How Should Businesses Respond to Black Lives Matter?
It can be uncomfortable for a business to know how to respond to a global movement that is gaining such momentum. But that's the whole point. It leads to conversations and change. Despite being active since 2013, Black Lives Matter has taken centre stage in May 2020 following a series of murders of black people by the police in the USA, most notably George Floyd. The events are not new and they are not solely US-based, but they have been a catalyst to a wider global movement that examines how black people are treated by society. Businesses cannot ignore the movement, but many are being criticised for how they are responding. Some fast fashion brands are capitalising on slogans, while others are speaking from a place of hypocrisy. How should businesses respond to Black Lives Matter?
Silence is essentially complicity and many businesses not only have black customers, but black employees. To not say anything is often a louder message than saying something that doesn't resonate with anyone. The position on Black Lives Matter is not controversial or political and therefore there is no reason not to speak out. It is simply acknowledging that you agree with basic human rights, extended to everyone. As the saying goes: the silence of your friends is louder than the words of your enemies.
But Don't Just Say Something
Here is the main issue with what a lot of businesses have done. They have made a statement on the subject and left it at that. As a result, many businesses have had employees speak out against how hypocritical they have been and that the words are empty. A doughnut shop in Leeds posted a statement in support of Black Lives Matter only for an employee to explain how she had racist issues at work and the company did nothing to support her. So, a statement alone is a good start, but it isn't enough, especially if there is evidence that you don't practice what you preach.
The best response, as with anything, is to show, don't tell. How has the company proven that it believes the words it is speaking. What has the business done for the black community? Businesses should be careful not to speak about what they have done for all minority groups here, as we are specifically talking about the black community, who are subject to discrimination and prejudice that LGBT+, disabled, and other minority ethnic groups don't face. What you might do for the black community differs from business to business.
Do you have black employees in prominent roles? Are you committed to ensuring there is equity among those you hire for senior roles across the business? What could you do to try to even the playing field going forwards?
Do you work with charities and groups that benefit the black community? A statement is one thing, but investing in the wider community shows that you mean the words you say.
Who else do you work with? Are your external suppliers also on board with the message?
Are your employees good advocates themselves? While people being forced to show support on their own social channels is hollow, are any employees actively going against the message? Conduct on social media reflects on the business.
Do you have a strong zero tolerance policy to racism and have evidence that people have been dismissed for racial misconduct? Have issues been properly addressed, even if you might not understand why something could be seen as racist or offensive?
Do you simply just ensure your employees are educated on issues that affect the black community that they might not consider? You might not have a lot you can do, especially if you are a very small business, but you can always learn to become better and prepare to be equitable when you do grow.
Black Lives Matter is not a PR opportunity for businesses, but it must be addressed in an authentic way. Make sure you do say something, but it's better to say something and then have evidence that you live by the words you say. Maybe your statement will be a promise to learn, to put something in motion, and to try to prove your support beyond a blank Instagram square. For more information on Black Lives Matter and ways you can help through donations, amplifying voices, or by learning yourself, visit: https://blacklivesmatter.com/.