Before 2020, responding to racially relevant events wasn’t a practice  that many business leaders were familiar with. However, the murder of George Floyd and subsequent racial reckoning during a worldwide lockdown initiated a new standard for corporate communications. A 2020 survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. found 85% of companies discussed the event with their teams. But 3 years later, the conversation around racial equity and how companies approach it has evolved so much. 

So when and how should a company respond to racially contentious events? 

Racial issues and events have become increasingly prominent in recent years. The summer of 2020 brought new expectations for business leaders; one of which is to create a safe place for their team members to grieve, process, and protect their mental health. Another is to express concern and empathy for clients or consumers who are affected by the issue. 

In recent years, racial issues have become increasingly prominent. The summer of 2020 brought new expectations for business leaders; one of which is to express empathy and support for clients and consumers who are affected by the issue.

Another is to create a safe space for their team members to grieve, process, and protect their mental health. Employees may not seem like an obvious audience that decision-makers must consider when issues of racial tension arise, but a successful company cannot survive without the work and support of its employee base. When companies aren’t outspoken on racial discrimination, company values– and particularly the values of leadership –come into question. Both employees and consumers alike may begin to wonder whether they can trust the company or if they are valued. 

As a result and rule of thumb, consumer and employee care should be the driving force in company responses to contentious racial issues. A company should prioritize race issues that have a direct impact on their employees, customers, or the communities they serve. For example, if an incident of racism occurs in the workplace, the company should respond promptly and take appropriate action to address the issue. Similarly, if a community where the company operates is affected by a race-related crisis, the company should consider how it can support the community.

However, companies should also be careful not to respond to every race-related incident. As a Black woman, I can assure you it would be impossible to address all the racial incidents that occur, so don’t hold yourself to that standard. Instead, the goal should be to create a safe environment for your employees and customers to process the incident they’ve witnessed. A company may not have the expertise to address all incidents effectively. In these cases, the company should consider supporting organizations and initiatives that are better equipped to address the issue.

When responding to race issues, companies should consider these OCG+ e best practices:

Listen and Learn

Before responding, companies should take the time to listen to and learn from those affected by the issue. This includes engaging with employees, customers, and community leaders to understand their perspectives and experiences.

Be Transparent and Honest

Companies should communicate transparently and honestly about their stance on an the issue. This includes acknowledging you don’t have the answer– don’t be pressured to overpromise or act as an expert – but instead be clear about your desire to support and listen.

Take Action

Companies should take concrete action to address the issue, whether through policy changes, training programs, support groups, or community initiatives. 

Evaluate and Improve

Finally, companies should evaluate their response to the issue and identify areas for improvement. Check in with staff and consumers to see how the response landed with your key audiences.

In conclusion, companies should respond to race issues with empathy, honesty, and a commitment to learn and listen, while providing a safe space for everyone to process what they have experienced.