In the midst of chaotic times that seem more unpredictable than ever, leadership teams in organizations are being challenged to choose: take a stand for what we believe in, or stay silent.
Of course, the minute we take a stand for what we believe in, we take a risk.
We risk being misunderstood.
We risk being accused of taking sides.
We risk alienating those whom we long to connect with the most.
And yet, last Sunday, we saw several brands make the decision to take a stand on serious topics during the Super Bowl in front of an audience of over 111 million Americans—the fifth most-watched TV broadcast in history.
Perhaps in response to the divisiveness felt as a result of the changes swirling around us, advertisers chose to focus on themes of diversity, inclusion, and unity.
Coca Cola’s ad featured “America the Beautiful” sung in many different languages, and included an image of gay parents. It was created to be a celebration of “the moments among all Americans that promote optimism, inclusion, and humanity—values that bring us closer together.”
Budweiser’s ad followed the immigration story of Budweiser’s founder and his pursuit of the American dream, which was risky timing, considering recent events making headlines.
Google Home’s ad opened with a shot of a rainbow flag and then introduced a diverse cast of characters. The message? Google Home “brings people together.”
Airbnb’s ad had an uplifting message: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong.”
And Audi tackled the subject of equal pay for women.
They took a risk, and should be applauded, but some people asked: Was it enough?
On Twitter, some questioned whether every advertiser was walking its talk (Audi’s record on gender equality is mixed, while Airbnb has taken great strides to address complaints of discrimination since last spring). Others pointed out that now it’s our job to hold these companies accountable, since brands probably wouldn’t have shelled out millions of dollars for an ad had they felt it could offend their audience.
The point is, we want to see organizations share stories about what they’re committed to—stories of allyship—but we also want that to reflect what’s really going on. As one of my friends likes to say, “Do the words match the music?”
The outside of an organization is the easier part to change.
The harder work is the inner work: culture change, ferreting out unconscious bias, shifting your pipeline, and taking consistent action over time. You can’t pay a fancy ad agency to take care of organizational transformation, and you can’t retain diverse talent without telling a true story.
And this is my work in the diversity and inclusion space, every single day.
When I’m not building bridges, I’m walking a tightrope.
Like so many of you, I’m trying to find my balance despite the uncertainty we face in the coming year, so that I can continue coaching leaders and organizations on how to “talk their talk” more authentically and walk that tightrope of values.
At the same time, I’m continuing to have the same, difficult conversations in my personal life…
I don’t have all the answers, but I do truly believe we need to reframe the dialogue, not in a right or wrong sense, but in relating it back to inclusive leadership that puts the workforce and the marketplace first by prioritizing people and potential.
The bottom line is that employees and customers are more diverse than ever, and everyone—without exception—wants to feel Welcomed, Valued, Respected, and Heard℠.
If you use that as your guiding principle, you’ll take the right risk.
But don’t NOT take the risk.
Change doesn’t happen without it.
PS. If you liked this, you might also enjoy reading the first chapter in my new book, “Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change.”