The murder of George Floyd last year spurred a national movement for racial justice and prompted demands that businesses do more to combat racism. Companies could no longer hide in the void of silence.
Although many brands had taken steps to become more socially responsible prior to the acceleration of the racial justice movement, there was still more work to do. It was no longer enough to simply not be racist. People demanded that companies use their platforms to demonstrate active anti-racism. Authentic and meaningful change was expected.
Fortunately, that’s exactly what we saw. Brands began to redevelop and pivot their internal and external communications to align more with social justice efforts. However, it has been more than a year since racial justice was brought to the forefront of the national conversation. In that time, what has been accomplished? Has progress crept to a halt? And, most important, what should happen next?
Brand Diversity in Action
In the wake of the U.S. racial justice movement, many companies did step up. Brands looked at their marketing efforts and asked themselves how they could effectively promote holistic diversity and inclusion. Many companies developed targeted advertising material for minority audiences, but, more importantly, they ensured the actual representation of minorities in ad creative.
Representation was not the only step forward. Companies became introspective. Many businesses lacked diverse leadership and opportunities for minority employees to move up within the company. Now, we are seeing more minorities placed in positions of leadership and the implementation of new programs to help future minority employees achieve the same goals.
Above all, brands have finally begun to prioritize engagement with Black consumers and underserved communities. For a long time, brands have “talked the talk,” without committing to any real action. Authenticity comes from doing rather than saying, though, which is why many major companies such as Coca-Cola, Target and Netflix have directed money toward Black community initiatives and made efforts to buy from Black suppliers.
It seems that many brands are putting forward long-term equity and inclusion initiatives and committing funds to continuing their efforts in the future. Only time will tell if all companies stay the course, but we are hopeful that many will.
Running Out of Steam?
Last summer’s racial justice movement was one of the most powerful we’ve seen in a long time, and it led to real change. However, now that a whole year has gone by, are people losing momentum? As time goes on, all movements start to dissipate, but it’s important to understand that people haven’t stopped caring about racial injustice because it isn’t getting as much media coverage. It’s incredibly difficult to keep the attention of millions of people on one topic for an extended amount of time, no matter how crucial it may be. New issues arise every day. However, many people still continue to push for equality within their own communities at a more local level. Additionally, commitment to keeping the heat on intolerance for racial discrimination within the workplace seems to have remained steady, and that’s promising.
There are still instances where people come together to keep businesses in check and hold them accountable through – you guessed it – social media. Social media users have been keeping a watchful eye, and it’s hard to hide within the world’s largest global communication channel.
So, to answer the question “is the racial justice movement over”? No. The movement is never over, and brands should still be doing the work to achieve equity. We may not be as loud as we were a year ago, but we are all still here. We are waiting, watching and continuing to push for progress wherever and however we can, with smart brands doing their part.
Corporate Responsibility: What’s Next?
We’ve seen many brands make promises to minority communities and businesses within the past year, but time will reveal who is authentic in their commitment. Apathy and inaction are the greatest threats to social justice.
Staying vigilant is imperative as everyone gets back to post-pandemic ho-hum marketing. Keep an eye on brand marketing efforts – was their allyship genuine or an attempt to capitalize on a large social movement? The onus is on organizations to stay committed to inclusivity, but we’re here to call out those who don’t adhere to the voices of millions across the globe. Continue to question brands on their social commitment to reform, choose to work with multicultural agencies and, as always, speak up in favor of change.