To End Racism We Need to End Corporate Tokenism

Published on June 15, 2020

The media is awash with the massive global response to the tragic events in Minneapolis, the senseless killing of George Floyd, ironically by the bent knee of a US police officer whose name should not be published for the shame of it.

The global public response has been swift, heartfelt and impactful. Even the hardest of hearts could fail to be touched by the genuine outpouring of despair and frustration around the Black Lives Matter message. And for now that message is potent and powerful.

But the fear is that the message will be just for now. For sure, the human race is a fickle and emotional one and many are worried that this wave will pass like a great Tsunami that packs a punch and wrends huge destruction – in this case breaking down the value sets of people and organisations that diminish the rights of black people and other ethnicities. The fear is that in the wake of this Tsunami the rebuild will take us back to a ‘new normal’ of thought and action that looks very much like it did before.

And that fear is valid. We have seen it before: Riots and protests in cities all over the world after many similar and no less shocking acts of brutality. So how do we make sure that now is the time to change?

For me the path of change is lit by clear, consistent and meaningful communications. We need to warn now against tokenism. I have seen huge brands race to issue statements of their shock at the brutal murder of George Floyd and state their support of the Black Lives Matter movement. But are most corporations, in the wake of the George Floyd murder, just making statements and bowing the corporate knee as a PR exercise? How far will they really take this?

What has been very disturbing to me is hearing brand ‘experts’ warn that ‘silence from a brand on the issue is tantamount to failing to be part of the movement for change. The idea to me that brands and corporations should be rushed into making a response in a matter of days and weeks is shocking. If such knee jerk reactions are required by ‘experts’ then they run the risk of just being tokenistic.

What we want is REAL CHANGE and that does not come from a press statement or an expression of unity. It comes from considered action. Real plans with KPIs and then, and only then, communication of those plans.

As a corporation, if your public statement about your corporate reaction elicits the question ‘so what are you going to do about it?’ then you run the risk of being perceived as tokenistic. Some say that if you don’t rush to react then you are seen as uninterested and not engaged. But let’s please not make these statements of anti-racism as Jonathan Liew said in the Guardian  a  “PR exercise, as corporate strategy, as trending topic and hashtag and content nodule.”

My faith is in the millions of smaller companies and brands all over the world that really hold the power. If they, the mass employers who shape the lives of many families, can make a real movement for change then maybe the big brands will follow. I have taken great hope from the actions of a small start-up company AudioMob that I am involved with. Their two young black founders are truly inspirational in their sheer brilliance, humility and hard work. They are working tirelessly to propel their tech startup in the midst of a pandemic, yet they have reacted by taking the time out to create a mentoring program for young black kids to help them shape their careers in technology, music and marketing.

Instead of making trite statements that have no substance, organisations should take their time to think about where they need to make a change. Then just do it, communicate that change and hold themselves accountable to it.

Everyone should ride the waves of this tsunami and work to rebuild with diversity, equality and a value set that recognises all.

See how you can help, even if you can’t protest.

Jacki Vause pioneered women into tech. She has been in the industry for decades, won awards and got all the t-shirts. Being a woman in Tech was never a barrier. Jacki has vast experience as a proven tech entrepreneur, business leader, mentor and single mother. In her career she has seen it all: she has flown high in First, crashed and burned, worked for nothing and phoenixed from the ashes to run some of the most successful companies. Jacki has been leading Dimoso, a specialist tech PR agency, for the last 9 years working with leading entertainment properties such as BBC, Disney, Harry Potter, Angry Birds and well known consumer tech brands such as Dominos, Mazuma, Panasonic, GE and Apple.

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