In the wake of recent acts of violence against the Black community, another social justice movement has taken hold in the United States. As many Americans explore their individual roles in this movement, how can marketing and communications professionals use their specific skills to both effect change within their organizations and communicate an obligation to diversity, equity and inclusion to their constituents?
In honor of Black History Month, join us for part 2 of communicating culture change with Kayla Reed, Co-Founder and Director of Action St. Louis and Eric Winkfield, Vice President, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at M Booth, moderated by Ranata Hughes, Florida A&M University Visiting Instructor, for an Integrate Online session focusing on effecting change with cultural communication.
Ranata Hughes: How do you recommend communicating culture change in a tasteful, professional way that is not offensive? Communicating black lives matter, social justice, the whole movement, how could you help grow this movement in a tactful way?
Eric Winkfield: This is an interesting question. And what I’m going to say is that it first takes education at all levels before you can communicate about any community, whether it be Black, Hispanic, Asian American, whichever culture you're trying to reach in your communications or be inclusive of. It does require a certain level of awareness and education. While formal education and training is amazing, you don’t have to have formal training, we are in the age of the Internet at our fingertips.
I think the more important piece is authentic. A lot of organizations are struggling with finding where their true authentic voice is in the space. There’s a lot of that struggle because the work has not been done internally to make sure that their houses are in order before they want to get involved and say something externally. That's a huge mistake that a lot of folks have made, and we saw a lot of last summer where a lot of organizations were joining the black lives matter movement.
A lot of companies are making statements and putting public the public commitments out there but some of those companies didn't realize that in-house cleaning wasn’t in order first, and they actually missed that big step. They not only got backlash from African American Community about what they have not been done, but they also lost a lot of ground and a lot of trust with their employees as well. So, you have to be internal just as much as the external.
But it, but it has to be authentic. I can't stress authenticity enough.
The last thing I would say is just open to the changing times. Kayla and I were talking earlier about the movement and the way that you communicate about the movement is different now with todays social media and influencers and celebrities. Everybody is actively engaged in these conversations.
Kayla Reed: Communication is one of the strongest tools of any social movement right now. When we think about the ways in which we have learned about the civil rights movement or the black power movement, there are so many examples of how our communications told the story. I’m an organizer by trade, but my relationship to communications is one of which is utilizing communications as an intervention.
The movement for black lives black lives matter has been able to show you so many different leaders all at once.
I think, for me, what we have seen over the last seven years is that communications can be used as a tool to amplify a movement, and it can also be used as a tool to vilify movement.
So, I think about communications as a tool, where in whatever space you are in, it is an amplifier and a gatekeeper.
I think of communications as a strong tactic. It helps those who do not often have their voice included communicate. It's also a tool to help teach that when we get the microphone, we are able to speak about our work, speak about our values. We’ve been able to combat negative narrative to the point where someone's like we should we should nominate this social movement for a Nobel Peace Prize. That narrative shift is a direct reflection of comms folks who go to work every day to ensure that the best stories are being told on our behalf.
Ranata Hughes: What soft skills can communications professionals obtain to help shape their strategy in messaging and communicating culture change?
Eric Winkfield: I’m going to raise at the top, the first thing is ethics. It's really interesting as communicators how loosely we look at our code of ethics. PRs they have a code of ethics, if you have not read it already, please know it and live by it.
Other soft skills, I will say is, we have to remain curious, like in the space with diversity, equity, inclusion, you will never know what all you have to do. You have to be committed to the learning, you have to be committed to growing and understanding to tell the individual stories, we find synergy and power building inclusion.
A piece that of missing so much and I really want to bring it back up is empathy as well as love. You cannot move and counsel and coach people if you have if you're coming from a place of pain. It has to come from a place of empathy to understand where they are and help them grow and move where they need to be. When it comes to us as communicators, how we counsel and how we position things requires empathy and love.
Kayla Reed: The one thing is when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we think about who works there. I would challenge people to think about diversity, equity, inclusion as who gets to speak.
I think of a strategist in a way like a seamstress, someone may bring you the fabric, somebody we bring you the thread, and then you put it together into what is worn and what is seen, but who made the fabric, who brought it to the table, those matter. We have to think about putting value to those in ways that often you know certain voices get dismissed around how they sound; you know I think a lot about when I was.
I really do I love communications folks because there have been many times, I've seen them take something and like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, whip it into this beautiful gown, turned a pumpkin into a carriage. I think it is magical, beautiful and powerful the work communicators do.
Ranata Hughes: What would you recommend to different brands and companies for them to be more proactive regarding black lives matter, social justice, etc.?
Kayla Reed: The kind of fast track is target and listen. We have a commitment to black lives matter and we have black history.
Solidarity has to look like more than just the benefit to the entity, if black lives matter to the company, we have to think about how to create pathways for more black folks to get stock in our company leadership, in our company decision making power in our company. We have to think about our messages.
I think Ben and Jerry's is the best corporation in this country because they're like we'll put it on the line, we have made a commitment and even if that commitment could hurt us, we're going to see that commitment through. And that that level of accountability to a vision, I think, is how we start inspiring and I think other people should take note of that, how can we use our brand and our politic like Colin Kaepernick just came out with an ice cream flavor.
Eric Winkfield: We have to really move from the thinking that you know everything in our business to be 100% about our business and don't give our employees a space to just be human beings and live in the communities and serve the communities where they live. And, I’d like to offer up a challenge, invite folks Kayla’s organization, invite different organizations to come in and educate your employees about what it is that they're working on, what are their movements, why have they picked those movements and why are they passionate about it, as well as what can they do to support their movement.
Another thing I say is don't just blindly write a check to give money to say you wrote a check and give money, it has to have some intentionality behind it as well. Have you looked at and see what it is your giving to and do you know how your investment is going to help?
The last thing I'll say is volunteerism is still a real thing. Allow your employees the autonomy to give an hour or so of billable time a month to a cause they care about. A lot of nonprofits need accountants, communications specialists, different skills that may exist in your organization.
Watch the full session:
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