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Is your organization ready to engage in social justice conversation?

Yellow and white megaphone on blue and white brick background

We all want to do the right thing and support the causes that are important to us. But an organization cannot always participate in the public conversation in the same way an individual would. The decision to enter a social justice conversation is not one to be taken lightly. The mission, values, and priorities of your organization, along with the context for the conversation, all need to be considered to help ensure your participation in the conversation is sincere and credible.

Let actions speak louder than words

“Be authentic” is overused advice that has lost meaning for many. When it comes to engaging in social justice conversations, your employees, partners, stakeholders, customers, and neighbours want to understand who your organization is and what it stands for, sincerely.

Don’t just say things because you think you should. If your organization doesn’t have the track record and actions to back up your statement, there’s a good chance it might backfire.

Engaging publicly in social justice conversations can be daunting—but is critical to advancing important societal matters. If in doubt, go back to your values and ask what is important to your organization.

Do not get carried away by the news

When it is a matter of commenting a timely event, it’s important to take a breath and review a series of questions:

  • Evaluate: Why is it important for the organization to comment? How does it relate to the business, employees, clients, or community? Does the best path to action start in the public conversation? Does your voice add value? And if it does, what is the best way to do it?
  • Understand: Do you know the facts and deeply understand the issue? What is being said? How can you add value to what’s being said? What areas of the conversation align with your organization and/or with your diversity, equity and inclusion policy and goals? What are the risks?
  • Reflect: How has your organization conducted itself in relation to the subject at hand? What actions or steps have you taken or can you commit to taking in the future to positively address it? What can you do that is meaningful? Are there steps you could take internally before speaking publicly?

These questions need to be considered openly and honestly.

  • Consider also: Who are your audiences? What do they need to hear from you? What is the appropriate channel or spokesperson? What is the appropriate response given everything you know?

There are many options for meaningful engagement outside of public statements, so long as it is consistent with your organization’s values, and you are prepared to deal with the positive—and potentially negative—feedback. For example, offer training, volunteer time or funds to local organizations, raise awareness by sharing resources, create space and amplify voices from underrepresented communities. It’s important for organizations to remain consistent, active and supportive in the long term, and to ensure they have measures to hold themselves accountable.

The past few years have offered good and bad examples of best practices, and the traps that await organizations who try to take shortcuts. One good example is Nike’s support of the Black community that is rooted in years of corporate activism and is authentic to the brand. In contrast, countless companies faced backlash for being opportunistic and insincere in their efforts to associate with #BlackoutTuesday, a digital movement criticized for its lack of clarity and direction which resulted in performative allyship.

Now more than ever, companies and brands are under increased scrutiny as employees, customers and stakeholders expect organizations to join them in acknowledging and confronting important social justice matters to build a better future.

NATIONAL has been engaged in many conversations with organizations grappling with the decision to publicly enter into complex and important social justice matters. Our network of communication experts leverages our national and local market understanding to provide informed counsel for our clients. We welcome the opportunity to help organization reflect on the relevant factors to inform your response and actions in a way that adheres to your values and address stakeholder interests.