Over the last few days, several big corporations have been standing in solidarity in support of Black Lives Matter following the unjust murder of 46-year-old African American George Floyd.
Some have been genuine, while others appear to have questionable motives and have left me questioning why, given all I know about the systemic racism and White privilege in corporations around the world, they chose now to stand behind their Black employees.
And for how long? No matter how well-meaning the claims of “intolerance” or the apparent commitment to “embracing diversity”, White privilege has a long and unsavoury history in the workplace.
Black lives truly matter
And then I woke on Tuesday morning to an email from Etsy: one of the few examples I have seen where the language and the intent look honest and authentic.
Etsy’s CEO Josh Silverman not only comes out in support of Black Lives Matter but is also prepared to invest in the welfare of Black-led institutions. This is what he had to say:
“The past days and weeks have, once again, shone a spotlight on the tremendous injustices in our society. We stand in solidarity with our employees and communities who are voicing their anguish, anger, and deep frustration with systems that oppress and devalue Black lives.
“We stand against police brutality in all forms.
“We stand against a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets Black Americans.
“We stand against the widespread disenfranchisement of Black and Brown communities whose voices are silenced at the polls.
“Allyship with Black communities is as much a moral imperative as a requirement of our business.
“We can’t fight for small businesses, if we don’t also fight for the empowerment of Black business owners.
“We can’t hire and care for our Black employees, if we don’t also protect Black lives everywhere.
“We can’t be there for women employees, if we aren’t also standing up specifically for Black women.
“We can’t advocate for parents, if we aren’t standing with Black mothers and fathers who fear for their Black children’s’ lives.
“Black Lives Matter is the civil rights movement of our time, because it addresses a fundamental inequality in our society: that Black lives are too often undervalued. This notion inspired Etsy’s own internal commitments from diversity and inclusion to economic empowerment.
“We also believe that it’s critical to provide support to organisations working tirelessly for criminal justice reform and those that assist Black-led institutions. That’s why today we are announcing donations of $500,000 to the Equal Justice Initiative and $500,000 to Borealis Philanthropy’s Black-led Movement Fund, as well as matching employee donations. We encourage our community to join us in supporting these important organisations.
“Etsy is built on a belief that communities have the power to change the status quo. Change is hard-fought, and we are committed to this fight.”
Fighting the myths
Silverman’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement is the testament of a company that truly embraces diversity and inclusion and the impact, years of oppression has had on the Black community.
VERCIDA spoke earlier this week about three basic myths regarding this incident that UK CEOs must understand.
Myth No 1: This is an issue for the Black community: Not true. The murder of George Floyd is just one more (and there have been many) examples of police brutality against the African American community. This is just one example of the daily violence Black people face by men and women in uniform. Therefore, this is an example of institutional racism and white privilege. It is, therefore, an issue for White people in power.
Myth No 2: This is a political issue and not a business issue: Not true. We live in an interconnected world where our experiences outside of work influence how we feel and perform inside of work. We, as human beings, cannot separate our work selves from our community selves. Psychology just doesn’t work that way. Today, many of your Black colleagues will be feeling pain and anguish at what is happening in the US right now. Many of your White colleagues will also be looking for you to show leadership and to shout out ‘not in my name’ and that Black Lives Matter.
Myth No 3: This is a US issue and not a UK issue: Not true. This is a global issue. While this incident may have happened in the US, Black people in the UK are feeling this just as much. They have loved ones living and working in the US. Family members and friends who are affected by everyday racism and White privilege. They are looking at their TV screens and social media posts with fear and anger, as they know that this one incident is part of a wider pandemic of global racism.
UK business leaders must stand up and call out what is happening in the US right now. It’s no longer enough to just say “I’m not a racist”. What Black people in the workplace need are White allies, which will only be achieved when White people challenge passivity or denial and become aware of their whiteness.
“As a leader, don’t let the fear of uncertainty hold you back from reaching out to your colleagues – Black and White – in the middle of this crisis,” says VERCIDA consulting director and D&I expert Dan Robertson. “You don’t have to have all of the answers, but you can show leadership and allyship through some small acts of kindness and by using your voice when it matters.”
Robertson advocates that leaders do three things:
1. Show you care: Today – reach out to all your colleagues – via email or newsletter, and send a simple message that says, I see what’s going on. I hear the suffering, and I stand behind you.
2. Listen and act: Get on Zoom, and just listen. Ask your HR colleagues to organise a virtual call with colleagues from your BAME networks, so that you, as a leader, can hear first-hand the feeling of your colleagues. Ask then what you can do to help and act. This is a key principle of collaborative and compassionate leadership.
3. Use your power network: Research out to other leaders in your network and ask them to do the same. Change happens when we all work together to achieve a common aim. You don’t need to act alone.
Finally, this may feel strange; it may feel out of your comfort zone. You may want to sit back and not get involved. But as a true leader, that is no longer an option. No one said leadership was easy. But be brave and be courageous. No good human will criticise you for doing that. Black Lives Matter.