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08.04.2021 By Renee Austin, Head of Corporate and Rebecca Roussell, VP, DEI Communications

A Social Justice Movement: Responding a Year Later

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It’s hard to believe that it has been a year since this nation experienced the most visible, widespread civil and social justice unrest since the days of segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery (February 23, 2020), Breonna Taylor (March 13, 2020) and George Floyd (May 25, 2020) sparked a movement across racial and ethnic lines worldwide. It was (and still is) the year of two pandemics – COVID-19 and racism.

The heightened tension catalyzed our nation to look deeper at the disparities that have plagued vulnerable communities for decades – like diverse representation in the workplace, equity and access challenges in healthcare, and charitable support in diverse communities.

The trauma of last summer’s unprecedented events and the vivid images of unrest remain etched in our minds. Trust fell. Fears rose. And people voiced a new expectation for companies and brands to be as human and diverse as they are.

As we near the one-year mark of George Floyd’s death, and as headlines are dominated by the recent rise in violent attacks in the U.S. against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we anticipate that what initially sparked outrage and calls for social justice, will quickly escalate to a call for accountability on our nation’s progress. People want to see evidence of less words, more action. Fewer promises, more impact. In other words, what happened to all of those promises that companies, leaders, and brands made a year ago, and how far have they come?

The accountability movement is about to take center stage.

At Current Global, we anticipate an upcoming news cycle (earned and user-generated) that is going to demand answers to these questions:

  • How has your company responded to the significant display of social unrest in this country?
  • What commitments has your company made to increasing the diverse hiring of executives and employees? Have you hired a person to lead these efforts internally (e.g. Chief Diversity Officer, Chief Equity Officer, etc.)? Have you diversified your board of directors?
  • What support have you offered for your current employees? How have you included your employees on important decisions and plans regarding DEI?
  • What programs have you created to support the communities that you serve, especially those who are most vulnerable?

We view this as an opportunity to get ahead of the accountability story rush – explaining the authenticity and “why” behind your commitments and programs while, importantly, still offering the empathy and solemn reverence that this continued social justice movement deserves.

Here are five tips to keep in mind:

ONE: BE PROACTIVE

It’s important to get ahead of the impending flood of accountability stories that are anticipated. Use owned channels to proactively tell your story and be transparent about progress and intended next steps from initial commitments. If seeking media coverage, make storytelling succinct and transparent as the media will be saturated with pitches. Show, in detail, the steps taken and continued progress towards commitments made a year ago.

TWO: SHOW EMPATHY AND COMPASSION

Out of respect for the victims and their families, avoid tying your internal and external messages to their deaths and the violent crimes committed. Refrain from using names or terms such as “death anniversary” and “commemoration.” Instead use words or phrases such as “reflection,” “taking time to remember,” “understanding social justice and its importance to our company.” In addition, realize the trauma of these events is still very present in people’s minds, so carefully consider word choice and context. In addition to using Current Global as counsel on these matters, be inclusive by seeking the input of your employees, diversity advisory board members (if applicable), CEO and other senior executives.

THREE: CONSIDER TIMING

For this type of communication, timing will be critical. There are a few things to consider prior to executing any external communication. Current Global suggests making upcoming statements April through mid-May, avoiding May 17 – May 31. Even though the current news cycle is heavily reporting on former police officer Derek Chauvin’s criminal trial, we anticipate the media in late May will be saturated with stories looking back at that terrible time of George Floyd’s death. This, of course, is a cautious observation and could change based on further media monitoring and reporters’ habits.

FOUR: COMMIT TO TRANSPARENCY

It’s important to view this period as a reflection of the past, but also what can be done to make a more positive impact moving forward. Remember, there is no finish line to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Sure, there are DEI goals, timelines and established benchmarks, but the focus should be on ensuring that efforts are done right and the impact is truly for the greater good. Taking the time to have conversations with key internal and external stakeholders is vital to the success of any DEI program. Making sure your company’s CEO and other executives are fully vested and listening to employees, customers, colleagues, peers, and even competitors is how DEI will flourish. Beyond these conversations, there must be continued action and execution toward established goals.

FIVE: PRACTICE ACCOUNTABILITY

The accountability narrative will not go away, and progress reports should be timely, frequent, detailed and action-oriented for internal and external stakeholders. If DEI isn’t already embedded into your internal and external plans, it should be. Having no DEI plan isn’t acceptable moving forward. Not only is it the human thing to do, but it is also a business imperative that will affect your brand reputation, recruitment and retention efforts, and revenue.

We hope this brief informs and inspires you to plan for the coming days. Our deep DEI expertise and approach to human-centered storytelling can help you speak up and stand up to create the change our country needs.

Please let us know how we can help you navigate during this time.

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