In the midst of a global pandemic and a human rights movement, the United States has reached its tipping point. Many brands have been addressing the racial injustices and while some were authentic and action-oriented, many fell short.
My local PRSA chapter hosted HP’s Chief Brand and Communications Officer Karen Kahn and HP’s Chief Diversity Officer Lesley Slaton Brown. Moderated by Aarti Shah of PRovoke Media, the two HP leaders spoke on the #BlackLivesMatter movement and how HP’s corporate values have guided them in addressing racial disparities in business and emphasized that we must all take responsibility to address injustice and discrimination.
First, Look in the Mirror
KK: As communicators, as much as we have a job to help our brand navigate, we also have a huge responsibility to make our brands look in the mirror. We must focus inward before we can drive systemic change outward.
LSB: We can’t be frozen. This is not the time to try to challenge people on their views or challenge the data. Look at the disproportionate impact on communities of color in civil justice and the pandemic. It is the time to listen and ultimately move from the moment to a movement that allows mobility to scale and sustain over time.
Who Has the Burden to Act? We All Do!
KK: We can’t look to the Black community to show us the way and tell us what they need. We all have a responsibility to read, be smart, take actions in our own lives and groups and not expect that others are going to lead for us.
LSB: The time is now for the majority to step up and lead. That’s a very different place than where we’ve been.
This is a Movement, Not an Initiative
KK: Systemically, racism cuts across education, healthcare, criminal justice, policy, unemployment and voter suppression. Viewing this as a diversity and inclusion issue does not do it justice. This is a social justice issue. A racial issue. This is a fracture in our society. I think we’ve hit a breaking point. Enough is enough.
LSB: HP has never approached our D&I work as initiatives. It’s fundamentally embedded into our business strategy and shows up in the form of business priorities, performance metrics and a sustainability framework that focuses on the planet, people and communities.
Trust Comes with Corporate Values
KK: The definition of a great corporate culture, and of values, and of character, is what you do when no one’s looking. We have to pretend that no one’s looking and focus on doing the right thing.
The definition of a great corporate culture, and of values, and of character, is what you do when no one’s looking.Karen Kahn, CCO @ HP
LSB: People will make decisions to support brands that align with their values. Companies need to step into their authenticity. If they don’t have the right corporate values, they’re going to be forced to have them in order to generate revenue and improve the bottom line.
Microaggressions and “All Lives Matter”
KK: Not being racist isn’t enough.We’re in a situation of trauma with the Black community. For the senior leaders on this call, be present and vigilant. That’s the kind of stuff that erodes our cultures, people’s sense of themselves and their confidence. I encourage senior communicators to be extraordinarily mindful and make courageous decisions to call out bad behavior.
Humanity needs to be better. We can’t get to all lives if we can’t deal with Black lives.Lesley Slaton Brown, CDO @ HP
LSB: Humanity needs to be better. We can’t get to all lives if we can’t deal with Black lives.
Advice for Communicators
KK: Don’t mistake good communication for action. It will backfire.
LSB: Share stories of what good behavior looks like. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’re going to be on this ride together. Approach it with grace.
In a Nutshell
- As individuals and communicators for national and global brands, it’s important that practitioners take responsibility to understand the depths in which racism and white supremacy are woven into civilization as a whole. It’s only with education and a historical perspective that businesses can authentically address the racial bias, injustices, and disparities that exist within their own walls.
- The White majority needs to take the lead on taking action to combat white supremacy and racial injustice in this country.
- There cannot be a short-term fix for an age-old, systemic problem. Brands must be prepared to reflect on their corporate values. If they fall short, they should reevaluate and incorporate racial equality as a business priority.
- Microaggressions foster a toxic work environment that is detrimental to Black professional’s mental health, confidence, and sense of self. Senior leaders need to speak up and act when they hear or see racist behavior.