Talking about a social justice cause publicly is different than doing the hard work of diversity, equity and inclusion. Should you paint your logo rainbow? Should you feature your Black employees on your social channels during African American History Month? Should you tweet that you donated to a cause to support Asian Americans?
Yes, it’s bad to appear as though you’re not supporting these important movements. However, it’s just as bad to support them in words only. Ask yourself one question: is it substantive or performative?
This question gets easier to answer when you look at it from your employees’ perspective. They are your number one audience. For example, would a Black employee feel tokenized or celebrated on your social channels? Do your non-binary and transgender employees feel like their coworkers take their pronouns seriously? Do your BIPOC employees feel like they have a voice in their meetings?
If the internal experience of diversity doesn’t match the external communication of it, you will lose trust with your top audience — your community. No PR campaign can solve a lack of progress within. And doing nothing is not an option anymore — the press are asking about DE&I as part of their standard interview questions. You don’t need to have all the answers today, but you do need a plan and steps you can communicate externally. (This is a snapshot of ours.)
#1: Understand why you care. How do the rights of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people affect your employees, your customers and your audiences? How do they shape your products and services? Move from a place that matters.
#2: Be authentic. Values become real when they are lived. And they need to be communicated in a way that sounds human, not corporate.
#3: Celebrate, but don’t promote. Join the movement, don’t try to overtake it. This is community building 101.
#4: Speak the truth. George Floyd didn’t die; he was murdered by the police. Say it like it is. Softening a reality will only cause more harm to the people it affects. Don’t be an unintentional gaslighter.
#5: Lead with good intentions. Change takes time and won’t happen overnight. Create action plans and communicate updates regularly.
#6: Show progress. Be honest about where you are and ready to show substance (donations given, diversity numbers published, policies implemented etc). Owning your part in the process shows leadership, even if you’re admitting that you’re only getting started. Begin where you are.
DE&I work requires leaders and spokespeople to embrace what meditation teachers call beginner’s mind. We have to get curious and open enough to see our processes and employee experiences as if for the first time. It takes courage and vulnerability as we look inward to see what we have yet to learn. Curiosity leads us to understanding. And when we understand, we can begin to care. Remember: substantive, not performative.
Beth is the CEO of Inkhouse, which she co-founded in 2007 and has grown into one of the top ranked agencies in the country. Beth’s been recognized as one of the Top Women in PR by PR News, the Top 25 Innovators by The Holmes Report and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Beth believes that shared values, and the freedom to create are the foundations of all meaningful work. She brings this philosophy to building a culture of creative progress at Inkhouse.