I made a personal commitment to keep it extra real in 2015. I love social media for connecting, entertainment and the speed with which we’re able to satiate our natural curiosity. But let's be honest, if we're not careful, media can also have us believing the worst about humanity. With every negative portrayal or racially, sexually or religiously charged rant, what we "know” about each other is at risk of becoming what we "think,” then what we "wonder,” and, ultimately, what we doubt.
I've seen folks from all backgrounds grossly oversimplify others' motives and concerns. As a black woman, wife and mother who attended a historically black college, worked on Mahogany — an African American social expression line — for 15 years, and now leads one of America’s most beloved brands, Hallmark, in its quest to more meaningfully reflect a diverse America, I know a thing or two about what black people really want from you. And because it serves business leaders to understand the deep and abiding motivations of their employees and customers, I’m going to tell you. Here goes:
1. Acknowledgment. Black people want you to see them. Non-blacks get antsy when we mention the civil rights movement, but everything has a historical context. Please understand that such experiences still impact the collective psyche of African Americans. Our parents (not our great, great, great-grandparents) have painful stories of being denied, attacked, ignored and generally marginalized. This isn't ancient history, and in some places, it's still happening. Because of this, we're on hyper-alert. Nothing fires us up more than being dismissed or made to feel invisible. In stores, at work, in school…anywhere.
Bonus tip: Don’t tell us you don't see color. We see it, and we're proud of who we are.
2. Caring. Your black employees and customers want to know you care about the things they care about. We're increasingly concerned for the safety of our children and the health of our communities, and in an era where our "bad side" is apparently so entertaining, we are also protective of our image. We want to be positively reflected in the media. We want our families to be celebrated, our traditions to be respected and our uniqueness to be valued. I was sincerely moved when my white friends and colleagues reached out to me about what happened in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland. They know I have four black sons. They showed compassion for my family, and it meant everything. There are many ways to be a force of good. Start somewhere.
Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to address the hard stuff. Even if you open with "I don’t know what to say . . . "
3. Engagement. Your black employees and customers want to be part of the solution. They desire to lead, advise and contribute. They want to be fully leveraged as the trend-setters they are, and are hungry to be included in your most important conversations. We are creative, passionate, loyal and united. We are powerful! We know this, but sometimes we don’t think others do. The companies and leaders who recognize this truth will benefit for years to come, because the innovation inherent in black culture permeates all cultures. When you walk a mile with us, you’re walking ahead of the crowd.
Bonus tip: Ask for our feedback, and not just on perceivably "black stuff." Our opinions (on anything) will help ensure a more inclusive approach.
There you have it. This is my public service announcement. If you found value in this blog, please share it. If you have questions or even a difference of opinion, I'm happy to engage in conversation!
Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.