As chaos engulfed many of America’s largest cities over the past week, with the pain intensifying over the weekend, it’s clear the shambles we see in neighborhoods across the country are the result of leadership at the very top being in shambles. Commentators including Don Lemon and Trevor Noah have eloquently made the case for us as a society to look inward while calling for those with power and status to speak up or speak out. So yes, right now the bar for leadership is quite low, but a simple tweet and retweet from Nike and Adidas nevertheless stand out as a signal for the business community to stand up for what is right.
In case you’ve missed them, the messages are as profound as they are succinct.
Granted, one can argue these are just words. But Nike has already stepped into the fray with its past campaigns featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who was blackballed after repeatedly taking a knee to protest racial inequality and police brutality – an image that is now more poignant than ever before. The fact Adidas backed up and supported one of its fiercest competitors helps amplify the message to the business community that the ways in which we’ve been doing things just don’t work any longer – and haven’t been in the first place.
Evidence suggests corporate leaders know it’s time to speak out. Late last week, the executive coalition CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion released a statement that would have been unthinkable a year ago, or in reality, even a week before:
“The horrific events of the past month involving George Floyd, Christian Cooper and Ahmaud Arbery underscores that racism – both conscious and unconscious – are still serious problems in our country. As leaders in the business community, we must acknowledge what Black people are facing and actively work to reduce bias in our workplaces and build inclusive communities. This is our responsibility and our future.”
Again, 63 words are hardly enough to move the needle, but as we closed out a gut-wrenching weekend made worse by a vacuum in leadership, we need to start somewhere. "The CEO Action Statement on Recent Racist Acts” is certainly step in the best direction.
The time is now for companies to not just follow the words and tweets of Nike and Adidas, but to ramp up meaningful action. Amped up promises of “diversity and inclusion” won’t cut it. Writing a check to help communities rebuild cleans up the problem temporarily but won’t solve a scourge that, depending on one’s point of view, has been around anywhere from 50 years to 400 years. Pledging funds to help protesters who have to put up bail after getting arrested? Well, that’s getting warmer. As one of our colleagues noted, the Band-Aid has been ripped off, and this time, it won’t heal itself.
The bottom line is that the U.S. business community needs to stop fearing those in power — and instead, toe its own line and put resources, people and brand loyalty into first, having an honest conversation about what is happening in this country; and next, making it clear that the weaponization of race in this country has got to stop – now.
Image credit: Tony Webster/Wiki Commons
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.