Like so many of you on June 2nd, I opened Instagram to find a sea of black squares.
Brands like Netflix and Amazon took #BlackoutTuesday as an opportunity to show solidarity with the black community, and memorialize the countless lives lost to systemic racism.
As a black person, I wanted reassurance that their support would go beyond posting a performative black tile. I wanted something more concrete. Aside from a vague “We stand with you,” what will brands do once #BlackLivesMatter is no longer trending?
To bring about lasting change, effective allyship must have an action plan, not just well-intentioned messaging. More importantly, brands must ensure their allyship is non-optical and not formulaic.
It’s been over a month, and even though our feeds aren’t flooded with Desmond Tutu quotes anymore, now is when the real work begins.
Decolonizing and dismantling centuries-old structures built into every aspect of society is a marathon, not a sprint. Runners know that training for a marathon involves building up your base mileage – a process that is only possible through consistency. It doesn’t happen overnight.
But as James Baldwin once wrote in a 1962 Essay for The New York Times, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
No two companies are the same, which means action plans aren’t one size fits all. Here are some starting points for developing an allyship plan tailored to your company’s values and mission.
Center black voices and black experiences
While blackout Tuesday broadened the conversation surrounding racial injustice, it failed to center the point of view that needed to be heard the most: black voices. Alicia Walters, a cultural artist and creator of The Black Thought project, which seeks to visualize the black experience, says, “There is power in black people taking up space, particularly when cities are intentionally trying and succeeding in removing us, making us invisible.”
Consider featuring black creators in your respective field or collaborating with black team members to craft effective messaging and campaigns that are useful to the cause.
Use your strengths
What can your company bring to the table? While some brands hold political power, others are global institutions that can set new standards. Sephora, with over 2,600 stores in 34 countries worldwide, has taken the 15% pledge, an initiative that will commit 15% of its shelves to black-owned businesses and products. As a result, other brands like Rent the Runway have followed suit.
Think of productive ways to use your resources to work towards racial equality, whether that means joining forces with societal impact programs or donating to community organizations and black-owned businesses in need.
Develop SMART goals
Like any other venture, the best goals are SMART. Using the strengths you defined in the step above, your goals will be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.
One example, provided by 600 and Rising, a coalition dedicated to the advancement of Black talent in advertising, is to “Create, fund, and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Black employees.” Aside from building a clear line of communication between leadership and employees, ERGs can also foster personal development and a sense of community.
It is also vital to designate a set of KPI’s to keep track of what’s working and what’s not. In this case, having members fill out a survey every 6-months can help define what metrics would be applicable.
Rethink your approach to diversity and inclusion
According to a 2014 study, only 5.8% of the ad industry is black. A 2019 census by AIGA, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, revealed that 3% of designers across multiple disciplines identify as black. Why are D&I initiatives still failing?
Porter Braswell is the co-founder of Jopwell, a career advancement resource for Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals, and the author of Let Them See You: The Guide for Leveraging Your Diversity at Work. While he states that changing hiring practices is important, companies “fail to retain [candidates] for one key reason: authenticity.” Authenticity goes hand in hand with a sense of belonging, as one is not possible without the other.
He suggests that the best diversity initiatives encourage employees to join a company’s culture while maintaining their diverse backgrounds and individuality. Now is a great time to rethink your company’s approach and focus on fostering an authentic environment.
Unlearn and re-learn
On an individual level, working towards racial equality involves unlearning the harmful structures that have allowed systemic racism to persist. It requires examining the level of our complicity in these structures as well. It is a time for action, but also self-awareness and questioning. Creating a better future, as a company, and as a collective, involves a multi-layered process of expansion and breaking cycles.
Here is a compilation of helpful readings, conversations, and resources that may prove useful during this unlearning process:
The Difference Between Being Not Racist and Anti-Racist– Ibram X. Kendi
Designing for a More Equitable World – Antionette Carroll
Black Self / White World – Jabari Lyles
Freedom is a Constant Struggle – Angela Davis
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