Since the seditious insurrection incited by the president last week, I’ve had two things on my mind.
First, as a Black American, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the insurrectionists scaled the walls of the Capitol, broke through its windows and doors and disrupted a sacred Constitutional process. My first thought was, if I had done that, I would have been shot dead on the spot. I asked myself, and I ask you now: Would these events have unfolded differently had the horde been Black?
Sadly, this isn’t even a hypothetical question; only months ago that building was guarded by a phalanx of troops in full assault gear during peaceful Black Lives Matter protests. Does anyone believe that if those demonstrators charged those troops that they’d have been met with the restraint -- if not acquiescence -- we saw last week? Can anyone question that what emboldened these marauders was White privilege? It was no coincidence that a Confederate flag was carried through that building and a noose hung outside.
I raise this not to complain of yet another instance of racism in America but to remind us that our enterprises can make this world better.
Which brings me to my second thought. As the chair of Page, the professional association of the world’s leading strategic communication executives, I was reminded of the critical role we play, not only for our enterprises, but for the betterment of society.
I couldn’t help but admire, as I did time and again last year, the courageous leadership of communicators in that critical moment. CEOs and companies lined up to denounce the violence and call for calm and reconciliation. Some went further, expressing outrage and demanding action. All proved again that business and its leaders have a vital role in societal affairs.
Shortly after the attack on our Capitol, I led an online conversation with more than 50 Page and Page Up members to share our experiences and insights. There was discussion about public statements, PAC giving policies and navigating difficult politics. Mostly, though, we talked about our people, how to care for them and to ensure an inclusive and civil environment for the difficult conversations that must and will be had. As more of us “bowl alone,” as the metaphor goes, places of employment are becoming a venue for community and dialogue – another way that CCOs are helping enterprises benefit society.
We know that our workplaces have people with opinions across the ideological spectrum; we also know that our companies have values and a responsibility to the truth and to civil society. We can simultaneously stand up for what is right and also respect everyone’s right to their own opinions. We can help to create a sense of belonging that embraces diversity, welcomes everyone, but insists upon truth and respect for each other and the institutions of democracy.
Our enterprises need us to be bold and brave, to step up and tell the truth, to help guide them through difficult times with courage and empathy.
I am immensely proud to be in our profession. You have shown crucial leadership through a difficult year and it has mattered more than ever. Our work has only begun, but know, that we are all in this together.
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