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Improving Your Response to the BLM Movement

This truly feels like a transformative time in the world. People are speaking up en masse; politicians are being forced to listen and (hopefully) act; and institutions have released messages of support.

While some of the Black Lives Matter posts are terrific, some miss the mark quite badly.

What many, if not most, statements from companies have missed are the following:

  1. A recognition, and hopefully apology, of the mistakes, negative actions, and inaction they took in the past regarding anti-black discrimination. An educational genre of tweets is brands posting their statement of support, and then getting retweeted by former employees or the general public with long and believable stories of mistreatment while they worked there.  Systemic racism means that any organization of significant size will have screwed up at some point over time. Acknowledging those screw-ups, and providing current and former employees with a safe and supported method to come forward can help blunt any criticism that might come forward, and more importantly, help your company live up to the ideals you’re professing to have. Commit to listening to people and acting on their concerns.

The British Museum posted support for the Black Community around the world – but barely mentioned reclamation (and only later in the thread) and were called out for it fairly dramatically

  • A statement of support and need for systemic change from a corporation is great – but should also include concrete actions that the company will take.  Even if you don’t know what those actions will be, commit to determining what you can do and announcing it publicly in a defined timeframe.  A few actions that can really help you put your money where your mouth is:
    • Put your money where your mouth is. Many of the statements came with announcements of donations to organizations supporting Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. That’s a great start. But in the US, corporations spend millions of dollars donating to politicians ostensibly to encourage legislation beneficial to the corporation. If you thought systemic racism was truly an issue that must be addressed, you would make sure you donate only to politicians willing to legislate change.
    • Commit to doing the uncomfortable work of looking at your recruiting, hiring, compensation, and promotion policies and practices with an independent eye investigating why you’re not truly reflective of society (because almost no company meets that goal).  What are you doing that keeps Black people out of your executive ranks – starting from who gets entry-level jobs in your company, and moving through every step of a career?

Bon Appetit Magazine posted their support for BLM including tips for how to support Black-owned business, and then ended up having to fire senior leaders as their bad behaviour in regards to race was brought to light

  • Commit to reviewing who you do business with, to make sure you partners (a) are diverse and reflective of a diverse society, and (b) are not actively harming the population you’re pledging to support. If private prisons, weapons manufacturers, payday lenders and the like are preying on disadvantaged communities, responsible companies will not do business with them. Sometimes principles have to outrank any money they could be giving you.

And then finding humour at a serious time, one of the better corporate tweets with an apology for past mistakes AND concrete changes being made is from… The Death Star?!

It has been amazing to see how the discussion has changed from “is systemic racism real” to “how are we going to address systemic racism?”  While not everyone has made that transition, institutions and leaders that want to fix things have an opportunity to cement their legacy as being about more than their bottom-line, and being truly responsible corporate citizens.

Gurmeet Ahluwalia

Gurmeet Ahluwalia

Gurmeet Ahluwalia is the Managing Partner of StratExLead. He brings over 20 years of experience helping organizations in different industries and geographies progress along their Transformation journey. He has also recently been named one of nine members of the newly-formed Canada Statistics Advisory Council, tasked with advising the Minister of Innovation and the Chief Statistician of Canada on major issues and policies relevant to data and information relevant to Canadians. ​ Gurmeet has led major transformational programs including a wide-scale change to a 1000-branch retail network, internal cross-border acquisitions, sales of divisions, and reorganizations. He has worked with and for organizations in industries including Banking, Asset Management, Management Consulting, Technology, Consumer Products, Oil & Gas, Not-for Profits, and Government. Major projects have taken him across the world, including extensive time in the US, Australia, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Korea, the UK, Poland, and Bermuda. ​ His key skillset and expertise includes transformation, leading major programs, financial and strategic business case creation and benefit review, operational improvement, relationship management with and for major Financial Services firms, and general management. Gurmeet holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a BA from the University of Alberta. He was awarded a Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for community service, and was the Founding Chair of Sikhs Serving Canada, which currently operates 2 food banks in Mississauga, Ontario. Gurmeet is the father of 4 children and lives in Toronto.

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