OK, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Do you know the times people are most likely to make an embarrassing or costly PR mistake? It is when they think they have it all figured out. It is when they cease to approach media or public engagements from the lens of, “Is this necessary?,” “Does this advance my work and/or message?” or “Is this kind?”
It is when you don’t appreciate that doing well on social media or in the media is bigger than knowing all the answers; it involves knowing what to say, when to say it and to whom to say it. It involves carefully considering whether you are the best messenger for a particular message. It involves a level of humility that success can compromise. When you have had any level of success, it is easy to believe that you are a big deal. It is easy to believe that your life will be paved with continued opportunities. You may indeed be a big deal, but humility is inoculation from embarrassing errors. And anyone, and I do mean anyone, can make a mistake.
Over the weekend, I witnessed a painful reminder of this very thing. A recruiter recounted online a story about offering a candidate $45,000 less than what she had the capacity to pay and less than what the candidate asked for, because the candidate purportedly didn’t know her worth or wasn’t confident. Because many people have had the experience being offered less than their counterparts received, the post struck a nerve. The attention shifted from the message the recruiter was trying to share (be confident) to people accusing the recruiter of being unethical and mean-spirited.
As an aside, as an observer of gender and race, I must comment on the obvious: Many people used this situation to unload all the meanness and fatphobia in their hearts, resorting to vicious and demeaning attacks on the recruiter who happened to be Black, a female and having a larger body. I do not condone the cruelty with which people engaged the recruiter. Just because a person makes a mistake (and I believe it was a mistake to offer the candidate $45,000 less when the recruiter had the capacity to pay more) doesn’t mean the internet mobs need to ruthlessly haunt and vilify the individual. Black women are far more likely to experience online bullying, harsh treatment and fatphobia; so, while I disagreed with the recruiter’s approach, I understood how intersecting oppressions made her especially vulnerable to cruelty. I wrote about the online abuse of Black women in 2019 for The Root.
I raise this to say that those of us with power and a platform must be very careful how we engage others and think carefully about what we share on social media and in media interviews. This is a painful way to learn that lesson, and I am hopeful that the recruiter and the candidate in question have or will receive the support they need to grow, learn and thrive.
Above all, I want you to know that none of us are immune to mistakes. Each of us can make painful, costly and embarrassing blunders that are difficult to live down. When we do, it’s important to own it, take time away to process, surround ourselves with loving friends and family, and vow to move forward.