Not the time for empty platitudes

This is a remarkable time. The killing of George Floyd has ignited an international movement, and more people than ever before are heeding the call to listen, to learn, to reflect and to take action with the potential to change the world.

It’s hard to miss all the brands finding their place in this movement as well. If your company is still considering whether to weigh in, know that silence also makes a statement. Make sure what you communicate is intentional.

If your company is still considering whether to weigh in, know that silence also makes a statement.

Racial justice is a topic that should be discussed soberly and thoughtfully. And a brand participating in this discussion should do so authentically and in alignment with their values. (As a side note, if racial justice does not align with your company values, this is a great time for self-reflection.)

For brands choosing to participate in the current discourse, here are elements of a meaningful statement on racial justice.

  1. Name the problem unequivocally. Avoid “we are in this together” platitudes and overly-broad language like “people of color,” “minority” or “diversity.” While those are positive areas of focus, this moment is about the Black community and should be named as such.
  2. Demonstrate empathy. Show that you hear the community’s pain, trauma, anger, sadness and grief. This is about the Black community’s pain, not your company’s. Show that you are listening and hear them.
  3. Demonstrate humility. Indicate that your company is doing its own self-reflection right now and listening and learning. At a minimum, avoid overstating how much your company has NOT contributed to the problem. Don’t rely on statements like “we’ve got a diverse board,” “… diverse employee base,” or “we’ve been doing XXX in this area” without acknowledging there is still work to be done.
  4. State your plan of action. A statement of solidarity without sharing how your company will be part of the long-term solution may be seen as empty. Your company’s action might be a financial donation to an organization working on the cause or, even better, setting aside annual budget for the cause. Perhaps it’s reviewing your hiring or board recruitment practices to ensure they align with your stated values, or advocating for change at the local/state/federal policy level. This should be done from a place of service and not self-promotion.
  5. Most important, do the work. Follow through with your plan of action. Your clients, employees and prospects are watching — and so is history. Authentic contributions to the long-term solution will be appreciated and remembered. Inauthentic ones will fall flat and quickly be forgotten.

UPDATE: For those looking for examples, Lexie Perez — in collaboration with Julian Cole, Davis Ballard and Stephanie Vitacca — created this incredible resource of 100+ brand statements and what can be learned from each.