Relationships Are for More Than February

Have you thought about confining the thrust of your company’s racial equity and justice initiatives to the month of February, i.e., Black History Month (BHM)? If so, it’s time to rethink that plan and consider a more sustained approach that spans every month of the year. The tendency can be to compartmentalize an emphasis on racial justice into the 28 days of “highest relevance.” But while BHM represents an ideal “launching point” for major programs that center the needs of Black and brown communities, the potential to combat systemic inequities and connect with stakeholders through purpose will require your long-term focus.

Your company’s racial justice mindset should work to drive profitability in the marketplace; neither is mutually exclusive.

Within our own business, APCO has experienced this firsthand. Analysis of our internal systems, processes and operations, through a racial justice lens, has allowed us to build strategies and execute them in ways that positively redefined relationships with our own workforce, suppliers and clients.

As we play an increasingly active role in advising pioneering organizations in developing ideas and initiatives that directly address the needs of Black and brown communities, we have seen that the fundamentals of stakeholder-centric strategy remain constant. For instance, the importance of building meaningful relationships now, rather than waiting on an opportunistic need, is of utmost importance.

Black activists, educators and influencers will easily tell you how much their inboxes overflow when a national tragedy “awakens” the corporate consciousness. Instead of waiting for such a circumstance to rethink your company’s role in racial equity solutions-driving, let BHM serve as an appropriate time to reset your stakeholder engagement agenda and align your outreach to aspirational plans.

Here’s how to align your outreach ahead of Black History Month:

1. Turn inward first and take stock of your company’s position in the multi-layered dynamics of racial equity—do we understand the basics of systemic inequity? How do our policies and practices affect impacted communities, including our employees? What do we stand for as a brand?

2. Develop a perspective on your role—how can we activate our resources to support change?

3. Map the ecosystem that matters for your goals—given what we have committed to achieving, who else operates in this space? What relationships should we build proactively?

4. Act with intention—as we engage Black leaders, are we connecting them with the right people in our organization? Are we prepared to invest appropriately to build sustainable relationships? Have we organized our team effectively to maximize efficiency and minimize “swirl?”

Of utmost importance is that you remain attune to the mentality and needs of the Black individuals—also realizing that this community is not a monolith. In line with this mentality, BHM is no longer a 28-day commemoration of the past. It is a time to ponder “what’s possible?” and how to implement transformative ideas that break down societal barriers to Black empowerment and prosperity.

Conceived with care and humanity at its core, such an engagement works to deepen your relationship with your employees and connect you in profound ways with external audiences who increasingly determine their loyalty to brands based on the actions that do not directly drive sales.

Of even greater gravity: relationships with Black leaders and the lesser-known advocates “doing the work” day to day are the optimal way to drive your internal understanding of the dynamics at hand and your organization’s role in shaping an equitable future for all.