Neil Foote, President, Foote Communications & President, National Black Public Relations Society
The death of George Floyd has unleashed years of pent-up emotion. There’s anger, frustration and exasperation with the way this country – built of the fundamental phrase that “All Men Are Created Equal” – has turned our back on us. What these protests have shown us is that people from all races, ethnicities and backgrounds are calling out for change. The passionate pleas of these “Say Their Name” protesters are hoping to prevent future Floyds, Taylors, Arberys and the numerous other incidents eroding the foundation of all the work so many others fought for in the legendary marches of the past.
The horrific looting and violence that dominated the images in the early days of the protests have primarily disappeared, much like the smoke still smoldering in some of our nation’s cities. What is inspiring about what we see the millions of the young and old, black, white, Hispanic and Asian who are channeling their emotions to help drive cultural change in our homes, our businesses and our communities.
As people who shape images and messages every day, we can learn from these protesters because they are showing the best of humanity. What would this world have been without Rosa Parks not wanting to move to the back of the bus? Or the thousands throughout the South who opted to walk to school and work during the Montgomery Bus Boycott? Or tens of thousands who attended the March on Washington or braved firehouses and dogs to fight for justice?
While there are many lessons that we can learn from these protests, here are three takeaways:
Reinvigorate your purpose
Take this moment in time to engage your board of directors, C-Suite and division leaders to ask yourselves what is firm’s purpose? Last summer, the Business Roundtable made a bold announcement, urging CEOs to move beyond ROI as the primary measure of success. Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable, said, “These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.” The events of the past two weeks create a window to strengthen your connections to your co-workers, your employees, your community, particularly your diverse employees. That leads me to the next point.
Find new voices
We are at a moment in this country’s history where we have to step out of our comfort zone, open our minds – and ears – to listening to people who come from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. And if you have few or no racial or ethnic diversity in your C-Suite, then you can use this time to make a bold statement on transforming your company’s culture. As a recent McKinsey Report recently stated, “The wholesale shift to remote working is also opening up access to a whole new array of talent that may not have been available to companies previously: working parents, dual-career couples, and single parents are all better suited to a flexible workplace and remote working. … Diverse companies are also more likely to have employees who feel they can be themselves at work and are empowered to participate and contribute.”
Organize for change
Look, it’s no joke. We are all struggling to retain current clients and find new business. We are having to make difficult decisions about letting folks go or whether to fill those empty positions. With all of this going on, use this period of disruption to assess how your firm can work more effectively and efficiently. Use this time to restructure your company to create opportunities for your existing diverse employees, figure out way to hire diverse interns or work with minority-owned firms to assist you with projects. If cultural change is going to change in our society, every one of us has to lean in, accept disruption as the norm and brace for a way to do business where diversity is ingrained in your culture as standard operating procedure – not as a moral obligation thrust upon you. True structural change will send a clear, resounding message more than just a letter full of great intentions that lacks a specific plan for action.
About the Author: Neil Foote is a veteran journalist, educator, author and media executive. He draws from his experience at the Miami Herald, Washington Post, Belo Corporation and Tom Joyner’s Reach Media where he helped launch BlackAmericaWeb.com. He founder and CEO of Foote Communications, a media consulting firm. He teaches digital and social media for journalists, media management, media entrepreneurship and business journalism at the University of North Texas’ Frank W. & Sue Mayborn School of Journalism. He is director of the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. The native of Brooklyn, N.Y. also is president of the board for the National Black Public Relations Society, a steering committee member of the Commission on Public Relations Education and serves on various other boards.