What Companies Need to Do When Engaging in Social Issues
This article was adapted from comments Ashley Allison made during GLG’s Deciding Factors podcast, hosted by Eric Jaffe, GLG’s Head of Events. Listen to the episode featuring Ashley Allison here. New episodes are released monthly with guests talking about events, trends, and moves currently impacting our world.
Occasionally, a company will put out a statement that makes you question, how did this come out? It becomes clear that there wasn’t a black woman, an immigrant, or a member of another underrepresented group considering the content of the statement before it was released. If they had, it would have been flagged and prevented a backlash.
This speaks to a larger issue inside corporations and other businesses: leaders often try to engage with the world with commercials and initiatives before working internally to get their own house in order.
The most important thing for executives to do is start inside. Start having those conversations — you may be the president and CEO of a company, but you might not be a facilitator on issues around racial equity. There are people like me, who have spent their whole career learning how to have these conversations that can sometimes feel very tricky. Bring someone in to help you through this work.
Take fear out of it and create safe environments for all your employees, particularly employees of color, then make sure that whatever your message is, have someone in that community as part of your strategy sessions. Don’t try to come up with solutions for people from a certain community without having that community represented. Rely on their expertise.
Don’t try to boil the ocean. Pick something that you really are passionate about and that you can commit to. It really hurts efforts when big corporations create a story then kind of disappear because they haven’t committed for the long haul.
Diversity in corporate America has been an issue that people have been talking about for a long time. Today presents an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. Corporations are stronger when their employees and their leadership are diverse and truly represent this country. Don’t make it about politics, but about doing the right thing. Get your own house in order, then start doing some external work and rely on people who are really trained in this space to guide you through the process.
For an example of a company trying, consider Airbnb. Its leadership was dealing with accusations of discrimination on their platform. Airbnb is still committed to making sure its platform is a place where everyone who wants to experience a destination can do it without experiencing discrimination. They made a commitment and worked on it over the years. They will continue to work on it.
If you’re putting an effort together, take a second look at who is a part of the team. Who’s missing? Who is not represented? What voice do we need to have at this table? If that’s not your strength, ask one of your colleagues: is this the right configuration of folks? If you are trying to solve an issue about communities of color and the whole table is full of white people, that’s not the way to do that. You need to expand your circle and make sure that folks are represented. It’s important for people who have had that lived experience to be a part of the solution. Find a way to bring them into the conversation.
To hear more from Ashley Allison, be sure to listen to the full Deciding Factors podcast: Ashley Allison: Everyone Needs a Seat at the Table.
About Ashley Allison
Ashley Allison has more than a decade of outreach, organizing, and campaign experience, along with an expertise in crisis management and coalition building. Most recently she served as National Coalitions Director for the Biden campaign. She also served as the Deputy Director and Senior Policy Advisor under Valerie Jarrett in the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Barack Obama. Her portfolio included managing a team that worked with the LGBTQ+, Muslim, faith, African American, disability, and entertainment communities. Allison is a graduate of Ohio State University. She also spent seven years in New York earning her juris doctorate and master’s in education while working as a high school special education teacher.