The release of graphic video footage showing George Floyd's murder in the custody of Minneapolis police triggered public outcry across the nation. Thousands protested in the streets in support of Black Lives Matter, the movement likely to be the largest in United States history. America has been confronted with a much-needed reflection and a long overdue conversation about race and racism in our country.
That said, in the past few weeks, all sectors and industries have begun to denounce discrimination and profess their commitment to equality and justice. As an owner of a family business, this is the time to ask yourself, "How is my family business addressing diversity and race?" A public statement on a social media page or a window-front is not enough. It is important to not only show allyship but also to take a deeper look within your family business, educate family members and employees, take accountability for where your business may have turned a blind eye, and find ways to enhance diversity and inclusion.
Well-known scholar and leading activist for Black Lives Matter, Dr. Beverly Tatum, spoke about the importance of using your voice in your inner circles to actively rebut prejudice and interrupt systemic racism. Your family business is your inner circle. Start by creating a safe place for discussion. Provide resources and training to educate yourself, family members, and your employees. This effort may even require calling upon external allies for assistance. Perhaps consider signing up your management and employees for an implicit bias or other anti-racism class or workshop as many are being offered during this time.
With a simple Google search, curated lists on books to read, movies to watch, and events to attend provide a wealth of information. Find opportunities for your family business to listen to the experiences of Black and Brown people. Also, take the time to learn about microaggressions— brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental communications that transmit hostile, derogatory or negative messages.
Microaggressions may be intentional or unintentional, and in a family operated business, they may be so commonplace in the home environment that people may not realize or understand that these microaggressions are taking place. Regardless of how small or large a family operated business may be, longer-term, consistent education is key.
With education also comes reflection. The harsh reality is that it is possible that at one point or another we have all been part of the problem. If, upon reflection, that is the case, take responsibility and take action. In a family business setting, as an owner, be vulnerable and willing to share with your family members, employees, and customers what you have learned and where you have failed in the past to rebut prejudice or racist behavior. Allow family members and employees to share what is becoming clearer to them through the education and training provided. Conversation is difficult, accountability even more so.
Implementing what you learn is the next step. Make changes in your family business and set goals to achieve more equitable representation across your brand. Many family businesses are family operated, and, as a result, diversity may be hard to achieve without a willingness to expand your operational leadership and/or control beyond family members. Therefore, family businesses need to ask; "What else can we do?"
Start by looking at your supply chains. Are those supply chains promoting equity and inclusion? Consider partnerships with racially diverse businesses or vendors that show equitable representation. Additionally, take steps to further align and involve your family business in the work led by organizations and movements that promote antiracism and racial justice. Donations to such organizations and movements is a start, but also consider showing involvement at events, solidarity on social media platforms, and amplifying the voices and work of black creators and black business owners.
Family businesses should lead by example. Take the responsible steps to ensure that diversity and inclusion is not only mandated within your business structure, but that they trickle down your supply chains and are reflected in how you treat your customers. Also consider how your family business in particular can contribute in unique ways. For example, a family restaurant can provide meals for those attending peaceful antiracism and racial justice rallies or offer access to their kitchen for storage during events/workshops. A family-owned clothing manufacturer or retail store could sew masks to be handed out to attendees at peaceful rallies and protests.
Finally, keep in mind that education and implementation are parts of an ongoing process. The process doesn't stop. Engagement from family businesses is needed; their role and influence should not be underestimated. We all have our own particular spheres of influence that shape the mindset and behaviors of others. Continuously reflect on the messages your family business sends to your customers, your community, and the people connected in any way to your business.