way or another. Whether you assign credit or blame to social media, to millennials or to the media, our new reality is one of action.
Take Care of Your People
Consider the effects that current events might be having on your employees. Check in with your Black employees to see how they are coping. But also consider that you don’t know who might be affected by these events based on the color of their skin alone – close friends and family may be affected. Check in with all of your employees. If you have an HR person, company or team, they should have access to mental health resources and be able to address struggles. If the emotional part of this hasn’t reached you yet, consider that it might be affecting attendance and performance and just do the right thing.
Want to take that further?
- Create a facilitated discussion group to help people talk about their feelings.
- Create a committee to propose ways to get team members involved.
- Hire an expert to help educate your leadership team.
Then Look Closer at Your Organization
I would personally love to see businesses making tough calls to choose human rights over profits, but if profits is the language you want to speak, you might still consider the transparency that has been created with Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn. It’s not just public companies that are under scrutiny for their hiring, promotion and pay equity right now.
- Do you need to change your recruiting practices?
- Do you need to work on more diversity among your leadership teams?
- Do you need to address pay equity within your company?
It’s a great time to reflect on where you are and to use it as a baseline. From this point, do you intend to do anything better or differently? Do you feel strongly enough to put a stake in the ground and set some goals? Maybe a committee of employees particularly close to the cause can help you turn that into a reality.
Should You Take Further Action?
While most business leaders can see the need for internal action, many wonder if they should be taking additional public action. If you checked in with your team, you probably already know the answer to this question. If you just aren’t sure what you can do, here are some ideas:
It’s easy to make donations to credible organizations who are affecting change, and some people feel that seems meaningless, but it’s not. They need support, and if you aren’t sure how to get started, you can do a lot to help what is already well underway.
- Match employee contributions to those causes.
- If you have political influence, you can use it.
- If you can vote with your dollars, your contracts, who you choose to work with as clients, or how you invest, you may be able to create change through financial pressure.
- Take a public stand. We have seen an inspiring wave of companies confessing their lack of diversity, committing to plans, and supporting organizations who will affect change.
Should You Message Externally?
While the action you are taking internally and externally will have the most direct impact, consider making your plans public. Your message won’t be lost in the massive outcry… it will join in the chorus. It will also strengthen your leadership position with your workforce and customers. If you are committing to significant change, this will add a layer of accountability.
I am not a huge fan of copying and pasting messages, and would love to see each company use their own unique voice and speak to their audience in the appropriate tone, but that can be easier said than done. There is a lot of eloquent messaging out there, that authors would love to see shared. Ask their permission. Give them credit. Include a link. It’s the message that matters right now as much as the voice.
Don’t Be Afraid
I’ve heard some people express fear of retaliation, of losing customers and of alienating themselves from what might be a sizable demographic in Texas. Even incredibly conservative political leaders and media have denounced the murder of George Floyd. You don’t need to condone protests, destruction of businesses or looting to take a stand for equality and human rights. Which way do you see this issue heading? Which side of it do you want your business to be on?
It’s Not Too Late
While social media did see waves of immediate responses and action plans from companies across the country, you are not too late. Your commitment to change and your plans for action will become a lasting part of your company messaging. Many businesses, especially smaller ones struggling with coronavirus-induced challenges will need time to deliberate internally, to develop thoughtful plans and to take action. This isn’t a last week thing. Please keep the momentum going at a pace you can sustain.
We are not experts on the subject of diversity and inclusion. We are a small business and a work in progress, like so many others. However, if we can connect you to resources or help you with your company’s messaging, we would be thrilled to help. Give us a call.