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DEI Initiatives: Hey Alexa, Should I Issue a Statement For This?

2021 was a whirlwind year in terms of keeping up with events that shook our country. The cries from consumers for cultural awareness and DEI initiatives from brands was incredibly hard to navigate.

The last year and a half has been a mixed bag of reactions. Some companies went all out and putting statements for every incident and others remained silent the entire time. In the height of this, SHIFT polled consumers to see what they thought about brands statements. The findings? 41% of consumers feel that brands must put out a statement for everything while 36% believe brands should issue a statement only if it ties to their business or purpose.

So how do you figure out if a cultural event is something your company should have a stance on? How do you know and what should you do if you end up alienating your stakeholders? Let’s explore a few things that you can use to help guide your decision for the year ahead.

Check Yourself Before Communicating a DEI initiative

Breaking news happens fast. When it comes to issues surrounding social justice, diversity and inclusion, it’s often filled with emotions. Take the time to educate yourself, your team and leadership about the unfolding events. It’s also OK to acknowledge changing situations that don’t have clear-cut details right off the bat, which impacts your company’s stance.

Like any good communications plan, start with research. It’s helpful to have a rubric in place to weigh your decision against. It can include a set of requirements the situation must have to warrant your organization’s involvement, for example:

  • Direct impact on your company and/or its people
  • Impact on your customers/target audience — Your brand likely works with many stakeholders, from investors and employees to customers, business partners and local communities. Are they expecting you to issue a statement?
  • Alignment with the organization’s purpose, mission, or values
  • Intention to align with the cause long-term vs. simply checking the box with a statement — If it’s something your brand and leadership has been fighting for and/or will continue to, then it’s a good opportunity to remind stakeholders of company values and actions you’ve implemented before.

Building a DE&I Statement with the End in Mind

When you’ve weighed your options, it’s time to sit down and think about your objectives and copy for your actual statement. Whatever you share will be a lasting reflection of the brand. Consumers easily see through empty words, so responding in a way that’s specific to a DEI initiative you’re taking — and meaningful to stakeholders and those impacted — is key. A set of guardrails to ensure that are:

  • Lead with transparency and authenticity — stepping out on subjects like means you could be measured against it (by all stakeholder groups) down the road. What you state should be something you can commit to and uphold.
  • Back it up with actions — Show them how it reflects the DNA of the company. Words like “support” should include tangible initiatives that your brand is taking to bridge the gap.
  • Identify where to share this message — While many brands take to social media, it’s not always the right channel. At SHIFT, we’ve worked with clients to share statements on social pages or with their employees only rather than public channels because the events were close to their hearts. And that’s OK.
  • Gain executive support — it’s fine for a company to issue a statement, but it’s even more powerful when it has backing from leadership and from all of its employees.
  • Roll out internally, first — before going external, make sure all employees are aware of the position and any actions the organization has decided to take. Create an open door for employee feedback internally so if there is any opposition it can be addressed directly.

At the end of the day, you should keep in mind that you can’t please everyone. There will always be audiences who disagree with your stance, applaud it, or flat out don’t think you’re doing enough. If your decision is reflective of the brand, its values and its employees’ sentiment, then stick to it.

Take the lessons from 2021 to build a plan. Discuss with your leadership team how to approach similar events in the future. Existing and new issues will undoubtedly continue to surface.

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