Despite Public Support for Social Justice, Many Organizations Are Not Naturally BenevolentDate - November 23, 2021
We must not be pacified by people and organizations who utter the rhetoric of justice without the history to back it up.
When I learned about Times Up involvement in former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment allegations, I was disappointed but not surprised.
No one is naturally benevolent. Each day we wake up, we must decide to do the right thing, after first determining what “right” is for us and the people who look up to us. But after the decision or the intention to do right, we must ensure there are mechanisms in place to hold ourselves accountable.
Because organizations are made up of imperfect people and have a profit or power motive, I do not believe organizations, much less companies, are naturally benevolent. That is why I wasn’t shocked that an organization supposedly committed to sexual abuse survivors was embroiled in a scandal for not centering survivors.
Most organizations are driven by a need to raise funds, remain competitive, cultivate and maintain power. Doing the right thing then is nice, but it is not a compulsory driver for many organizations. That is not to suggest that all companies and organizations are bad. I am suggesting that mere intention is useless without accountability.
Having a noble purpose isn’t enough. Saying you despise racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and classism is meaningless if there isn’t a system in place to ensure you and the people in your employ are treating all people with dignity and respect. And here’s the thing – dignity and respect are about more than just being nice or saying the right things in the presence of others. Treating others with dignity and respect is much bigger than speaking with others comfortingly or opening doors for people when you see them struggling with small children, lots of bags or both. To do right by others, companies must give them every opportunity to thrive by paying a living wage, supporting workers as they care for themselves and their families, being willing to share power, creating an environment where it is safe for others to share feedback, etc.
Yet too often, far too many leaders sign up to be on the social justice team with no real plan for how to achieve it and few guard rails to ensure they are having the impact that they intend.
While I do not believe organizations are naturally kind and good, I was disappointed to learn that Times Up not only laid off most of its staff but did so before the holidays. Additionally, the people who received pink slips likely were not involved in the Cuomo situation and probably had little power to change the course of the leadership’s direction. But company leaders notifying the press before staff, who were actually being laid off, is just shameful. This was a classic move to protect the organization’s image without understanding that treating people justly is the best way to protect one’s brand. A company’s first customer is the employee. Running to the media to get the leg up on staff because you haven’t led properly is a classic example of poor leadership. Saying you support people who are often powerless, while mistreating those in your organization with less power, is also hypocritical.
For the people involved in this situation, learning they were being let go moments before a Washington Post story was published, was likely devastating. For me, this is a reminder that we must not be pacified by people and organizations who utter the rhetoric of justice without the history to back it up. We need to move beyond talk and focus on actions.
Jennifer R. Farmer is a writer, trainer, and public relations expert. She is the author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life” and “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Follow her on Twitter/IG at pr_whisperer or on Facebook at prwhisperer.