By Wendy Allen-Belleville (Guest Writer), Director of Communications and Public Relations Executive
Kudos. You sent your marketing email or social media post about Black Lives Matter (BLM). You’ve made it clear that you support the black community and racial equality and you promised that your brand will do better to listen and learn in the future. You’re all set.
Not even close.
Make no mistake, though: your post in support of the BLM movement is a big deal. It shows that your organization has at least made an attempt to address the hot button issue of racial inequality. Although you took this important step, there is a much bigger hill for you and your brand to climb. During these tumultuous times, the organizations that go beyond the initial platitudes are poised to make a real impact in their communities; conversely, the organizations that merely post a BLM statement are providing their audiences with nothing more than performance art.
Race is one of the most difficult topics to discuss, with fear and uncertainty boiling over on all sides. The tension is palpable, and it seems insurmountable. But you can make a difference. How do I know? As a black woman who has always lived in affluent white communities and worked in mostly all-white environments, I know what would make an impact – and what would fall short.
How Well Do You Know Your Employees?
As you consider the next move for your brand, you first need to assess how well you actually know the employees in your organization. One of the first things you can do is take a racial inventory of how many black employees are in your organization, and how many of them are in positions of leadership. Then, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable; get real and ask yourself the following questions:
How diverse is your company?
Is there a lot of interaction between your white employees and your black employees?
How different is the company culture for your white employees compared to your black employees?
Are your black employees excluded from “the old boys club” of extracurricular activities?
How often have you had any of your black colleagues over to your home for dinner?
I’m willing to bet, as the leader of your organization, you haven’t given these questions much thought. You may have even said, “I don’t see color.” “People are just people.” “We’re all the same on the inside.”
Well, sure. Those are factual statements on paper. But they’re completely devoid of the realities of race relations. Statements such as these are tone deaf and contribute to deep-seated racial bias that permeate communities throughout the country. In truth, in most cases when an organization’s leaders declare they don’t see color, it’s often because there isn’t much color to see. There probably aren’t very many black people in the organization, or if there are, they’re often not in leadership positions. The colorblind viewpoint is highly problematic. In order for you to address the racial inequities within your organization, you first have to acknowledge they exist.
By getting to know your black employees beyond small talk at the coffee station, you can go a long way to making an impactful connection. This will also lead the way for others in your organization to do the same.
Change Your Nouns Into Verbs
Or another way to put it, put your words into action. Now that you are more closely tuned in to who your employees are, it’s time to make real change happen for your brand. Regarding your approach, there are many roads to Mecca. Not every solution will be a fit for every organization. However, the following suggestions are a good start:
Launch ongoing inclusion events: open forums are an effective way to keep the lines of communication open with all employees in an emotionally safe space.
Assess your organizational structure: are special projects being allocated equitably?
Assess your payment structure: conduct a pay audit to ensure your employees are being paid fairly.
Assess your promotion protocol: are you promoting your qualified black employees at the same rate as white employees?
Limit referral hiring: the “This candidate reminds me of myself” approach to hiring talent may indicate unconscious bias.
Implement diversity and inclusion and racial bias trainings into your organization.
Do you have zero-tolerance policies on issues of equality for race, gender and sexual orientation, and if you do, is there a consequence for breaking these policies?
Your Culture Problem is Bigger Than you Think
Organizational leaders are making swift changes to their systems. Many of them are tearing up the playbook and starting over from scratch, to build a company culture that truly has a level playing field. This is great for your employees of all races who want justice for all. But what about your employees who prefer to maintain the status quo? Because here’s the truth: you may actually have a real race problem on your hands. If this is the case, and you now see the racism in your organization for what it is, you have some serious decisions to make: do you A) Call out the racism you now clearly see is taking place; Or do you B) Ignore it and hope it’ll go away. If you chose A, and make it clear that racism will not be tolerated and you, as the leader, will take the necessary steps to level the playing field, you may find yourself in a situation whereby some of your most trusted employees may feel compelled to step down. They don’t want this “woke” version of your company. You may lose them. And this may be a serious blow to your company. If you find yourself in this complicated situation where you unexpectedly need to react and make a decision, what will you decide? The best way to answer this is to ask yourself which do you value more? What your company culture represents or the viewpoints of staffers who, however valuable they are as employees, have now been revealed as toxic and, well, racist? You as a leader have a choice: you can either keep pace with the collective global response to racial inequality… or you can be left behind. You can’t do both.
By being a leader in your organization and becoming more intentional in addressing racial inequality, you are not just strengthening your brand. You’re making a difference in the lives of your employees and for your community.
We’re all watching to see what you’ll do next, and some of us are taking note of how organizations are truly going to walk the walk during this unprecedented period in our nation’s history. One day the history books on 2020 will be written.
Make sure your brand falls on the right side of history.
About the Author
A native of California, Wendy Allen-Belleville spent 18 years in Hollywood working at Paramount Pictures in the high-impact television industry. After working on hit sitcoms such as "Wings" and “Becker," she decided to put her talents into corporate communications and public relations. Soon, she became a communications thought-leader in Orange County, designing and driving strategic content in the voice of small businesses for maximum impact to promote their brands.
Wendy lives a blissfully chaotic life in Orange County with her husband, Brad, their two sons, and two dogs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lure Digital stands with the Black Lives Matter movement. Subscribe to our blog below to stay up-to-date on our latest news and read Wendy’s introductory piece: Diversity and Inclusion and Your Brand: Why the Voice of Your Brand is More Important Now Than Ever. Questions or comments? Email us at email@example.com or call us at 323.596.0606.