Whether it’s putting up a rainbow flag in your store window during pride month or tweeting out a catchy Martin Luther King, Jr quote punctuated by a trending hashtag, more and more businesses are performing allyship without actually making a real impact.
In some cases, it’s because the brand in question doesn’t really care about the issue and just wants to jump on the trend. In a lot of cases, however, it’s because the brand simply doesn’t know what to do beyond announcing its support for a cause.
How do you avoid the risk of inauthentic virtue signaling that your audience will immediately recognize as virtue signaling? How does your humble small business make a meaningful impact with limited time and resources? Not to mention, there are so many different causes that all feel equally important so how do you decide where to focus those already limited resources?
While all these questions can be overwhelming, taking a stance as a business and making a real impact is not only possible but almost necessary. With 71% of consumers preferring brands that share their values, you simply can’t afford to ignore the issues that are relevant to your community.
Becoming a better ally will help your business just as much as it helps your community, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.
Here are four steps you can take today:
1. Be Transparent and Proactive About Your Own Biases
The first and most important step is to reflect on your own company’s track record with diversity and inclusion. Putting up a pride flag in your window but failing to provide an effective process for your LGBT employees to report discrimination is missing the point entirely.
Keep in mind that just because you haven’t consciously built discrimination into your workplace doesn’t mean that it hasn’t seeped in. If you’re not consciously working to create an inclusive and open environment, you’re unconsciously creating an exclusionary and potentially hostile one.
So, check the data and do that moral inventory of your own company’s practices.
Then, when you post that pride flag on Instagram, pair it with a public statement of the concrete steps you’re going to take to change any oversights or gaps in your own business. Some of those concrete steps you might take include:
- Scheduling monthly or quarterly inclusion training with alternating focuses on the unique issues faced by different marginalized groups so that everyone on your team is more aware of how they can be more welcoming and understanding.
- Improving hiring practices so that you are reaching out to more diverse candidates and removing the potential for biases to influence hiring decisions.
- Conducting a payroll audit to identify and fix gender or race wage gaps.
- Revising your promotion structure to make it more data-driven and remove the potential for biased decision-making.
- Reviewing marketing messages to remove unconscious bias. You can use this bias impact questionnaire to systematically review your marketing messages for hidden stereotyping and assumptions.
- Audit your production process to find greener ways to manufacture products.
If the social impact of making improvements in your own business weren’t enough, there happen to be a ton of incredible benefits to having a more diverse and inclusive workplace like better innovation, increased profits, and decreased employee turnover.
Being transparent about the biases or blind spots in your company is a sign that you take this issue seriously enough that you want to be sure you aren’t part of the problem. It’s a sign that your company is willing to do the real work of being a positive member of the community it’s part of.
Your openness about the changes you’re making will also position you as a leader and role model for other small businesses to do the same so the impact of your decisions will spread beyond your own office!
2. Donate to Causes That Matter in Your Community
One of the best things you can do as a company or as an individual is to give money to organizations that are dedicated to the issues you care about. Responding to a major news event by donating to a relevant cause earns you a pat on the back but the better approach would be making regular donations to this cause or a set of causes.
Here are a couple of tips for making your charitable giving really count:
- Give cash. Cash can be turned into whatever the organization needs at the moment. 1,000 cans of pea soup or pairs of socks, less so.
- Choose 1-2 organizations. Do your research to pick 1-2 organizations that you trust will make the most out of your donations and put your entire charity budget into them. This will do more good than spreading your charitable giving thinly across a dozen different organizations.
- Choose causes relevant to your local community. If you’ve got a high population of refugees in your city, make sure a refugee shelter or legal defense fund is on your list. If you’re in a town that deals with polluted waterways or air, make environmental causes a high priority. This shows that your brand is tuned into the surrounding community.
Bonus Tip: Encourage Customers to Donate, Too!
In addition to making your donations, promote these organizations and encourage your audience to consider donating as well. You can do this in business-friendly ways like:
- Donating all or a portion of the profit from sales of a particular product or service to the organization.
- Offering special discounts, deals, or freebies to customers who show receipts that they donated to an organization on your list.
- Offering to donate all or a portion of the profit to a charity of the customer’s choice when they make a purchase.
3. Provide Employees With Volunteer Hours
On a quarterly or annual basis, grant employees 8-40 hours of paid volunteer time off (VTO). Employees can use VTO to go volunteer for a cause they care about like delivering food with Meals on Wheels or staffing a crisis hotline—things that they might struggle to make time for otherwise.
Not only does VTO offer some cool benefits to your business, but it’s also a great way to make a meaningful impact on your community. If your business lacks the cash flow to commit to regular charitable donations, VTO is an excellent, more budget-friendly alternative.
4. Share Your Platform
If you’re struggling to find the right wording or the right way to address an issue on social media, here’s some good news: you don’t have to! Instead of trying to speak for a group that you aren’t a member of, step aside and let a member of that group use your platform to spread their message.
For example, you could reach out to an organizer or community leader and offer to host an Instagram AMA, allowing your audience to hear directly from the very people who have dedicated their lives to this cause.
This approach amplifies voices that might otherwise struggle to be heard while also saving your brand from accidentally putting out any embarrassingly tone-deaf messages. You achieve the same end goal of demonstrating your support of the cause and do it in a more impactful way.
The key takeaway here is that meaningful actions, no matter how small, will go a lot further than empty gestures and emptier social media campaigns. You don’t need to eradicate world hunger or end child poverty. You just need to show that your brand is aware, willing to do the work, and committed to having a positive impact on its community.
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