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By: Andrés Tapia and Fayruz Kirtzman
The world continues to be rocked by more cases of social injustices. In their new book, The 5 Disciplines of Inclusive Organizations: How Diverse and Equitable Enterprises Will Transform the World, Korn Ferry DEI experts Andrés Tapia and Fayruz Kirtzman discuss the difficult question of how companies should respond.
Recently, the CEO of a Fortune 100 company called one of us. He was urgently in need of help facilitating a conversation with his C-suite; he was seeking to determine whether the latest social injustice travesty dominating the news cycle warranted a public statement.
For the previous three years, his company had consistently spoken up against injustices affecting immigrants, various racial/ethnic minority groups, and those who are LGBTQ+—in fact, multiple times for each group, since the violations had happened repeatedly. “But we are realizing these types of events, carried out by lone wolves, hate groups, or even elected officials, are going to keep happening,” he said. “Now, given the precedent we’ve set, our employees and customers expect us to make a statement every time. Is that our role?”
His company’s dilemma is shared by many others. Given the case we’ve made throughout our book that inclusive organizations must tackle the vital task of achieving justice—and given the reality, as we have seen over time, that injustices around the world happen incessantly against groups of people, based on who they are—this is a fair question.
When answering, let’s keep in mind that at their cores, the makers of cars, the providers of hospitality, and the chain-store retailers are not social justice organizations. But if they intend to be true to their commitments to inclusion, their not speaking up will be an abdication in the eyes of their employees and customers.
We use a five-step process with our clients that entails aligning who you are values-wise, industry-wise, and brand-wise with the causes you are most likely to speak up about authentically.
Frame. Develop a framework determining which issues you are going to speak up on. Take into account your core values, your industry, and your employer and consumer brand. If you are in the hospitality business, given your workforce, immigration may be a fit. Or, if you are an outdoor apparel company, the environment. Or, if your growing market is communities of color, racial injustice.
Educate. Ensure your leaders are educated about these priority issues—in particular, that they are grounded in the connection between the brand and the issue you have chosen to take a stand on. Plan. Determine directionally the level of commitment. Are you going to respond with words alone or with action as well? Statements can have power, but actions are the real deal.
Coordinate. Ensure your corporate communications and PR partners have internalized the what, the why, and the how. Nothing is more damaging to your messaging than leaders who are off message.
Commit. Choose your social justice lane and commit to it. Authentic organizations follow through. Better to not make a statement than to fold.
Realistically, there are so many injustices against so many people that it’s impossible to speak to all of them, especially when social justice is not the core mission of the organization. Social justice and nonprofit organizations are usually focused on just one or two issues that dictate what they will speak out about, and the same is appropriate for for-profit companies. And the more those issues are tied to your core business, the better.
Tapia and Kirtzman are Korn Ferry senior client partners in the firm’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion practice.