This past year has turned a lot of norms upside down and we are increasingly noticing companies getting involved in social justice issues. Many companies are asking themselves if they too should take a stand on important issues. While this isn’t a simple yes or no answer, there are several considerations to keep in mind.
The first and most important consideration is to be authentic. Find something that speaks to your business product, model, employees, or founder(s). The companies that do this find it easiest to stand up to the challenges that will inevitably come. The most commonly exemplified company in this regard is Ben & Jerry’s whose founding values drive their commitment to social justice issues.
You must also consider if your company is strong enough. If you’re going to make a public statement on an issue you have never stood up for before, or if your company has never made a public statement about any issue, be prepared for people to respond. Talk to a public relations company on how to handle any potential blow back. Assure your shareholders and employees that you can withstand people who call for boycotts of your product or company. Confirm that all parties are on the same page about the position before moving forward. For example, take a look at what happened to the Papa John’s executive for making public statements about the NFL players’ peaceful protests, or the backlash KLM airlines received for attempting to celebrate LGBT pride.
Be sure to also do your homework and check your ego. Make statements only if you are meaningfully adding to the conversation. Otherwise, lend your support to organizations already doing legwork. Could you get involved without seeming like you’re jumping on the bandwagon? Bear in mind Dove’s Real Beauty campaign efforts have at times been criticized as merely femvertising. Similarly, be sure to review your internal practices and policies to avoid any mixed messaging. In other words, don’t stand up for gender inequality if your board doesn’t fairly represent that (or you aren’t purposefully moving towards this goal as an organization with a public stake in the ground). Similarly don’t make a statement on environmental protections if your endowment portfolio is invested in oil and gas companies.
Lastly, review the competitive landscape just as you would with any significant change at your company. Have your competitors made public statements already? Also ask if anyone in your industry has touched this issue before? Is there a reason that you should pay closer attention to them?
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