We are in a time of business culture transformation. This push for change is largely driven by the public outcry resulting from police brutality and other racial disparities. Consequently, many communities are asking questions about business and government practices, demanding to know how they will modify their practices to root out inequality and systemic racism that exists in their institutional policies, practices, and procedures. Social media has also played a large role in bringing awareness to these issues. With this heightened interest in equity, businesses must review their practices, be committed to having difficult conversations about changing internal systems and consider how to proactively engage the public.
So, how have some businesses responded? Public statements in support of addressing racism are one common response. Some companies choosing to take a stand include PayPal, Walmart, Comcast, Amazon, Target, and Microsoft. However, this limited form of engagement has also been met with criticism.
Critics have raised concerns about whether these businesses were truly authentic in their statements and actions. For example, when businesses participated in #BlackOutTuesday on June 2, 2020, people went to social media demanding donations instead of corporate solidarity. In addition, questions were asked about what was being done inside of these businesses to curtail racism and unfair treatment of Black, Indigenous and POC (BIPOC) employees.
Business leaders might wonder, if supportive public statements and donations are not sufficient, what should we do? Demonstrating a true commitment to equity and antiracism in your business is a necessary and meaningful next step. Businesses should get feedback from BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other employees about their experiences. Once this information has been gathered, modifying the systems and practices that inhibit diverse and inclusive workplaces is a logical next step. This could mean addressing diversity in hiring or partnering with a diversity, equity, and inclusion firm to create lasting change.
In addition, businesses interested in effectively engaging their communities should allow the community to voice their needs. Often, organizations see themselves as saviors and not partners. This mindset can result in outright rejection of any efforts before is even the potential for impact. The Newark Public Schools and Facebook partnership is an example of a partnership misstep, where the community was not included in the decision-making process.
Below are some best practices for effectively engaging external stakeholders:
- Communicate: create open lines of communication between the business and the community.
- Make Space: make space for the community to make requests.
- Listen: ask the community which resources would support them.
- Build & Support Internal Champions: identify those employees that are passionate about community engagement and allow them to support the initiative.
Keep these best practices in mind as you consider your external community engagement, corporate social responsibility (CSR) or philanthropic efforts. Do not downplay the importance of looking inward at your own company and addressing internal issues and barriers. And remember, there are numerous D&I practitioners who are ready and willing to assist you in this process, should you want or need additional support.