Waking Up: Accelerate What’s Right

Ever since George Floyd’s killing, I’ve been struggling with a simple question: why did it take his killing for me to finally wake up?

I was raised to believe that all people are equal. As a kid, I watched my parents treat those they encountered with grace and respect. And I witnessed them regularly give their time and money to help other people.

As an adult I have tried to continue their example. But, since George Floyd’s killing, I’ve been questioning everything. Why are we here? What does equality really look like? What more should I do? I realized that I’ve lived in a bubble and have never truly taken the time to really understand my community, how we evolved or didn’t, and what real change looks and feels like.

Now, I’m in a position to affect real change. I have the joy of being APCO Worldwide’s North America president and having the remit to create programs, uplift culture and hold teams accountable. I spend hours considering how to make a difference for my clients’ organizations and how to create the very best environment for my colleagues. Yet since George Floyd’s death, I can’t turn off the voice in my head that keeps asking, “so, what are you going to do about it?”

A team of wonderfully passionate friends and colleagues have helped me process my thoughts, and we joined forces to develop a program called “Accelerate What’s Right.” This effort is designed to address the “right now”—to fight systemic racism and discrimination—and to create a lasting effort to advance equality and inclusion.

I have to say here that I’m not a fan of one-off programs and I won’t champion marketing campaigns designed to just capture the moment. I try my best not to use words for the sake of words. And my parents taught me that my words and action need to mirror each other. So, here’s where we are headed.

1) We will all be held accountable to advancing change. We will all sign an inclusivity contract that guides how we operate. Our senior colleagues will have new KPIs tied to their compensation that hold them accountable and our performance management system will measure each employee’s contribution. Our recruiters know that 50 percent of our talent pipeline must include people of color and we are expanding where we’re sourcing talent.

2) We will continually learn, together. We’re sponsoring learning opportunities for our employees to be anti-racist allies. Among our efforts will be a monthly speaker series to create moments for us to share, learn and identify actions for change. Our first town hall in June yielded almost 20 pages of ideas for change. These ideas are now forming this program.

3) We will walk the walk. Just learning isn’t enough. We will commit to delivering inclusive and equitable campaigns for clients and we will incorporate inclusivity principles into our client contracts in addition to measuring the outcomes. Our team will also give time back in the communities where we do business. We’ll invite our clients to join us to make an impact around us. We will measure our outcomes, discuss progress and do it again.

4) We will check ourselves and keep going. I’ve committed to transparent reporting to our teams. What’s working? What’s not? Why not? Then, we’ll keep going to improve action by action.

For those interested, here’s a list of APCO’s commitments (along with a video from our employees). But it can’t just be about what we will do; it needs to also include what I will do. And I hope you will join me here.

  • I will continuously dedicate time to this effort. I’ve seen how much faster our teams can move with the support from executives. So, I’m keeping this as a regular part of my remit and asking our CEO and my direct reports to hold me accountable. I’m also carving out time for our leaders to dedicate time to these efforts without needing to do them on top of everything else.
  • I will lift up my colleagues, friends and even strangers. I’ve realized that some of us are simply are unaware. Some of us need to better understand. Some of us never had role models to teach us differently. So, this will not be about criticizing each other because that will lead to more bifurcation. This will be about continuously learning together in an encouraging environment. No matter where we are in our journey we can all learn. We can all be better.
  • I will do what I say. I will move with urgency, but it will be with thoughtful action with an eye towards sustainable change. I have committed to formal conversations with our teams regularly throughout the year. During these conversations, we will talk progress and identify our gaps. We will come together to continue improve. This is about change for today. And, it’s about change that outlives me. It will take focused action. Repeat. Repeat.

The last thing I’ll say is this: I know this only gets better, if we are better. I talk a lot about the next generation, and my husband Mark and I have two almost-teenagers now that I can’t believe are growing so fast. When they enter the workforce or have their own kids, what will the world look like? We must check ourselves to ensure that we go deeper into the right sets of actions versus spreading ourselves too thin, show progress instead of just talking about it amongst ourselves and ensure that this is a commitment we all feel obligated to join—because the future of our country, our communities, our workplaces and most importantly people’s lives, require it.

I’m still working to find peace with my inner thoughts and this constant unsettled feeling. I’m grateful for my dear friends and colleagues like Courtney Crowder, Howard Pulchin, Riley Billman, Elle Arlook, Jason Meyer, Edwin Feliciano and Joon Kang for helping me funnel my thoughts into action.

I share this with you hoping you’ll join me in creating change. May we never look away again. May we constantly learn together. And may we always seek to undertake change. And most of all, we must act like our lives depend on it.