Almost one year ago, George Floyd’s murder sparked nationwide anti-racism protests in more than 150 U.S. cities and brought the racial-justice movement to a sustained crescendo not seen in the U.S. since the 1960s. This national moment transcended into a global movement, with protests taking place in over 60 countries and on all seven continents. Floyd’s murder was the catalyst for companies and brands to engage in conversations around systemic racism and inequality, setting in motion Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) commitments across corporate America.
In an unprecedented influx of support, more than 100 companies and brands spoke out against racism, expressed their support for the Black community in America and pledged to work toward greater racial justice.
A year later, companies now face an even more complex stakeholder ecosystem. Employees, customers, analysts, policy makers and the media are holding companies accountable and want to know where companies are in their DE&I journey. From evaluating the progress companies have made to advance social justice, address structural racism to change hiring practices and add more diversity to their leadership talent, stakeholders are evaluating companies through a new lens.
This more complex stakeholder ecosystem - combined with the tone set by the new administration around systemic injustice, gun violence, hate crimes, minority voter suppression and other issues - will require organizations and brands to develop their communications using a polycultural lens, a compassionate tone in their dialogue and take a customized approach to the actions they take. And actions must be credible. Stakeholders will want to know that companies have been on track on the DE&I commitments they have made. However, if progress has not been made relative to the commitments made a year ago, companies can remain credible by being transparent, honest and showing a clear path forward on how they intend to accelerate progress and navigate their own DE&I journey.
Actions and communications must also be continuous. Showing support for the Black community during the George Floyd Anniversary (May 25th), Juneteenth or around significant heritage months is important. But the struggles and injustices the Black community face are not tied to a news cycle or headline – they are constant. As such, a company’s actions, tone and communication around its DE&I efforts must also be constant - both internally and externally - in order to build sustainable relationships with Black stakeholders and allies. Organizations must learn to embed advocacy and a consistent narrative of acknowledgment into their corporate DNA to drive long - term, meaningful action so they can move through the zeitgeist versus being dominated by it.
As we near the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death, your organization may begin to consider internal and external communication efforts to engage your stakeholders. This could take place in the form of a safe room discussion, company town hall, donations to diverse organizations or other DE&I-related efforts. While the anniversary may seem like an opportune moment to stand in solidarity and allyship with the Black community – it’s critical that your efforts do not appear performative or as a direct response to news media inquiries. Below, we’ve outlined key imperatives to help you prepare for the anniversary and the remainder of 2021.
- Conduct an audit of all DE&I commitments. The first step is to look at all your internal and external communications and lay out all the commitments your organization made. Where are you against those commitments? Who is responsible for moving them forward?
- Stay aligned with your mission and values. When evaluating your current or new DE&I commitments, start by addressing how they align with your organization’s mission and values. Be ready to stand up for your values and avoid falling into inaction.
- Know your track record. Be honest and transparent about your company’s history and track record but focus on the future and where you are going.
- Plan your communications. Timely action is required to avoid appearing as a follower under pressure to act, or for meaningful actions/commitments to get lost in the fray. Many organizations are already working on announcing progress on their DE&I commitments. Develop external and internal communications plans today so you will be prepared to communicate in a timely manner.
- Establish sustainable communications. While immediate action is required, mid- and long-term strategies must also be established now, because stakeholders are looking to organizations and their brands for a consistent voice and reliable support in navigating a challenging environment.
- Start with your employees. The role of the employee has never been more important. The continued challenges of the pandemic, working from home, retention concerns and an increased expectation that an employer's sense of purpose and values align with those of its employees has made employee support an ever-present priority.
BCW’s 5A’s Framework
When it comes to racial equity, many organizations aspire to do the right thing on their own. But even when there has been a demonstrated commitment to DE&I, corporations and brands tend to fall behind in terms of implementing a cross-organizational approach. Rather than relying solely on the Chief Diversity Officer, Chief Inclusion Officer or affinity groups, organizations can leverage BCW’s 5A’s framework to ensure comprehensive DE&I action that includes all decisionmakers across the organization. As a result, you will develop an approach beyond one moment in time and be prepared for larger shifts in the cultural landscape.
- Evaluate where your organization is in its DE&I journey, and ask tough questions before rushing into action.
- Take stock of actions, programs, commitments, messaging and stakeholder engagement to date, as well as any missteps in the past.
- Address the situation directly and with empathy, humility and vulnerability, both internally and externally. Admit where you are in the journey, recognize past employee or messaging missteps, and share re - prioritizations of resources or the fact that you are just starting out. Moreover, share the hidden spots in your line of sight on this topic and what you need to learn, fix or uncover internally/externally.
- Do not shy away from humanizing the organization and/or leadership. Think of how you can weave in how your actions are important and consistent with your stated mission, business strategy and values.
- This is a movement, not a moment. Don’t change your tone or leave the conversation after the attention dissipates or the news cycle dies down. This is a long-term commitment for the organization, not an isolated action. Be ready to act and not simply follow a trend.
- Make commitments that matter to your stakeholders and back them up with action. Consider which tools, resources and programs already in place can be redirected, and/or make new commitments, goals and supporting programs that can be developed to drive systemic change in your workplace and in your communities. Plan for both the short and long term when developing your commitments and programs. This should be reflected top to bottom across the organization. Show that leadership is listening.
- Determine who is best to voice your message, the appropriate channels for your message and potential actions for your organization.
- Use an inclusion advisory council made up of key stakeholders (e.g., C-suite, HR, communications, sales, legal, Employee Resource Group leads, etc.) to align the values, strategy and business needs with employee support and culture to respond appropriately.
- Be willing to evolve your programs, commitments and goals as you go. Your first actions should not be your last, and you must prepare for a marathon and not a sprint. You will learn, test and adjust, as needed, and then scale, ultimately creating a feedback loop with diverse stakeholders to provide input.
- People want their voices to be heard, so make sure the appropriate channels are in place (safe lines, safe discussion rooms, etc.) for these conversations. Additionally, provide guidance to managers for checking in with employees and reminding staff of the availability of internal assistance and external support resources. Affinity and employee resource groups should be part of the response plan.
- Track and monitor commitments and messaging to understand stakeholder perceptions and expectations along the way. In addition, build a reporting cadence to hold senior leaders accountable and share progress internally and externally with stakeholders.
For More Information
BCW designed this high-level guide to inform companies and brands on the current cultural landscape and provide them with key considerations as they implement communication objectives. We encourage you to reference this guide in conjunction with BCW’s trusted counsel and to work with the agency to develop a customized strategy for your organization.
To learn how BCW can help your organization on DE&I communications and upcoming polycultural moments, please contact: