By Wendy Allen-Belleville (Guest Writer), Director of Communications and Public Relations Executive
Blanketed across social media, television, and in communities across this country, Black Lives Matter protesters are demanding changes. Infused with frustration and anger, fervent conversations are taking place at a level not seen since the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The moment is now – for some, a movement decades in the making; for others, it’s still too soon. These disparate perspectives are part of the problem that you and your brand now need to confront. In a 2017 piece in the National Catholic Register, Bishop Robert Barron referred to racism as “the original sin” of the United States, adding, “It has bedeviled our nation from its inception to the present day. It is our age-old still-festering wound.” Racist stereotypes have been used to define the black population, fueled in part by previously-established American systems such as slavery, segregation and laws denying blacks the right to vote.
But what do I know about it?
First, a Little About Me…
I’m a college-educated, professional black woman who grew up in affluent white communities my entire life. I wasn’t “black enough” for blacks, but too black for whites… I was often given “compliments” such as:
“You’re not really black-black, you’re okay”
“You’re pretty for a black girl”
“Wow, you’re so articulate!”
I’ve endured countless acts of racism, from being called a n----r and being denied housing, to the shock and surprise when colleagues would see my black face entering the board room. Now, as a mother, I wilt when I see the racism my sons endure. As it happens, I have a black son from my first marriage and my current husband and I adopted a son who is Mexican. Oh, and did I mention my current/forever husband is white? We’re a proud multicultural family.
Uncomfortable about Race? Lean Into It.
You may be thinking, Can’t we just turn the page already? You can’t. Your employees are uncomfortable, too. Your white employees feel besieged by an angry mob. Many of them feel that Martin Luther King Jr. started the Civil Rights movement, blacks got the right to vote, segregation ended, and hey – there was a black president. All good, right? Wrong. Racism has always existed. Your black employees are enduring racism to this day.
So what do you do? Do you make a statement in support of Black Lives Matter or do you remain silent?
Going on record saying something is a statement. Remaining silent is another type of statement.
It’s not enough to mask racism with platitudes. To overcome it, we all have to actively work against it. Whether or not you decide to make a statement on behalf of your brand, you first need to get honest with yourself. But before you can do that, you have to let down your defenses. Now is the time to be open and to listen about diversity and inclusion with your heart as much as with your ears. It’s easy to point fingers or declare “you don’t see color” but have you challenged yourself? If your son or daughter brought home a black person to marry, would that make a difference to you? Does bias exist in your organization? Consider:
How many black employees do you have?
When recruiting, do you pass over candidates you assume are black?
How many black employees are in leadership positions?
What is the company culture in your organization?
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.―Toni Morrison
Your Call to Action
Never before now has there been a more compelling example of “be part of the solution or part of the problem.” Your employees are part of your organization’s community regardless of where they stand on the issue, and chances are they have something to say.
As the leader of your organization, it’s important that you set the tone to make it possible for honest conversation in a safe space. First, decide what does your organization’s brand represent? Does it stand for human rights for all? If so, then you’d see the BLM movement as a human rights issue. Or do you see BLM as something else? Acknowledging where you stand on this issue will inform if you choose to make a statement or not. And if not, why not? Are there those in your company who would be offended? This is where you need to have an honest – and perhaps painful – conversation with yourself and your leadership team to decide which way your company falls on this issue. Because there is simply no gray area on this one.
If you decide that your organization won’t make a statement, then you needn’t read any further. The non-statement will speak for itself.
If you decide that your organization will make a statement, that’s the first step in making honest change. This first step is the easy one – a social media post or a statement on your website or an email to customers and employees.
Next comes the more difficult step: how do you go from talking the talk to walking the walk? There is no one size fits all solution for this one. But here’s how you can get started:
Create a safe space for discussing race
Implement racial bias training
Implement diversity and inclusion lunch ‘n’ learns
Assess your recruitment strategy and performance evaluations – are they biased against black candidates or black employees?
We’re at a fork in the road in the United States and, therefore, you are at a fork in the road for your brand. The direction you take on diversity and inclusion will make a statement to all in your orbit. I hope this post provides you with some insights on how you can use the power of your voice to make a difference.
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 so you don’t miss Wendy’s follow-up piece: Diversity and Inclusion and Your Brand: Part II. Questions or comments? Email us at email@example.com or call us at 323.596.0606.