If your company produces and sells, say, commercial gasses used in manufacturing processes, your brand probably isn’t dependent on public sentiment. In this scenario, the decision to speak out would likely not impact the bottom line or your company’s reputation in the long run. But if your company sells snack foods, how people “feel” about your brand can have a tremendous impact. Boycotts might be temporary and even weatherable, but the internet means PR stories — both good and bad — can live forever. Accordingly, the potential financial impact of speaking out might not even be your primary consideration when you’re making your decision. The more your brand depends on public goodwill, the more likely it is that you’ll be compelled to at least make a public statement — even if your company doesn’t generally have a taste for social advocacy.
As leaders determine their responses to pressing situations like these in the future, here are a few key things to keep in mind. Conversely, the lawmakers in Georgia recently passed legislation widely viewed as restricting voting, particularly for people of color. In response, Major League Baseball announced it would no longer hold the 2021 All-Star Game in Atlanta; Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola — two of Georgia’s largest corporations — didn’t immediately come out against the law despite tremendous pressure to do so.
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Internet Immortality When tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the 2021 French Open due to mental health concerns, the spotlight quickly swung to how her corporate sponsors would react. Nike and other sponsors quickly responded and publicly voiced their support for her choice to step away and take care of herself. Between the lines of that response was the intent of communicating their support for mental health issues overall.
Actions vs. Words Words alone no longer cut the mustard. Social advocates are increasingly looking for actions that back up a company’s promises. While diversity professionals are integral in making these decisions, the “secret sauce” here is clearly tying your actions to your words. You’ll want to explain (even if it seems obvious) why your company is doing X, Y, or Z and how that supports your position or what you hope to achieve. Leaders often work with diversity professionals to craft statements that avoid permanent damage to relationships with certain groups but still show their commitment to change. Speaking out can potentially upset business partners, but not speaking out can upset public stakeholders — it can feel like a trap. While advocacy might not always be easy to navigate, it is important and always requires a full evaluation of potential consequences.
Don’t be overly surprised if your organization’s response to a particular social issue is not as “strong” or “direct” as some might desire. Even leaders and corporations with strong social justice advocacy tendencies have to balance those tendencies with the future and their bottom lines. Content and Tone
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