How leaders should address racially charged events — and what to avoid — according to a crisis PR expert
- Business executives may want to wait until they have all the information surrounding the police shooting of Jacob Blake before making a statement.
- But this may not be a good idea. One of the biggest mistakes corporate leaders make when addressing a racially charged event is waiting too long, or not saying anything at all, according to LaToya Evans,
communicationsand PR expert who's worked with companies including IBM, Bank of America, and Ally Bank.
- Even as more details emerge, it's important for leaders to recognize that many of their employees, specifically Black employees and employees of color, are hurting and may feel unsafe.
- Companies should issue statements that acknowledge people's feelings and lay out a plan of action to ensure employees from marginalized backgrounds are heard.
The police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who lives in Kenosha, Wis., as well as the shooting death of two demonstrators thereafter, has sparked protests and reignited heated national conversations on
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Instead of waiting for every detail to emerge, corporate leaders should ask themselves this: Do the details change the fact that the incident is viewed by many as racially charged, and that your employees, especially Black employees, may feel unsafe and in pain?All leaders should be in tune with how employees are feeling, and respond in a way that is both timely and empathetic.
It's important to get the timing right
Just because you should respond in a timely manner doesn't mean you should rush. A first step is letting employees know that you have their back, Evans said."Even in the current situation where people are trying to understand, process, decipher what information is out about the Jacob Blake case and the situation, and the protests, and all of the different things it's spawned since then, it's still good enough for companies to note, 'Hey we have your back. We are supportive of you. And we understand this is a trying time,'" Evans said. Leaders are already taking these steps. Several Wisconsin-based companies have issued internal memos or public statements. In addition, NBA, WNBA, and MLB teams, and other athletes are sitting out games in protest.
"This is a difficult time in US history," Evans said. "And corporations need to be sure that they are standing with their employees and making sure that they know that they're heard, they're valued, and that their lives matter."
What to say to your employees
According to Evans, effective responses have two key components. The first is a real acknowledgement of the range of emotions employees, especially Black employees, may be feeling right now."It's literally being able to empathize and understand on a human level how this affects people, in their workplace and in their personal lives," Evans said.
ManPower Group, a larger Wisconsin-based employer, wrote in a memo to employees: "These are challenging times for our community and our country and I want to take this moment to reiterate to our Black and Brown employees that we are with you and we support you."
Statements like this make employees feel seen and heard. In addition, effective memos have a plan of action.Corporate leaders should be asking themselves "What are we personally doing to ensure that we're on the right side of the story. How are we empowering employees and supporting them?" the PR expert said.
If you don't have a plan of action yet, you can be honest about that."It is completely acceptable to say that you don't have all the answers, and that you don't have the solid plans, but that you're working to listen to employees and are working to figure out what that plan is," Evans said. "It's also completely fine to bring in outside advisers for this as well who are specialists in this area of
Above all else, it's important to say something."The big thing you don't want to do is nothing," she added.
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