Former Managing Director, BSR
From weekend events in Charlottesville, Virginia, to a leaked internal memo at Google just a couple of weeks ago, the conversation around diversity, particularly in the United States, has dominated the news in America.
While the scenarios are entirely different—and take place in very different settings—they are both a reminder that harmful narratives, stereotypes, and, in the case of Charlottesville, violence and hate, continue to exist in our society and in our workplaces.
These recent events remind us of the importance of corporate action on diversity and inclusion, as well as the need to defend equality and fairness. These events raise important questions about the true meaning of these terms today.
In this context, all companies would do well to ensure they are clear on their commitment to diversity and walking their talk when it comes to their values.
This means that any workplace across the world, in any sector, of any size—a Fortune 500 technology company in Silicon Valley, a manufacturing company headquartered in the southern United States, or a factory operating in India—needs to examine, and reexamine (and then examine again), its approach to and voice on issues of diversity and inclusion.
This also means that reinforcing corporate values is critical. While this might not please everyone, doing so is the best way to make clear for your employees, your community, and your customers know where you stand on equal rights, diversity, and inclusion.
For some companies, this means holding town halls to provide a space for employees to share their thoughts and reactions to recent events; for others, this means looking at their products and services and how they are being used to promote discriminatory actions.
For others still, it means responding to actions by public officials. Just this week, we saw the CEOs of Intel, Merck, and Under Armour resign from the President’s American Manufacturing Council following his response to the violence in Charlottesville. The CEOs of Walmart and GE expressed their support for diversity in direct response to the White House’s reaction to the events in Virginia.
Earlier this year, CEOs from a range of companies voiced their concerns about recent immigration bans and transgender bans. Airbnb cancelled user accounts linked to the White Nationalist Rally, as these violated the Airbnb Community Commitment to “accept people regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age.”
All companies will have to continue to ask themselves tough questions and find their voices on issues that are impacting their communities. Increasingly, your employees and your customers will demand it of you: a recent survey from Povaddo shows that more than half of employees working in America’s largest companies believe their employers should be more vocal on social issues.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
If ever there were a time for companies to double down on their commitments to equality and diversity and show the world what values-based leadership can look like, that time is now.