Internal Communication Shows Support for Protest Movement

Many employees received communication from senior management this week and last regarding the company's stance on diversity in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests. Messages of support not only contribute to positive public perception, but, more importantly, can assure employees, particularly persons of color, that the company has their back.

In the PR industry, which continues to strive for more diversity at every level–the U.S. PR industry is 88 percent white–delivering an action plan committed to creating change is just the first step in what should be an ongoing internal conversation with employees. Internal communication, whose stature was raised during the pandemic, has become even more important.  

PR Council Takes the Lead

On June 1, the PR Council released a statement to members acknowledging the killing of George Floyd and its impact on communities everywhere. However, the letter also acknowledged the importance of communication in this moment, and the impact these events can have on employees. 

“This is a moment for us to reflect on the damage and anger resulting from centuries of institutional racism in our country. As industry leaders, we have a responsibility to fight racism in all forms and do what is right. Doing nothing is unacceptable. We need to deploy the power of communications to meet this moment.”

From there the message provides steps for PR to take to address employees, including communicating:

  • With people of color in your workplace and those from underrepresented communities to acknowledge their pain. 
  • With employees at-large to assert your commitment to diversity and inclusion (D&I) and denounce racism. 
  • To all constituents that you and your organization are committed to being anti-racist. 

Kim Sample, PR Council president, said working with the Council's D&I community leaders, Soon Mee Kim and Helen Shelton, as well as the D&I community at large, propelled the organization to address the issue with members.  

“We felt compelled to take action personally and professionally,” Sample said. “Our mandate is to help our members. So, we aimed to write a letter that would satisfy a need for action, and serve as a guide for what members could and should do as a start. We’re continuing to tap the [D&I group] to plan actions because there’s no better way to demonstrate the power of PR than uniting to fight racism.”

Brands and Agencies Show Support

Support for employees came from some of the largest companies in the world, and not just in the form of words. Brands from Best Buy to GM to Microsoft crafted internal messages to demonstrate commitment to diversity. 

On May 27, Best Buy delivered a message from senior leadership to its blog, pledging to “continue to invest resources and time on this topic, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Every member of senior leadership signed the statement

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella hosted a company town hall asking employees to work together, look out for staff who may be struggling, and advocate for diversity.

"This is not something that you can just leave behind when you log into work," Nadella said.

The CEO of Kelloggs invited employees to participate in a town hall planned for today, and announced a $1 million commitment to the NAACP.

“In recent days, (our priorities have) included ensuring our employees have the support they need at this critical time–whether it’s checking in on each other or showing our colleagues some grace as we all work to make sense of the senseless,” wrote Steve Cahillane, Kellogg chairman and CEO. “We’re creating an open dialogue where employees can and are speaking freely. Hopefully, you are taking an active part in these conversations–even when you are struggling as I sometimes do to find the right words to say. You have my commitment that we will continue to do that.” 

On the agency side, Havas Formula closed its offices June 5 to support Black Lives Matter, and allow staff time to listen and learn from events. Its out-of-office message included this text: 

“We’re disconnecting from work to reflect and to explore how we, as individuals and as a collective, can impact change. As evidenced by recent events, there’s a lot of work to be done, and we’ll be using the day to review the role we each can play in dismantling racism and injustice.

Social posts and words are not enough. We must act and contribute. We must be brave. For every donation our team members make to the NAACP to help Fuel the Fight, Havas Formula will match it. We hope you will join us.”

How to Take Action

Crafting internal statements, particularly during times of turmoil, is not an easy task. But taking decisive action to acknowledge a movement, and your support, shows employees that companies value them on a whole other level. 

Sandra Fathi, president at AFFECT, posted a company blog not only extending support, but showcasing an action plan highlighting the company's diversity programs. 

In an interview with PRNEWS, Fathi said the first step in communicating these issues with employees is to acknowledge that the movement and crisis exist. 

“Don't shy away from having difficult and painful discussions,” Fathi said. “We are communicators and we know that silence can be even louder than speaking out on a topic. It's important to have this discussion with your team and to even admit if you don't have all of the answers.” 

She also noted the importance of backing up statements on diversity with leadership. 

“If you speak out on equality and diversity and inclusion in the workplace, then you have to let your employees know that you care about these issues outside of their lives at work,” she said. “Start with a discussion with your team, or with your leadership, to understand their sentiments. Gather feedback, listen to their concerns and brainstorm an appropriate response for your employees, organization and community.”

Fathi provided three priorities for creating internal communication at this moment. These include:

  • Clarify and reiterate the values your organization stands for and how they intersect with the priorities of the black community and protestors
  • Reiterate what you have done to address, promote or support organizations fighting these critical issues
  • Provide a clear statement of action or plan for what your organization will do (beyond this moment). This can include financial support, education, policy changes or any steps that can have an impact. 

In addition, Fathi noted it’s important to avoid placing a burden on black and brown employees. 

“It is not an employee's responsibility to lead a discussion, educate your leadership, craft a plan of action or advocate for change just because they are black,” Fathi said. “The burden is on leadership and it should be informed by all employees and for those who want to step up and be part of the solution–but not expected to based on the color of their skin. It is important to give all employees an opportunity to contribute and to create a safe environment for them to share, but not to set an expectation or require that they lead the process.”

In addition, Fathi said to be prepared since any action or inaction can lead to emotional reactions internally or externally.  

“Understand what potential criticism may be lobbed at your company. Do you have a good track record in this area? Does your leadership reflect your employee population or the general population in terms of diversity? Are you practicing those values or providing lip service only? These are questions that you need to be prepared to handle.” 

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal