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  • Writer's pictureReb Carlson / Founder, Lead Consultant

5 Ways Business Owners Should React In Times Of Social Change

I purposefully delayed publishing on my blog and sending my email newsletter by a few days because 1. I wanted time to digest and educate myself on the situation, and determine how best I could help. 2. I prioritized the last few days to take action, like resharing resources on white privilege and anti-racism, donating, and signing petitions. 3. I needed to take a beat to determine how I, a white woman, can show support and amplify people of color without fitting myself in the narrative, but still use the platforms at my disposal to help as best I could, which means providing guidance for businesses where it's appropriate.

Personally, I've found that during times of confusion, helplessness, and hopelessness, the best thing to do is to self-educate and use critical thinking, and not just take the word of your social newsfeed or regular media outlets as gospel. It's one thing to feel a lot of emotions, no matter what your skin color is, but feeling all the feelings is just the first step. The next step should be to educate yourself to understand why things are happening this way, and then take action steps that make a direct impact, and I mean donating, signing petitions, voting, or calling your local representatives, not just posting about your feelings on social media. That goes for people of political leanings and backgrounds. Being complacent and taking no action when you think something is wrong will keep the same people in power. One source I found very helpful that I've shared with other people is this Google Doc "Anti-racism Resources for White People" complied by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein.

This year I decided to pivot my career and focus on leveraging my marketing expertise for working creatives and their businesses, and that does mean intending to work with a diverse group of clients that include people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, veterans, etc. In other words, anyone who faces challenges in getting support for their entrepreneurial endeavors. I've been going through my own individual journey on recognizing my white privilege and taking a more engaged approach to civic action, so I don't intend to preach to anyone that I found all the right answers. I would recommend for your own personal growth, and role as a business owner, to always be a critical thinker, seek out information yourself, and then think of constructive ways to help bring our society forward.

In the last ten years, there has been more consumer appetite for brands to react to social injustice, acknowledge causes, be sustainable, and have more accountability for their corporate actions.  Part of it is because of social media and the viral spread of information, and the other is the fact that consumers see through marketing for marketing's sake, and want to know the impact of their dollars. Brands also want to become more culturally relevant, and social causes and politics have become a bigger day to day conversation.

How to navigate supporting these issues while remaining authentic as an entrepreneur can be daunting, so here are some guidelines from my own experience helping brands support women in the fight for pay equity and celebrating Pride with the LGBTQ community, along with some awesome examples of brands from the past week showing their support in the fight against racism in our country:

1. Supporting a social cause should be a long term commitment, not just an on-trend activation.

2017 was considered "The Year of the Woman" due to the Women's March, a record number of women of color joining the Senate, and a larger conversation about pay equality. It was both a very tense year politically and an interesting one for marketers as they tried to figure out their place. I wrote a post called "How to Develop A Socially-Sensitive Communications Strategy for 2017" on LinkedIn since all my clients were, in plain terms, freaking out. I unfortunately also saw a lot of brands try to capitalize on the women's movement in 2017 without actually committing to supporting the cause long term. One brand at the time that bothered me was Keds, who organized a pop-up with Refinery29 to help attendees get prepped for the Women's March, without being clear how they were supporting the cause. I'm happy to saw that years later, Keds has clearly made a commitment by creating "The Keds Hand-Book for Women", a publication dedicated to sharing and amplifying the stories of empowered women.

2. If you're going to take on a cause, identify why it's relevant to your business.

Having your brand support a cause will be more genuine if you have a legitimate tie-in to your business or brand values. For Keds, they have been credited with creating the first sneaker for women in 1916, so their support of female empowerment makes sense. While many brands over the past week have shown support for Black Lives Matter, some have unfortunately come off tone deaf, such as the Washington Redskins who admittedly have a very problematic and racist name. One of my favorite, "out there" brand examples of the past week is from Bratz, who showed their Black Lives Matter support through an Instagram post. While at first it might be a head scratcher, it makes complete sense that a brand who supports diversity by literally making a line of dolls of various skin colors would, and should, support the movement.

3. If you choose to support a cause on social, immediately show the action steps you and your business is taking. 

I have to applaud Glossier for not only sharing their stance on the fight against systematic racism on Instagram, and not only making a donation of $500k across organizations focused on combating racial injustice, but also acknowledging the racial disparity within the beauty industry and pledging an additional $500k in the form of grants to black-owned beauty businesses. They mentioned they were still working out the details and would formally announce the program in June, but sharing their intentions and current plans upfront shows their commitment in instilling change.

4. If you're planning a public campaign to show support, evaluate your internal operations first.

Referring back to the "Year of the Woman" in 2017, there was an infamous Fearless Girl statue commissioned by State Street Global Advisors down on Wall Street. The statue was part of State Street's campaign to pressure companies to add more women to their boards, but a couple of months later they ended up paying $5 million to settle a lawsuit from its female and minority employees who alleged the company violated equal pay rights. Lesson learned: make sure before you support a cause, your company is aligned with it in their brand values, how products are developed, who they're hiring, and the company culture

5. Empathy first. Then make a plan with how you will support. 

Over the past week, the collective response to anyone who isn't black on how they should react or what they can do, is to first be empathetic. It's the same as a brand or business, especially for employees during this time. To understand how to do this, I recommend reading "How to Manage Your Team In Times of Political Trauma" by Michelle Kim.

*Bonus* Have the conversation. 

The most important thing you can do right now is to not be silent, especially if your business claims to support diversity and inclusion, or actively targets a black or multi-cultural audience. If you'd like more information and resources for your own personal accountability to be anti-racist, I'd recommend following writer and activist Rachel E. Cargle. For tips on how to discuss racism in the workplace, I recommend this post from Dynasti Hunt on 5 Do's and Don'ts for White Leaders and Colleagues Discussing Racism at Work Today.


One simple action you can do that will take less than 15 minutes is to donate to a fund or organization. Since many protesters have been arrested over the past few days, and it's likely protests will continue, I'd recommend using the National Bail Fund Network, made up of over sixty community bail and bond funds across the country, to find bail funds in communities across America that you can donate to. Some bail funds have been flooded with donations, so the network will make sure to redistribute the funds to other bail funds in need.

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