In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police officers on May 26, 2020, many companies scrambled to take what they saw as the right stance on topics like racism, diversity and inclusion. This included organizations ranging from small businesses identifying themselves as people-of-color-owned in the hopes of avoiding vandalism and looting in the wake of riots that accompanied otherwise peaceful protests and large, multinational corporations making statements of solidarity with underrepresented communities or calls for change.
Actions (or Inaction) Speaks Louder Than Words
But many observers saw these overtures as half-hearted and insincere. Consider this commentary in an article for Tech Crunch by Megan Rose Dickey: “Amid this tragedy, many tech companies and leaders have spoken out against racism, saying things like, ‘We stand with our colleagues and the Black community’ (LinkedIn), ‘We stand with the Black community against racism, violence, and hate’ (Salesforce) or ‘we all have the responsibility to create change’ (Facebook) — while simultaneously fostering an environment where employees defend racism, contracting with U.S. Custom Borders and Protection, which has been deployed to police protests, or enabling President Donald Trump’s post inciting violence to remain on its platform. These are just a few examples of many, but they all evoke one thing: complicity.”
In the retail world, big chains like Walmart, CVS and Walgreens announced an end to their practices of locking up hair care products targeted for communities of color. That gesture didn’t get far with some members of the African American community, as illustrated by Cat Davis and Dorian Warren’s scathing opinion piece for NBC News, in which the authors – one a 12-year associate for Walmart – noted that “the largest corporate employer of America's Black workforce” should be focusing more on paying its workers more and protecting them from exposure to COVID-19 than symbolic gestures of support for minority communities.
Making it Real
It’s hard to know exactly what process these major tech and retail companies used in generating their responses to the killing of George Floyd and the unrest and widespread demand for change that has followed. It’s possible that these companies solicited feedback from people of color, whether from within their own ranks or in the form of outside consultants. The backlash from members of the very communities they sought to appeal to, though, suggests they could have put more effort into using inclusive processes involving diverse teams to generate responses that resonated more with communities of color.
These examples of how often well-intended PR efforts can backfire should give us all pause and serve as teachable moments as we continue to work toward real inclusion and meaningful change.
Avoiding the "Stuck State"
Organizations and their leaders are well-intentioned, yet many are still languishing in a stuck state. The key is for businesses to understand that leveraging diversity and inclusion to nurture a strong bottom line are long-term goals that require long-term efforts and cannot be solved through short-term initiatives. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Our recent white paper, Overcoming the Stuck State, offers some insights into the steps that need to be taken to get unstuck. These are trying times, but these are not the times to back away from the business imperative of building an inclusive culture. Inclusion matters! Download a free copy of our most recent white paper here.