What a year! We know, it's ONLY June, but this year has already been revolutionary in SO MANY WAYS. In the wake of the horrific deaths of the late George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery; Black Americans and Allies are raising their voices in the fight against: systemic racism, inequality and racial injustice. Though our fight against racism was ignited in response to the police brutality that resulted in our fallen sisters and brothers, the breadth of systemic racism has once again shed a light on the inequalities that prevail in some of the businesses we've always loved. From recognizing how many 'well recognized,' brands (Disney, Nike, Bank of America and many more) have little to no C-suite Black executive employees to realizing just how many brands practice racism in their organizational policies.
Now more than ever, the World is watching who is standing up to these injustices and who is complicit. Some brands may choose "not to take a political stance," on the topic. However, brands who are wise will vocally choose to be on the right side of history. Because anti-racism is not a political issue, it is a human issue. If human decency does not provoke a call to action from brands, Black economic power may. Black Americans possess $3.9 trillion in economic power. If brands want a piece of this pie, Blacks and allies around the World are looking for the following:
Black employees, consumers and business owners are looking for companies to make a loud, unapologetic stance in the name of what is right. Nothing feels more unsafe than working at a company that does not sincerely want to see their staff blossom in their individual careers despite their race, color or creed. As a consumer it does not feel right investing hard earned money into a company that does not believe that Black lives matter. Even further, it does not feel appropriate to partner with brands and companies who have not been vocal about their position to stand up for what is right.
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." ~ Desmond Tutu
While brands' constituents will appreciate a clear stance against racial and systemic injustice, it is insufficient for companies to simply post a quote or black box.
Without action, black boxes, and fancy words are empty. Measures brands take to uproot systemic racism should be clear. It is evident that racism is still a systemic a systemic issue, in the wake of so many brands' recent cancellations. A couple ways brands can take action against racism involve:
Representation: Representation starts with staff composition. If a company is predominantly white with all or predominantly white 'C-suite level' executives, it will be hard for companies to argue that they truly stand in solidarity against systemic racism. Companies must be intentional about dismantling hiring policies that weed out ethnic sounding names on resumes. They must hire Black and end practices that overlook promoting well deserving internal Black candidates. Representation does not end at hiring. Representation extends to the models companies hire to represent them in ads, the contracts they execute with partners, influencers, artists and vendors. To allowing their employees, colleagues, partners and talent to beautifully express themselves and culture through their hair, make-up and personality.
Equality + Equity: Companies should implement policies that give equal opportunities to employees partners, colleagues and talent by taking action against racial bias. Further, companies should ensure that these constituents are paid equitably.
Policies: History provides overwhelming evidence that overt racism has hidden itself behind systems, policies and structures. If a policy is fundamentally racist, immediately remove it. Starbucks recently sent a memo banning employees from vocalizing their stance through wearing emblems supporting the #BLM movement. Their statement pointed to a policy that prohibits "taking a political stance." While this policy seems harmless, employees voiced concerns that Starbucks has encouraged support of issues related to ending inequality for LGBTQ+ communities. Employees should be free to support ending racial inequality and injustice. In addition, it is important for companies to develop policies that create clear consequences for employees, partners, collaborators or influencers who practice racism of any kind.
Don't do it unless you really mean it. If your brand is not aware of the long, oppressive history of systemic racism and how it has marginalized the very existence of the Black community, it is imperative that company leaders immediately prioritize becoming educated on this history. It is equally important that company leaders take a concerted effort to review policies and practices to ensure racism is non-existent in their policy and practice. Action without sustainable sincerity is only showmanship. Don't just hire Black to meet a diversity quota. Our World is diverse, companies should be too.
Companies are making a mad dash to respond in solidarity to the outcries of the Black community. They are quickly hiring new Black employees and firing employees and leaders who have contributed to racist company culture. However, it is not enough to implement these knee-jerk responses to "save-face." The same systemic actions that perpetuated racist oppression must be consistently uprooted through consistent application of protective policies for Blacks and people of color.
Racism is a toxic cancer that has plagued American culture for centuries, we are all too familiar with the patterns and policies that brutalize and oppress Black people. It is time for this unacceptable behavior to officially be cancelled. Companies have an obligation to SHOW up, truly, authentically and un-apologetically. Dear entrepreneurs, make sure your company is on the right side of history. Take Action.