2020 has been the year of speaking out.
So much has gone on. It’s impossible to be a neutral observer.
Even companies, which have traditionally kept out of politics and hot-button issues, are throwing their hats into the fray. They’re making statements on political issues, sometimes for the first time in their company history.
And for some, it’s backfiring.
If you’ve ever made a post on social media that rubbed people the wrong way, you know how tough it is to get slammed for saying something that you intended positively. You feel personally attacked when you didn’t do anything wrong.
What are you supposed to do? Shut your mouth and say nothing? Swallow your truth and stick to safe, PC posts?
Or accept that discomfort is part of the learning process?
This week on Your Brilliance TV, marketing communications coach Marie Gettel-Gilmartin teaches us how to navigate the minefield of making a public stand.
Just because you could say the wrong thing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything at all.
She offers practical tips and tools for companies and individuals to avoid BLM backlash, respond to criticism, back up their words with actions, and speak up without getting burned.
What You’ll Learn
Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”
Marie Gettel-Gilmartin has nothing holding her back from speaking her truth.
She runs her own company. She has her own podcast. She’s developed her own corporate social responsibility policy. Even though it’s a company of one, she feels confident knowing that she’s running her business in alignment with her beliefs.
It wasn’t always that way, though.
“When I was working in the corporate world for 29 years,” Marie says, “I felt like I had to dull my shine. I had to soften my voice, because I had to be careful about what my company was doing and what my bosses thought.”
This year, amidst political and social upheaval, staying silent about things that matter is no longer an option.
Not only are employees fighting for the right to wear masks, pins, and t-shirts in support of Black Lives Matter, but companies have had to make some hard decisions about their messaging.
Do they stay silent and contribute to the problem?
Or do they make a stand and risk backlash?
How to Avoid BLM Backlash
Companies like L’Oréal, Disney, Amazon and Netflix have all been called out for making statements in support of Black Lives Matter while failing to address racism in their ranks or support anti-racist efforts.
Marie is blunt:
Until companies are taking tangible actions that are not just all talk, then they probably shouldn’t be talking about Black Lives Matter.”
What should companies be doing?
Change has to start from the top, Marie says. Companies should develop a corporate social responsibility statement and action plan that includes tangible goals that can be measured, tracked, and reported on each year.
They also need to solicit feedback from their employees of color about how they’re doing.
Just because employees aren’t complaining doesn’t mean there aren’t any issues. Often, employees are wary of offering critical feedback on issues of race.
“It’s really important to say, ‘Give us your honest opinion. It’s okay if we don’t like what you say,'” Marie says.
Another way to ensure that underrepresented groups have a voice is by creating affinity groups. Create networks for black employees, Latinx employees, women employees. Assign an executive sponsor to each group.
Once a company has conducted a thorough investigation of its own handling of race, it will have ideas on how to craft a statement that’s both authentic and trustworthy.
But there’s one crucial final step.
Before putting out a statement, companies “need to hire a really excellent marketing communications person or team that knows how to vet those types of messages,” Marie says. Pass any public statement by a review team that includes people of color.
When You Get It Wrong
Companies and individuals need to do a better job of apologizing authentically if they screw up.”
Speaking publicly about issues of race will open you up to criticism.
“All of us who are white are trying to get a handle on how we have contributed to white supremacy and racism,” Marie says. We’re learning, and we don’t always get it right.
What happens when you don’t get it right?
Do you defend yourself? Do you blame the other person for not acknowledging your good intentions? Do you clam up and walk away, vowing never to say anything again?
Those are all examples of white fragility, a term popularized by Robin D’Angelo in her book of the same name.
It’s when white people feel attacked by someone giving them constructive feedback.
White fragility prevents white people from learning how to improve their communication. For example, if a person posts something offensive on Facebook and gets called on it, they might go back and delete the post rather than apologize. This is called dirty deleting.
Instead, Marie recommends a sincere apology. You might say:
Now that I know that, I will fix that, and I will not make that mistake again. Thank you for giving me the feedback. I’m sorry.”
But, she cautions, “if you cannot apologize and really believe what you’re saying, do not do it.”
Need Help with Your Messaging?
Marie is a writer and marketing communications coach who helps companies figure out what is unique and special about them and share that with the world.
If your company or organization is struggling to stand out with its communication, Marie is offering a free 30-minute strategy session. Find out more.
“Right now, we’re at a crossroads in history,” she says. “We have a choice to decide which side of history we’re going to be on.”
So take a stand. Speak out.
And make your vote heard.
Jump to Topics of Interest
2:17 “Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.”
3:31 Having a personal voice in a corporate world
5:30 Change has to start from the top
7:10 Ask for feedback from people of color
9:31 Creating a safe space for feedback
12:10 The art of apologizing
12:56 Digital blackface
14:59 White fragility
17:07 Dirty deleting
18:30 Free 30-minute strategy session
Marie specializes in helping small businesses and companies write engaging content. She’s no stranger to tough topics herself. She writes on anti-racism and BLM washing, she showcases underrepresented voices on her Finding Fertile Ground podcast, and she’s committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Find out how you can work with Marie.