As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain momentum, many brands are jumping on board in response. However, while some are showing their support through marketing efforts, it doesn’t make much of a difference unless they put that stance into motion, explains Nselaa Ward, JD, managing partner of a top business architect firm Ni’ Nava & Associates based in Atlanta GA. Nselaa Ward was a prior attorney during the BLM, where she represented Black clients and prevented them from spending more than a collective total of over 300 years in prison. She is also the chair of the International Black Business Agenda.
Instead, businesses big and small should aim to work BLM into their culture, she explains. That goes beyond social media posts and photo ops that make your business look engaged on the surface — sometimes referred to as “performative solidarity” — it should be a transformative process in the way you consider new hires, and how you advocate for black members of the community and beyond.
Examining Racial Biases in Hiring
Business owners should take an honest look at their organizational structure and the approach taken when seeking new talent. While you might not realize it, you could be including racial biases in the recruitment processes, explains Nselaa Ward. For example, perhaps your business is only advertising a position in a white-centric publication or website, or the hiring team is primarily white.
You need to actively pursue diversification. One strategy to erase embedded biases during the interview stage is to invite interested parties to submit applications without names and even gender and educational backgrounds — a practice known as blind hiring. This ensures that a wider pool of candidates gets considered based on skills rather than background.
Having a more diverse workforce, including in management, will support your business’s statement that it stands behind black lives. But it’s more than just about image or filling a “quota,” adds Nselaa Ward — being more culturally varied within the workforce means introducing new perspectives that may have never been considered, as well as challenging the status quo. This could lead to new innovations.
For existing employees on your payroll, you should ensure there is no disparity between opportunities and wages for black and white staff. Challenge the core reasons why you might have promoted a white employee over a black employee, even when their qualifications are similar.
Creating an Open and Safe Work Culture
Also, any grievances that are presented from an employee should be taken seriously, regardless of their background. As a business owner or manager, you should be creating a safe space for all staff to voice concerns and also to contribute ideas about how to improve your work culture (which can benefit productivity alongside it).
This kind of positive work environment can also help to address the disproportionate number of black people affected by mental health issues in the workplace as the result of racism and microaggressions.
Nselaa Ward on Supporting Black-Led Causes and Businesses
As a business owner, you should also put your money where your mouth is, says Nselaa Ward. While some big brands like Nike endorsed a black athlete knowing it could have created a backlash (the company’s share value did drop temporarily, but the move ended up boosting the company’s value), smaller businesses can also make a difference by donating to organizations that support black initiatives. This could mean donating to Black Lives Matter Global Network, the International Black Business Agenda, the NAACP, or the M4BL coalition, as examples.
Businesses can also donate directly to families of black people that have been affected by violence, and that isn’t limited to a one-time cash donation. It could take the form of ongoing support through providing your goods or services to the family at little or no cost, or helping to spread their message locally, notes Nselaa Ward.
White-led businesses and individuals need to first recognize their privilege, and then use it to prop up black causes and even help black-led businesses succeed. Supporting a black-owned business or organization also means supporting diversity in the community — black communities often feel the brunt of gentrification the most.
By taking an honest look at your business practices and objectives, you can strengthen your support for the BLM movement and even strengthen your company’s team, concludes Nselaa Ward.