In addition to the global pandemic and shaky economy, there’s been an increased focus and newfound awareness of systemic racism, and even as most of us spend most of our time at home right now, it’s something that deeply impacts the way we navigate our day to day.
Brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era
This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era.
There's no sugarcoating this – the world is at a tipping point. We're overwhelmed by the ongoing injustice, inequality and violence that’s flooding everything from TV to social – we can't escape it and it's exhausting. Trust me – the pain, anger and sadness you're all feeling is something I, along with many of you, have been experiencing my entire life.
As a proud Black woman, it's glaringly obvious that change is needed, because we cannot continue to live in a society that doesn't cherish people that look like me. This fundamental shift is long overdue.
Much of the WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era focuses on internal change, as it is the only way for organizations, brands and society to move forward in a way that is more equitable, whether it’s in supporting Black communities, people, and businesses, or in portraying and understanding diverse communities as they really are in marketing messaging. That makes the societal need to combat racial injustice different than previous corporate “good works.” This is not a brand purpose exercise, or another fleeting moment of jumping on the latest bandwagon. It’s about a lot of sometimes uncomfortable internal work.
So, in 2019 when I joined the leadership team at WGSN (a change forecaster and sister company of WARC), I knew it was for more than just the role of leading our North America consultancy division – I also joined for the people and the emphasis on taking care of each other. This was an awakening for me, as during my 13 years in the fashion industry (working with well-known, heritage brands) I’d never worked in an organization that prioritized Black Lives Matter and amplified voices like mine. Tokenism and suppression is real, especially within the workplace. I've seen first-hand how brands claim to be diverse and inclusive, but are unable to develop or promote Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) into positions of leadership or even hire BIPOC within the organization, creating confusion and isolation for those hires.
True diversity comes from brave leadership, and bravery comes from listening while leading. At WGSN, we recognize we have a lot of work to do. As the Guide shows, this is the rule, not the exception. We've all witnessed the uptick of brands standing in solidarity, but it's not enough – we have to look inward and do something bigger than just a black square. It's a good first step, but we have a long road ahead of us.
That’s why I’m honored that our CEO Carla Buzasi passed the torch of leadership to me to develop (alongside my global colleagues) the WGSN Equality Vision Team, and I’d like to share what it’s meant to do, as one example of how companies can work on necessary internal change. As an influencer, WGSN recognizes the impact we have on our community and wants to drive change to a future that is more inclusive and equal by inspiring and showcasing all types of creativity. As we continue on this journey, the mission of the EVT is to ensure everyone not only has a seat at the table, but feels welcome inside our organization. From conducting an internal content audit and hosting small group listening sessions to the launch of our Future Makers mentorship program and building an equitable global glossary, every action we take within the EVT is meant to encourage a more inclusive future.
By using virtual tools such as Google Meet and Miro whiteboards, our team workshops and ideas build them into a living document, available to colleagues and clients alike, ensuring we keep transparent practice top of mind and adapt to the unique challenges of working remotely. We also recognize the importance of rest during this period, a vital element of combatting screen fatigue and the emotional weight of the news cycle, which is why we have created a slower, more thoughtful approach to this work. For the last four months, our teams have outlined a 12-month project initiative to ensure we have the resources, support and eventually, funding, required to embed our practices into our daily lives.
This isn’t hyperbole. I personally feel a responsibility to keep us accountable and remain laser-focused on creating this change. I’m fully committed to ensuring every member of our company does the work to become more educated and better advocates for the future – and the change – we want to see.
Read more articles from the WARC Guide to brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era.
Will Corporate America ever change to reflect the New America?
Jeffrey L. Bowman
Why brands must up the ante on being anti-racist
Racial representation in advertising: A snapshot
Brand activism in the Black Lives Matter era