On Wednesday, January 6th, 2021, Black and Brown organizers secured the victory for two historic Democratic candidates in Georgia, essentially saving American democracy once again from itself. Mere hours after this, in the midst of certifying the Electoral College vote, white, domestic terrorists descended onto the Capitol and attempted an insurrection.
Just last year, in the same spot, the National Guard awaited people protesting the state-sponsored violence of police brutality against Black, Brown, and marginalized communities. Where was the National Guard or the police when white insurrectionists seized the Capitol building?
We know why the police were not there. We know why insurrectionists’ bodies were not brutalized. White supremacy.
What happened on January 6th isn’t the first time our collective consciousness has been activated. Not the first time we witnessed two Americas. Nor will it be the last time we both bear witness to the white supremacy that underpins our nation and, celebrate the communities of color that are, continuously, the beacons of progressivism and democracy in America.
The question is: how do we respond as business owners?
As business owners, you’ve probably been told to stay silent on political matters. But silence is contributing to the dominant forces of violence that we see play out in politics and society.
And those forces of violence aren’t that far removed from our work. They live within us and show up in our workplaces.
Responding in the moment
If you are new to this conversation, pause here and watch this video. Wayward Kind’s Director of Strategy, Jaz and Marketing Coordinator, Keishonda had a candid conversation about inclusivity in the workplace, being Black, working in marketing, and some steps businesses can take to back up their posts and hashtags with tangible action.
Then come back to this question: when events are unfolding what can I do as a business to respond and make space for them?
Pause or stop your scheduled content
Every time something awful happens, companies that are relying too heavily on automated marketing efforts (like scheduled social media and email content) show how disconnected they are from their community. If you do nothing else, stop your scheduled content.
Show up, in real time, with a point of view.
Don’t wait for things to blow over or hope that you don’t need to address it. If it’s impacting the people you serve, it’s the only thing on their mind. You are catering to your market, and by staying silent, you could lose your audience.
Take a genuine position as a brand on those issues, and the issues that matter to you. The “issues” don’t need to be aligned with your work.
As an example, accounting firms should be showing up and speaking up about BLM just as much as they are talking about PPP loans.
People want to align themselves with brands, especially ones about livelihood, that they trust. Trust is built by the alignment of a brand with a customer’s personal values.
What does showing up look like?
There are a few unspoken rules to speaking up:
- Timeliness matters. If you have a POV on a current event and it’s not shared in the moment when it matters, then it’s too little too late.
- Do not show up with hollow and disingenuous statements. Your comment on events should not only indicate a position but a subsequent action, an affirmation, a renewed commitment, an education.
- These moments of civil unrest are not a “marketing moment”. It is not an opportune time to market your services unless you are a Diversity Equity and Inclusion consultant.
These moments of civil unrest are not about what you do, it’s about who you are. Just because this is not a marketing moment, does not mean you do not show up. You absolutely need to show up with a message that centers people, the event, and action.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, large corporations and small businesses alike raised money for local and large civil society organizations. Businesses pledged to have a certain percentage of their inventory made by BIPOC producers. After the attempted insurrection, companies took action and disassociated themselves with the factions that tried to stage a coup. Shopify and Amazon took down affiliated shops. Banks are suspending political contributions. The Professional Golf Association, Ben and Jerry’s, the National Beer Association, all made statements.
Racism, white supremacy, violence, sexism don’t happen in a singular event, these are everyday realities for people, so your response to an event should be bolstered by an action that demonstrates a sustained commitment to actionable change.
These are tips for the immediate reaction to a crisis, and following are some long term actions to start making a difference in your organization.
Being crisis ready
Responding to a crisis isn’t just something you do for your customers. Responding to a crisis is something you do for your employees and the longevity of your work and culture. But preparing for a crisis when the world is in the middle of a fire is the worst time to respond. You need to invest in becoming crisis-ready.
Create space for your employees
National events show up in your workplace in how they personally impact employees. Your employees may be tired, may be worried, may be reckoning for the first time with their power in the world, may be dealing with the loss of a loved one. As we know, events, like January 6th, like the murder of Breonna Taylor, are happening in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
You employees are human before, during, and after work, and cannot and should not disassociate with their humanity during work hours.
The way to prepare for these events with your employees in mind is to create safe space.
Collaborate on decision making, on matters like what does care look like especially for BIPOC employees? What are the automatic solutions that will be in place during times of crisis? What are the daily practices of well-being that you want to cultivate for your staff? Empower your employees to ask for what they need, and create a culture of accommodating those needs.
Something we practice at Wayward Kind is debriefing an event. Ask people at the first meeting of the day, how they feel about the event and or how they feel about approaching their work that day, what headspace they are in. We follow up with assessing the capabilities of our team for that day, what needs to be done in that moment, what can wait, and how we can be of assistance to our other team members.
If you are a leader of a team, you are responsible for modeling good practices, all the time, not just in moments of crisis.
An idea Jennifer McClanahan-Flint, Founder of Leverage to Lead had, is having automatic responses to emails during crisis. On Wednesday and for subsequent days of that week, Jennifer and her team activated their automatic response to emails to provide space to recuperate and care for themselves. Furthermore, creating boundaries for themselves with their clients.
This automatic response email can be formatted similarly to this:
- Acknowledge their email,
- Tell them the duration you will be out of the office or when you will be checking your email again,
- Assert the practice you are creating for yourself or the entire team,
- And if you so are inclined, offer a secondary resource if it is incredibly important. That could be someone in the office that has offered to be a resource or a point of contact.
Your approach to creating space for your employees should be based on accommodation, creativity, and well-being. Emergency preparedness is not a one size fits all matter, and not every emergency will require the same measures. The most important aspect of emergency preparedness is meeting the wellbeing needs of your employees; your goal is to take care of them.
Create Core Values
Every company has a set of values, whether or not they are articulated. Articulating those values will create a strong company culture, a team foundation, and be your roadmap for how you respond to a crisis.
Your values should be tenets you, your employees, and your work embody every single day. And the value itself should be paired with actions that manifest the value.
One of our values at Wayward Kind is “liberation.”
We recognize all types of diversity including ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, religion and abilities. We actively seek out ways to use our platform as a tool for liberation because we know that’s what makes our work exceptional. And we carefully select clients, collaborators and partners who share this belief.
The actions necessary to manifest liberation require socio-political consciousness of the employees and clients, and, moreover, honest introspection and evaluation of our work.
Values are practices. They need to be well defined to include what it looks like when practiced, what if feels like, what it should yield. It serves as a blueprint for action. And if you live your values, it will make responding to a crisis instinctual because your values have allowed you to be proactive.
If you are having some trouble developing a set of values, check out our blog post on how to develop your company’s core values.
Do I have to do it alone?
We’ve given you a lot to work with and a lot to think about. We know it can be hard to get started. There are so many incredible resources available to start this process, and there are excellent Diversity Equity and Inclusion consultants that can help you navigate this. Some that immediately come to mind are:
Equity in the Center
Every Level Leadership
Leverage to Lead
Nicole Lee Consulting
The Adaway Group
This work is important. Don’t get deterred by its difficulty. There are people inside your organization, and businesses to call in, to help you get started.
If your business has questions about how to make your messaging consistent and authentic or make sure your messaging and marketing are aligned with your core values, we are here to help. Tell us your story, so we can go from here together.