Say Something. Organizations Cannot Be Silent About Black Lives.
Paula T. Edgar
June 8, 2020
Many organizations are struggling with the question of whether they should make a statement about the murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, or any of the myriad of events that have happened recently with a specific impact on the Black community.
The answer is yes. Listed below are four recommendations on how to make a statement that will resonate with, be responsive to, and be supportive of your Black employees, colleagues, allies, and the community within your organization.
Step 1: Navigate around the discomfort.
We are at a tipping point in our society regarding organizational responsibility to address racism. We are in the middle of a global pandemic and yet many people are so traumatized and angry about the lack of justice afforded to Black people that protests are occurring worldwide. Business, as usual, cannot happen now. Silence is deafening. Silence is painful. The perception of your silence may be viewed as a lack of care for the people who work for you and with you. It is incumbent upon leaders to reflect on what may be causing them discomfort regarding developing a statement regarding Black Lives Matter. Ask yourself: What is making me uncomfortable about addressing issues of racial injustice? Why am I hesitant to say Black Lives Matter? Why don’t I want to use the word Black? Remaining silent is not an example of leadership, and it is definitely not inclusive leadership. So, who are you as a leader? That is the question you should be asking yourself.
Step 2: Commit to saying something.
At this point, making a statement and not getting it exactly right is a better option than not making a statement at all. While any statement your organization releases should be timely, it is also important to be mindful and not reactionary. Ideally, the statement that you develop should come from the person highest in the organization, and it should be written with empathy and as much organizational spirit and tone as possible. It should also be personal. For many leaders, this can be challenging, because generally any statement from leadership tends to be very curated and overly vetted.
The recommendation is that a statement is first drafted in the voice of the leader of the organization, and then reviewed by other stakeholders to provide feedback. You may want to solicit feedback from your Black colleagues before you release the statement, however, unless those colleagues are a part of the usual vetting, you should proceed with caution. Your Black colleagues want acknowledgment of what is happening and an organizational commitment to change going forward. This is not the time to add an additional burden on them to also have to consult when it is not a part of their role. Remember, institutional voice is important, but authenticity and commitment are what resonate with employees, colleagues, and customers.
Step 3: Commit to doing something
One of the conundrums that organizations are facing now is that saying something also comes with a requirement to do something. Back your words with action. Even if your organization has previously committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, this new inflection point requires renewed commitment and action. If in the past your organization has not turned words about diversity and inclusion into action, now is the time. There will be continued issues in relation to bias and discrimination in our society that you will need to be responsive to. Why not put resources and systems in place so that you are better prepared to respond in the future? Many statements have included a commitment to anti-racism training, or to instituting diversity and inclusion initiatives. The recommendation is that you need to engage with diversity and inclusion experts to do this – whether this means using your internal D&I professional and/or engaging consultants. Do not try to do this on your own, because oftentimes good intent coupled with reactionary decisions leads to organizational challenges because the actions are not well thought out or strategic.
Step 4: Be prepared for constructive feedback.
Once a statement has been written, and any guidance and feedback has been incorporated, release the statement internally and externally. Once released, if the feedback you receive is not all positive, be open to that. When organizations take a stance in an area in which they have either not done the necessary work or made commitments that were not carried out in the past, the feedback received may point out a lack of confidence that the words will not lead to action in the future.
An observation I have had when my business partner, Wendy Amengual Wark and I conduct diversity assessments of organizations is that during the process, leaders often voice a fear of what they may hear in an anonymous assessment. What we relay to them is that whether they use the assessment as a venue or not, the perceptions and experiences still exist, but they are unaware of them due to a lack of feedback. The same can be said here. If there is negative feedback that comes from issuing a statement, you must deal with it. You can do that by acknowledging that you can do better and by acting proactively and strategically going forward.
But what they will say, if you say nothing at this pivotal time, is that you said nothing.