Why Your Company Should Skip the Obligatory MLK Day Post This Year
We’ve come off of an incredible year. The country’s racial tensions have once more risen to the surface of the national consciousness and companies have been forced to take a look at themselves and the role they play in maintaining the status quo. In 2020, companies quickly realized that the stakes had changed. Conversations about equity and inclusiveness entered the chat and the Black constituents of companies (employees, customers, contractors, suppliers, etc.) wanted meaningful change, not empty symbolism. It’s in light of this cultural shift that I implore companies to skip the obligatory MLK Day social media post.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Skipping the annual MLK Day post? The one with his photo accompanied by an overused quote about equality, likely taken out of context — blasphemy. Shocking, I know, but stay with me. Like everything else in life, context is key. Here are the facts: According to the Economic Policy Institute, Black workers face higher rates of unemployment and lower wages than their white counterparts. Black workers with a college or advanced degree are more likely than their white counterparts to be underemployed when it comes to their skill level and job applicants with ethnic-sounding names are less likely to receive a call-back, even with an identical resume. With statistics like that plaguing Black workers, it’s no wonder people are looking to companies for meaningful change. It’s within this context that your traditional MLK Day post will likely be ill-received by your Black constituents. Platitudes will no longer cut it.
It’s time to look inward. Before you make that post, ask yourself if your organization represents the ideals that Dr. King stood for. If your organization isn’t actively working toward the ideal of inclusivity, championing diversity, and working to undo the social harm caused by racism and inequality in the workplace, then your post will likely come off as inauthentic or, worse, tone-deaf.
You may be wondering, won’t it look bad if we don’t post anything, or won’t it send the message that you don’t value inclusivity? I know you want to connect and engage with your audience, but you don’t want to seem out of touch, and like with all organizational communication, authenticity is what will resonate. Let your company’s record on diversity, inclusion, and equity speak for itself. Your hiring practices, culture, and initiatives all tell the story of your company’s values. You can’t celebrate Dr. King while microaggressions, inequity, and a toxic workplace culture run rampant in your company. Well, you could, but why would you want to? Your constituents will see right through it and your credibility will take a hit.
If you’re unsure about whether your company’s practices line up with Dr. King’s values, it’s time to talk to your Black employees. Often the policies and initiatives on diversity amount to nothing more than lip service and the experiences of Black employees tell a different story altogether. If that’s the case, remedying those negative or inequitable experiences should be your focus.
This article isn’t a guide to making your organization more inclusive and diverse. There are much more comprehensive resources on this subject already (see The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook or read The Memo by Minda Hart). I’m simply urging you to use this opportunity to reflect on your company’s values and ethics, and to approach your communications from a place of authenticity — your followers will thank you for it.
I’ve told you what not to post; now, it’s only fair that I tell you what I think you should post. Highlight the ways in which your organization is prioritizing diversity and inclusion. Discuss initiatives, programs, and even some cool statistics on your company’s progress. Even better, acknowledge the trouble spots you’re facing in this area and what corrective action you’re taking to make sure all employees have an equitable experience. Finally, if you’re uncomfortable with or unable to follow these suggestions, consider just not saying anything at all until you’re able to speak from a place of authenticity.