Corporate Responses to Black Lives Matter with Harriet Small

Summary

On this episode, we were lucky enough to have the wonderful Harriet Small on the Morning Show to walk us through some statements coming out from big brands like Apple and Paypal in response to the massive Black Lives Matter protests erupting across the US and the world.

Resources

Here are some of the excellent resources and articles she shared with us:

Transcript

Kyla:

Good morning and welcome, I’m Kyla Sims.

Adam:

And I’m Adam Brayford and you’re watching the Bananatag Morning Show.

Kyla:

You’ll find us here every Wednesday and Friday at 9:00AM Pacific, 12:00 Eastern, and of course, 5:00PM U.K. time. And we’ll be here talking to communicators from around the world, bringing the community together and sharing tips and advice.

Adam:

We’re very lucky today our guest is Harriet Small. Harriet is a freelance communications professional working in the transport sector. 12 years experience in communications, journalism, and public affairs at companies such as the U.K. Civic Aviation Authority, Transport for London, Sky, Merton Council, The European Union, NHS, and titles across Hearst Media. She’s the winner of the Institute of Internal Communication Rising Star Award for 2019, where she also sits in the IOIC’s Future Net Committee. And in 2018, her Be Epic campaign from Merton Council was shortlisted for an employee engagement award in the Internal Comms category. Harriet also curates the commsoveracoffee.com blog and is an ambassador for the Taylor Bennett Foundation. Today, she joins us from her home in Southeast London, U.K. Harriet, thank you so much for joining us.

Harriet:

Thank you for having me.

Kyla:

Thank you for being here with us today Harriet and talking to us and our wonderful audience. For our friends watching at home, you’ll notice that we didn’t have our fun intro music today and our tone is a little different because we’re going to be tackling a tough topic that’s on the forefront of everyone’s mind right now. So over the last week or so there have been ongoing protests and demonstrations happening all over the world in response, not only to the murder of George Floyd but the ongoing pervasive systemic and often violent racism that still persists today in the U.S. and around the world.

So it’s not an easy topic, but we know that our audience and this community are some of the most loving, supportive, kind people out there and we know that you’re all wondering what you can do to support your Black colleagues and friends and what you can do to support systemic change in your organization. So today Harriet has been so kind to help us look at some internal communications that have come out in response to these protests with a critical eye so that we can learn how to affect positive change in our organizations.

Adam:

Yeah. So Harriet, first of all, thank you for joining us with very little notice. You started a Twitter thread sharing examples and perspectives on internal communication right now in light of what’s happened and that’s drawn in views and shares from around the world. So we’ll be taking a look at that in just a second. But first, can we just talk really quickly about the difference between external and internal communication right now. In your opinion, what’s the reason to come out publicly with a message to your external audience versus communicating with your employees right now?

Harriet:

I think the important thing is that businesses and organizations need to come out and talk about what they stand for and what they value inside their organizations and also externally. However, it does need to be done correctly because the internal audience has to come first. And it also has to be quite honest, whether that’s internally or externally because there are organizations who have gotten it wrong. They’ve tried to use tokenistic phrases or copied from other industries. I think the most important thing is to really look inside your organization and ask, have we had a problem? If you have, would that be internal or externally with working with stakeholders or working with internal colleagues, or it’s been with customers?

Whatever it’s been and just come out and say, “We haven’t gotten it right. We want to do better.” But I think coming out and making bold statements when you’ve got challenges that are clearly laid out maybe in the media is quite dangerous and also challenges that you’ve got internally as well if you’ve got historical issues that haven’t been resolved. So it’s really important to be honest about where your organization is both internally and externally but the internal audience will always come first because they are the priority for any business, especially at a time like this when we’re going through a pandemic.

Kyla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So it really just adds the layers on of things that we have to communicate and talk about right now. So earlier this week, you started a Twitter thread, I’m going to pull it up here on the screen right now, of internal communications being posted from big brands in response to the protest and the murder of George Floyd. So why did you start this thread?

Harriet:

So I was actually walking to my grandmother’s house, so I’ve been doing her groceries and her laundry and I watch an interview that Dan Carter the former All Blacks player does every week with different players around the world. And he does advise [inaudible 00:05:00] Mackenzie and then the guests and they were having this conversation, it was a normal rugby interview conversation and I was just watching it and I’m thinking, I’m not okay. This could be a conversation tomorrow in the workplace. Somebody is going to have to sit and listen to this as if it life is going on as normal, especially somebody whose Black. You’re going to have colleagues who are just talking about business as usual, what their weekends are like, but then you’ve experienced a lot of trauma over your weekend.

I mean, for us in the U.K., we’re in a pandemic but we also have a report which is going to be published about the disproportionate deaths in the Black community and the Asian community. We’ve also had a transport staff who died of COVID after being spat on and the case was closed. So all those things you add on top of that the incident with Amy Cooper that went viral, the death of George Floyd, Ahmed Aubrey, so it’s layer, upon layer, upon layer. And I think for me, my audience is communicators and I know we have power and influence in our organization. So I just wanted to say to them, “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s something that we really need to think about when we go to work tomorrow.”

Adam:

Absolutely. Now you’ve highlighted in that thread some communications from some pretty big brands that we all recognize. Let’s take a look at some of those. Let’s start with the post from PayPal’s CEO. This is a message to their employees, in your opinion, what did they do right here?

Harriet:

I think the thing is with PayPal they were clear and they got straight to the point. There was no was wishy washing, this is our history, this is what we’ve done. It was clear straight to the point this is what we stand for, this is what we believe in and I think also really highlighting the issue that racism and discrimination has on employee’s mental health. So I think for me that those were the two clear takeaways, it was very clear, to the point, especially considering the mental health and the health and wellbeing of employees. I think they got that part right.

Adam:

We’ve got some comments about this from people who are watching the show right now, Zane Ewton, I’m going to have to figure out how to pronounce that last name right, I’m sorry, Zane. “Harriet’s Twitter has been incredible to follow. Thank you for all the work you’re doing Harriet.” And Advita, “It’s a brilliant thread.”

Kyla:

It is, it is. So Apple also released a statement from Tim Cook and it was first through an internal memo. If you were advising him on his internal communication, we’ll pull up the last part here, if you were advising him on his internal communication, is there anything that you might have suggested that he do differently here?

Harriet:

I think the thing with Apple’s one is it was the most considered. So he talked about how he’d listened to colleagues. He talked about what diversity inclusion means for Apple as a business. He went into signposting staff to the employee assistance program. He really went into detail and he also talked about privilege and how people are just going to want to move on from the comfortable space that they’re in and not want to talk about this and I think I haven’t seen that in a lot of other statements. The only challenge I had with Apple’s statement was the quote from Martin Luther King. However, if you do look at it and you do understand that Apple’s ethos is to change the world, so when they put that statement in, it does [inaudible 00:08:57], but I think sometimes putting quotes in you then lose all the great points you’ve made before.

Especially if people are thinking, we have we got it right? Have we not got it right? And then you put a quote in, I think sometimes you do lose people’s trust and people start thinking, is this really sincere? But out of all of them, I think his is probably the most considered and he’s talked about all the issues that are going on currently. And he’s also really, really highlighted that it’s not just about George Floyd. So he’s actually looking at what else is happening in the wider context of the world.

Kyla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, with the quote it’s almost like, who’s saying this, are you saying this? But there’s also a statement from Voya Financial that came out and this was to their employees. Can you walk us through this particular message and its impact?

Harriet:

I think Voya where clear as well, they did all their research. The thing I think was different about Voya was that they talked about the current pandemic that we’re in and the impact that’s having on them, that it’s unfortunately having on black and minorities and a lot of the other statements didn’t highlight that. I think if I was an employee and I read that statement for me, I would think about it and I think he actually gets it. He knows that we’re in the middle of this pandemic, it’s already ravished our community and now we’re having to face this.

So I think like Apple, they really thought about what they were going to say again, highlighting the employee assistance program and the impact on mental health. And he talks about external partners, which is really interesting because although a lot of people talked about what they’re doing to donate, I didn’t see a lot of talk about external partners, so is that customers? Is that stakeholders? So there was just that slight difference with Voya about who these external partners were. It was a good point to make but it wasn’t clear. So if I was an employee, I wouldn’t know what he meant by external partners.

Kyla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Harriet:

Yeah.

Kyla:

And so, just to draw it back a little bit, with the protests going on right now there’s many employees who maybe want to participate but they’re worried about how that will reflect on them at work. Are there ways that managers or even internal communicators can support these employees?

Harriet:

I think that the first one is that senior leadership need to make it clear what their policies are and that people have a right to protest peacefully and that they respect people’s right to do that but they to make that clear. So whether that be on the internet by highlighting the policies from the human resources team, but I think also there needs to be clear messaging to our managers, which highlights what happens if someone decides to go and protest, how does that then impact the team? Because there are companies where someone may go and protest and then when they come back, their colleagues are going to ask them a lot of questions.

All these things need to be really looked at and I think it’s really important that the line manager communication and the empowerment of line managers at this time is really, really thought about because it’s okay to put something on the internet but then what happens when someone asks their line manager if they can go for a protest and then I manager says no, or they come back from the protest and then their colleagues have talked about them at the protest? And also we’ve got to remember that protests are different. There’s going and protesting and marching, which may not be accessible for everybody right now, we’re in a pandemic, so some people won’t feel comfortable doing that. There’s also online activism. So will somebody social media be policed for what they’ve said, all those things really need to be taken into consideration, especially with more of us living our lives online.

Kyla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam:

Absolutely.

Kyla:

And there really has to be an alignment between what everyone’s saying in these statements and then how they’re actually behaving in their organization. And if you can’t actually support people in protesting or doing what they need to do, you probably shouldn’t be telling everyone that you’re really on their side and that you support this movement, so it’s a really big challenge of alignment. Are you going to actually put your money where your mouth is and let people do what they need to do?

Adam:

We have a statement or sorry, a comment from Advita and we really appreciate the comments in the chat always. Advita Patel from the U.K., “I couldn’t agree more with making sure that the messages that are shared externally the behaviors reflected internally and actual actions are taken, otherwise it’s just lip service and utterly pointless.” Very good point. So Harriet you’re an experienced communicator, an award winning communicator, one of the things that we’ve talked about on the show a few times is this idea that internal communicators are at times they act as the conscience of their organization. We first talked about that with Jason [Anthod 00:14:26] about a month back. So what advice do you have for other communicators who are working internally and they’re working with leaders who are nervous to talk about things that they consider tough topics?

Harriet:

I think it’s really important to come with data to get examples and also to do your research. So you’re an internal communicator wherever you are, look at organizations who are getting diversity inclusion correct. For example, in the U.K., we have awards because of diversity inclusion policies and there’s a lot of internal communicators who share things. I mean, there’s some businesses where finance and leadership teams talking about diversity and inclusion is mandatory and it’s embedded in the culture. So it’s about finding those organizations and if you do have senior leaders who are uncomfortable to have these conversations and saying to them, “Look, we need to talk about these things, but if you’re not comfortable to do it, then we may have to get someone externally to come in and do it or this is what this organization is doing.

“Let’s look at what they’re doing and maybe you could have a conversation with the equivalent of your level at their business,” and just really looking for those examples, because I think it’s only when they see the examples and when they start to see what impact it’s going to have on the business that they will take it seriously. And also, there’s no problem in saying, “We haven’t got anything in place or we don’t know where to start.” I think that’s the best place to start to say, “We don’t know what to do,” and then such look for help and start to look for guidance because there is stuff out there and it can be as simple as having conversations or starting to do research within the senior leadership team, the HR team, the departments that have the impact on how policies are made and how policies are implemented is probably the best place to start.

Adam:

That’s such a good point. I think there is a tendency toward incredibly decisive, firm, strong statements because people expect that’s what you have to do. But one of the things we’ve talked about in previous shows, as well as what you’re saying now is this idea of being comfortable with being uncomfortable and vulnerability and if you don’t have the right policies in place, maybe that’s the starting point. We don’t have this in place, we need this, we need your input. Better to be honest than to represent your company in a way that’s not true.

Kyla:

So Harriet you posted a few resources on your thread as well for helping people talk and engage their colleagues, coworkers and friends about this as well. Can you speak a little bit more to the resources that you shared there?

Harriet:

So I shared that one, how to talk about trauma and protests at work. I think it was really important to share some of these resources because they’re people’s experiences and I think it’s very hard to ask colleagues to always come forward to talk about trauma in the workplace because there may not be that psychological safety. So the reason why I shared some of these posters for people to be able to read what has been written by other people who are sitting in those same shoes. There was another post that I shared from an organization where one of the senior people in the business whose Black wrote a personal blog post. Now, not every business is going to have a person of minority, or a Black person who is going to come forward and say, “I’ll write a blog post.” So it’s really important to really think about where are people emotionally. How safe do they feel psychologically to share these experiences?

And I think the reason why I added in these resources is because sometimes people won’t always be able to open up and say, “This is what I’m struggling with, this is how I feel,” especially if they’re in the workplace and they’re going through at that moment. Especially when I watched the video of Amy Cooper and I think some other people may have thought about this is that this happens to many people in the workplace, so it’s not going to be something you always want to talk about. So these resources are there to help you to read and think, actually maybe this is happening right now, so maybe I need to think about how I support my colleagues better, or this is actually happening to me, what can I do for myself to get support? So that’s why I shared it because everyone’s going to be able to just open up.

Kyla:

And so, these are a lot of resources for everybody being able to talk about this a little bit easier, obviously it’s uncomfortable, it’s going to remain uncomfortable until we make it comfortable but this is a lot to communicate about. This is a lot for especially Black communicators who have to communicate this for the organization as well. There’s an added layer of we’ve got coronavirus, we’ve got protests, we’ve got all of this stuff. Do you have any advice for communicators who are trying to tackle all of this right now?

Harriet:

I think if you’re out there and you’re a communicator and you look like me and you are really struggling, there’s a couple things I’d say, one is really think about self care. What can I do for myself? And to really look after myself during this period and while I’m going through this but the other thing is to plug in with other people. I mean, social media, LinkedIn and Twitter has really changed things for communicators where we can have these spaces and we can talk to people all across the world who are probably facing the same thing. And they probably emphasize with us, so I would say, reach out, connect with other people. There’s a lot of support out there but the main thing as well is to really think about when you’re delivering this message sometimes as the Black communicator, you need to take yourself out of the equation and you sometimes need to take your experiences as well out of the equation.

I mean, if I was right now having to write one of those statements I would sometimes have to really think and go, is this emotion my emotion, or is it what the CEO wants to communicate? I think there needs to be that distinction and sometimes you may not be the best person to communicate it. And I think also sometimes being honest and saying, “Look, I can’t be the one who writes this, somebody else needs to do it.” If you are at that point where you can’t do it you need to say, “Can somebody else write this? And then I’ll pick up another piece of work.”

Kyla:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Adam:

Absolutely. Good to be up front with your needs and especially right now, when we’re going through a pandemic, when there is a lot of emotion around some pretty heavy stuff that’s going on in the world, so thank you. And we have some more comments from people. Some people who are sharing what other organizations are doing, Paralie Johnson talking about GoDaddy. They hosted a collective grief session hosted by Dr. Roosevelt Cohens from their employee assistance program network, thank you, Paralie. Advita Patel talks about Microsoft using their Twitter platform to share the stories from their Black colleagues, they’ve been really powerful.

Thank you for sharing those and to continue to share those in the chat. We’re going to take just a really quick second to talk about a Friday show and then come back to Harriet. We are going to be having a fellow Canadian on the show this Friday from Ottawa, Canada. Andrea Greenhous, she’s a founder, author and chief internal communications strategist at Vision to Voice Communication. So look for that on a Friday at 9:00AM Pacific time, 5:00PM if you’re in the U.K. and we’ll be talking about change communication. Naturally in the midst of COVID-19 there’s a lot of change and Andrea is an expert in that area, so we’re happy to have her here on Friday. Join us.

Kyla:

So thank you Harriet for joining us today. It was pretty last minute that we were able to rope you into this and I can not imagine how exhausting this week has been for you. So I really wanted to say thank you for being here and helping educate our audience and the work that you’re doing for the internal communications community, because I know that a lot of people have these questions and they are trying to find answers and they’re not really sure where to look. So before we go and head off, do you have any final words for our audience?

Harriet:

I think the two final words I would say is one is about self care, regardless of whether you are Black or you’re Asian, or you have another ethnic minority group, I think self care is so important. And for anyone, because I think the reality is is that these videos have circulated online, regardless of whether it was Amy Cooper calling the police, or it was the tragic death of George Floyd, or it was Ahmed Aubrey, these videos have circulated, people have watched them. I mean, you really have to think about you’ve consumed that or you’ve read an autopsy report or whatever it is and I think really acknowledging that that is going to have an impact on your mental health. And even as we go on and educate ourselves, you’re going to learn experiences about colleagues within the workplace, so really thinking about how do I look after myself during this time?

So whether that be journaling, whether that be taking time to start doing a practice, maybe meditation, yoga, whatever it is, really think about how you’re going to look after yourself going forward. And the other thing I would say is that organizations really need to talk about active listening and it’s in some of the resources that I’ve shared but I think it’s where you listen to not reply you just listen and it’s going to be hard for some people but I think it’s just a matter of sitting there and taking in what people are saying and just thinking, actually, I have nothing to add to this. I have nothing to contribute.

I just want to take this in, listen, ponder and then go away and then maybe think about how I can do things better. And I have to do it as well. When none of us are immune we all have to [inaudible 00:25:34] but I think organizations really need to talk about active listening and develop those skills within leaders and managers over the coming weeks, even as we go through this pandemic because even that will have an impact on how we talk to each other, because people will be coming back from the pandemic and then we need to talk.

Kyla:

There’s a lot to process for sure, yeah. Well, thank you so much, Harriet. I know that our audience has been super engaged, really enjoyed this talk with you, found it extremely valuable, so thank you so much for being here. Everyone at home, we will see you on Friday and remember right now we have to stand up for each other and against racism, overt and implicit in our homes, in our communities, in our cities, in our streets, in our organizations and of course in our workplaces. So everybody stay safe, take care of yourself, Harriet said so, and we’ll see you all on Friday. Okay, thanks everybody.

Harriet:

Thank you.

Adam:

Bye.

Harriet:

Bye.