Almost all companies it seems expressed their outrage at the death of George Floyd and announced their stance against racism. Some statements were vague, vacuous and even trite.
Companies and individuals can take more meaningful actions to fight racism than merely condemning it. PR agency owners and PR departments can develop their own action plan. PR can guide company leaders to institute national and local anti-racism policies and programs. .
If you have any doubts that racism exists or are skeptical about your role in racism, watch this very short video presentation (< 1 minute) by Jane Elliott.
To start the process, companies can listen better to their minority employees and customers. It’s not just the National Football League that was deaf to the issue of police brutality and racism. Companies must offer minorities the opportunity to speak out, must listen carefully, and must commit to making appropriate changes to company policies and programs to protect minorities. Companies must hold individuals accountable who make racist statements or practice any form of racism.
Companies can more aggressively hire minorities, provide them with support and mentors, and promote them to management positions. Many experts urge PR and marketing departments to hire for diversity, while avoiding “tokenism.” The process can start by aggressively recruiting each year at traditional black colleges and universities.
Companies can make clear that racial-tinged jokes and comments are not allowed. Individuals can speak up or act when they hear racist comments or see racist actions. To encourage honest expressions, organizations need to create a safe space for sometimes uncomfortable conversations.
The company’s PR and marketing communications can depict blacks and other minorities in positive ways and feature their success stories. Companies can include more diversity in PR and marketing messages and visual communications – not just successful white people. Diversity and inclusion expert Kim Clark recommends using inclusive language that is free of stereotypes.
“Unconscious bias is so prevalent in communications,” Clark said at a PRSA webinar. “As an employee communicator, you are influencing how people feel about themselves at work. Language influences attitude and behavior, and can either disrupt or reinforce the status quo.”
“As image-makers, platform builders, conversation managers, and storytellers, we contribute to the images, messages, and perceptions that circulate within our society and culture,” writes Isis Dallis in Fast Company. “These images and messages have tremendous power.”
As individuals, people can take dozens of worthwhile actions to combat racism.
Statements of solidary should always include recognition of the problem, acknowledgement of how the problem has affected the company specifically, and actions the company has taken, advises La’Nita Johnson.
“By holding organizations and leaders to a higher standard surrounding their use of language and their accountability, there is no doubt that systems change can help propel our nation forward,” she says.
Examples of Corporate Donations
Corporations can provide financial support to quell racism. These are some examples of corporate donations. Softbank launched a $100 million Opportunity Growth Fund to invest in startups led by people of color, according to Forbes. SoftBank said it will not take a traditional management fee on the fund and will invest in companies that are using technology to “disrupt traditional business models.” Half of its gains will be reinvested into subsequent programs with similar goals, and the company will donate a portion of gains to organizations that support opportunities for people of color.
“The Opportunity Growth Fund will be the biggest fund providing capital to black Americans and people of color,” stated SoftBank’s COO Marcelo Claure in the letter to employees, Forbes reports. “We have to put money behind it, set plans, and hold ourselves accountable.”
Bank of America announced that it is making a $1 billion, four-year commitment of additional support to help local communities address economic and racial inequality aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. The funding will mostly go to facilitate economic mobility and development programs, while adding an emphasis on health services as the pandemic drags on.
“Underlying economic and social disparities that exist have accelerated and intensified during the global pandemic,” said CEO Brian Moynihan. “The events of the past week have created a sense of true urgency that has arisen across our nation, particularly in view of the racial injustices we have seen in the communities where we work and live. We all need to do more.”
More than Donations Needed
Donations are not enough. Companies including PR and advertising agencies can provide executive talent and time to anti-racism organizations on a continuing pro bono basis. Companies can loan mid-management talent to help non-profits that support minority justice and civil rights. Companies can commit to buying supplies and services including creative services from black-owned businesses. Designer Aurora James created the 15% pledge to ask stores, including Sephora, Net-a-Porter, Target and Saks Fifth Avenue, to commit to buying 15 percent of their products from black-owned businesses.
Longer term, the business community can and must support change in funding of public education to assure that minorities in inner cities and poor rural areas receive education equivalent to wealthier suburban communities. In the end, education is the route to equality and success for all minorities.
Finally, companies can vocally support changes in law enforcement through new national, state and local laws and regulations. Companies must take the lead in pushing political bodies from Congress to local police boards to put in place policies that assure fairness and justice in treatment of all, together with appropriate penalties for police violations of the new regulations.
This moment in time presents us with the best opportunity in decades to effect change that will eliminate racism. Celebrities are stepping up to advocate for change, but only business has the public respect and clout to make real change happen. Business must take the lead in eliminating racism. We will all benefit.
Bottom Line: While companies have issued statements pronouncing their opposition to racism, the business community must now take meaningful action to effect change. PR agencies and corporate PR departments can help their business clients find appropriate and substantial actions to assure equality, justice and hope for all.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.