May 31, 2018 — Earlier this week, Starbucks and ABC showed us what corporate leadership against overt racism looks like. Starbucks closed almost all of its stores for several hours to raise awareness of unconscious bias among approximately 175,000 employees after a barista called the police to remove two Black men who hadn’t bought anything as they waited for a meeting. And ABC, supported by parent company Disney, moved quickly to cancel Roseanne after the show’s creator and star Roseanne Barr posted a vile and racist tweet about Valerie Jarret, a close advisor to President Obama.
Corporations like Starbucks and ABC are a big part of our culture. How many of us go a day without passing by a Starbucks, if not actually buying a coffee from them? How many of us don’t view a show, an advertisement, or some other promotional material from ABC or Disney on a given day? Companies like these drive our tastes—literally and figuratively.
And when they decide take a bold stand against racist behavior—whether it’s conscious or unconscious—they become role models for other organizations of all sizes.
In a purely business sense, it may be hard to make decisions like these—Starbucks paid millions of dollars to do its training and lost an afternoon’s worth of sales, while ABC will certainly lose major ad revenue for the centerpiece of its fall lineup.
But in a human sense, the decision is not hard. It’s about doing the right thing—for customers and employees, as well as society. A decisive and unequivocal response to clear examples of the racism that people of color face every day should be the status quo. It’s not—and that’s what makes these actions speak so much louder than any flowery words about diversity and inclusion could.
Cynics may criticize Starbucks and ABC for not doing enough, or making a PR move, or starting too late, or taking the wrong actions. But the fact is, you’ve got to start somewhere—and one action is never going to be enough. To really make change they need to follow up with more inclusive leadership in obvious situations of discrimination and bias like these, and in less public ones too—at decision-making tables, in boardrooms, and in water cooler conversations.
Most importantly, other companies and people need to follow. Is your company taking steps to fight racism? Are you?