Beyond company statements: Experts say time to act is now

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Over the last couple of weeks, companies across the country have issued statements in support of racial justice and equality. But are those messages enough?

Some experts say sending a mass email to staff or posting a black box on Instagram just isn't enough and to take on these issues, it's going to take tough conversations and action.

Throughout the Chicago area and beyond, small businesses and large corporations are speaking out against racial injustice.

From national sports leagues to big box retail chains, a number of businesses issue statements, condemning and even apologizing for previous policies within their corporation.

But Civil Rights activist Marc Lamont Hill said a company's words can only go so far.

"In other words, it's one thing to say you support racial justice, it's another thing to hire black folks, to create black mentor networks, to pay people properly, those things have to be reflected as well," Hill said.

Hill said in these tough times, businesses shouldn't wing it or go with their gut. Instead, they should bring in experts, professionals and preferably people of color to help guide the company through ways to implement change, enhance company culture and educate people on privilege and implicit bias.

"The important thing, though, is to not just bring in experts but to use their expertise in ways that don't just get them out of a public relations crisis but also make the company and the community better than they found it," Hill said.

While he said he can't name any big companies that has gotten it perfect, he said there are brands that are making major strides.

"Nike, in the last week, has issued a series of ads. 'For the first time, we're saying don't do it,' and then they speak out against racial injustice. That's an incurably important ad," Hill said. "Ben and Jerry's has spoken out very critically against racial injustices and flat out white supremacy in the United States."

Marty McDonald, the CEO of Boss Women Media, said it's also important that women of color aren't left out of the conversation.

"Our dollars matter," McDonald said. "Black people, and specifically black women, have some of the highest spending power in the world. Brands have not been paying attention to us. "We're in a time right now where people want to see change. They're demanding change."

When asked about the consequences of remaining silent, McDonald said, "If a company remains silent at a moment of mass civil unrest, in the face of significant social injustice, they run the risk of losing credibility with the consumer base. People will be turned off. In a moment where social media, they can be dragged. They can be criticized so loudly, customers lose long-term faith and desire to be with that company."

Experts said one of the biggest mistakes companies often make during times of unrest is waiting for things to blow over or waiting for a perfect time to address racial injustices. But they said the truth is there's never a perfect time to talk about race, but it's something we all need to face.
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