In the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd and other African Americans, many companies are rethinking their own inter-racial culture. The difference this time is that advocacy groups have pushed dialogue beyond the “saying good things” stage to activism within the workplace and even brands.
Sensitivity to racial stereotypes has exploded. Quaker Oats recently announced they were removing the image of an African American woman from its Aunt Jemima line and renaming it. Mars quickly followed with news that it would change its image and branding for its Uncle Ben’s rice lines.
This heightened sensitivity and awareness is expected to bring more pressure for change. Some professional and college sports teams are being lobbied to change their nicknames and even some cities, like Columbus, Ohio are being urged to change appellation.
Founded in 1957 in Santa Barbara, California, the name Sambo’s was derived by combining some of the letters of its two founders. But when the owners learned that the restaurant was popularly associated with the book “The Story of Little Black Sambo,” featuring a dark-skinned boy and tiger, Sambo’s proceeded to decorate its walls with scenes from the book. Once a thriving chain of more than 1,100 restaurants in 47 states, Sambo’s was met with lawsuits and negative publicity in the late 1970’s for what critics labelled a derogatory name for the Black community. Bad management, however, was blamed for its demise and the company filed for bankruptcy in 1981 and sold all its restaurants except the original one in Santa Barbara.
Its owner, a grandson of one of the founders, covered the sign after the George Floyd protests and said they would be renaming the restaurant. As overwhelming as it may seem, now’s actually a good time for companies and employees returning and adapting to this new normal to address racism and equality. Closer and clearer communication between management and staff will be key to moving forward, so why not incorporate just a bit more into the strategy?
Look internally and re-examine the company’s vision, values and mission particularly as it relates to diversity and inclusion. What kind of values and behaviors would help achieve success? How would they be defined and measured? Get these approved first before going public.
If the company permitted employees to work remotely, determine what improvements could be made to further support their distinctive backgrounds and differences. What was learned about their motivation and needs considering the stay-at home-orders and ensuing protests? At the same time, consider other ways to encourage more collaboration among workers. How might the workplace community be built even stronger and more closely?
Consider ways in which to gather more employee input about daily operations and the best way to capture that. What’s important is that they feel heard and acknowledged. Large companies with multiple locations may find it more workable to form committees represented by a cross-section of workers.
Armed with all this data, craft a case for change statement. This should cover what’s changing and the reasons for it. It must also explain any expectations of changes in behavior, customs and standards.
Are the company’s leaders and supervisors ready for a cultural shift? They need to not only understand their roles but possibly be trained to communicate and address these changes.
Communicate the changes while acknowledging everyone involved in helping with the reset. Celebrate successes while being sure to gather feedback and respond to all queries and comments. Last and most important of all, let everyone know what’s changing and restate the reason(s) why.