But as the demonstrations have fanned out from Minneapolis to the world in response to the murder of George Floyd, the ugly truth of prejudice and bias have pushed the Covid-19 pandemic to the background.
For decades we have kicked the ugly truth of racial inequality down the street hoping someone else would deal with it. Now the Boulevard of Unspoken Hurts and Injustice has filled up, and I hope we can all see that racism is everyone’s problem.
As a white man, I feel it’s my responsibility to tune in to the centuries-long screams for justice.
And for me, life is too short not to care for everyone, especially since many people’s lives are cut even shorter due to inequality.
It would be a mistake and a waste of all the US has gone through this past week to assume that now that Derek Chauvin and the three other police officers have been charged, we can go back to reopening our stores and repairing our economy.
That alone could be a reason to despair.
But John F. Kennedy said it best in 1958 when he said, "Let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past — let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
While I think many of us can sympathize with people who are not like us and we can recognize hardships in their different experiences, that can drive us to disconnect. I don’t find I change much when I just sympathize with a friend over their situation.
With empathy, on the other hand, as we’ve seen from the millions involved in peaceful protests, we gain the insight and the power to bring people together to connect. That’s how change can happen.
Poet Mary Lathrap famously told us over a hundred years ago, Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.
Except now, we would change the pronouns to include everyone, not just men.
As retailers, our job is to make every shopper feel welcome in our spaces, both virtually and in person.
When people see themselves in your marketing and on your sales floor, they feel safe and included.
Shoppers feeling welcome in your store starts with the people you choose to hire. Your sales team is a direct representation of your brand. How you train them to behave and how you hold them accountable for building a connection and caring for every shopper who enters your door shows what your business stands for.
I’ve spent my career developing training for retail stores to teach sales teams to build rapport with any customer and make shopping a personal, fun experience, which is where brick-and-mortar excels. Training is necessary to make this type of experience happen.
But training cannot replace having a sales team that represents your community so that everyone feels welcome to shop and welcome to apply for a job with you.
What to do
I want you to pull out a picture of your present crew and compare it a picture of the stars of Friends. Now look at photos of your past crews. Do they look any different?
Now take a look at the racial profile of your city here. Does your crew match those racial breakdowns? If it doesn’t, have you considered why it doesn’t?
I have recently read many studies on implicit bias - which is different than racism- and what I’ve come away with is the knowledge that we all hold implicit biases against and for different races. It is a thumbprint on our brains, hard for most of us to accept but very real.
Think of the images we’ve all grown up with from newspapers, TV shows, and even movies. Those images along with our family discussions and history books have created the lens with which our minds look at the world.
Even if we have taken diversity training, understanding we have a bias (one way or the other) is very hard to accept. But it makes it no less true.
But changing our culture for the better has to start somewhere...
It was five long years ago to the month that Starbucks launched its boldest initiative ever: Race Together. But their campaign which sought to spark a national conversation about race was widely vilified.
But Starbucks was onto something…
Politics becomes personal when it happens to someone you know.
Imagine it isn’t some stranger who was beaten up or had a racial slur thrown at them but one of your own crew members. Would that have shaped the way you are looking at events in the world today?
I’ll bet it would have ... a lot.
I’ve said it since I started my consulting business over 25 years ago: “We can change the world with the people working and shopping in retail.” I still believe that wholeheartedly.
You can donate to worthwhile causes, read stories about how racism has affected people, and have conversations about racial bias ...
But until you hire people who don’t look like you, nothing will change.
As retailers, our job is to make all people feel they are represented not only by our merchandise but by the people they see on our sales floors and in our marketing campaigns.
We need everyone to grow our sales.
How to hire people who don’t look like you:
Advertise for jobs in new markets. Go to career centers of colleges and explain you are looking to represent your local area. Get your Chamber or Downtown Association involved to end racial bias.
Get some bias training. We have all kinds of bias against different races, ages, sexual orientation, and gender. Do a Google search for what it means and be open to the idea we all have these inclinations or prejudices for or against people different than us. You can take an Implicit Association Quiz sponsored by Harvard to discover your own biases about religion, weight, sexuality, skin-tone, disability, race, and more here.
Encourage online applications. One of the biggest sticklers is when someone comes in with their application and resume and your part-timer takes them. Later, when the manager asks if they saw who turned in the application, the part-timer says, “Yes, they didn’t look like a fit.”
Make sure you have the same requirements for everyone.
Monitor the pictures you use in your marketing materials. You want to project an image of your entire community, not just you.
Choose your philanthropic partners with an eye for mirroring your community and the goals of inclusion.
Go beyond just selecting products you like. Learn each vendor’s story and how their mission and initiatives fit into your inclusive environment.
You can have a meeting where you tell your crew that you’ve been thinking about the harm racism has caused in our society and tell them you are going to make an extra effort to hire a diverse workforce.
You can also do training with your crew to help them practice not passing judgements on the shoppers who come in your door. Many times they don’t even realize they are passing these judgments unless a conversation is had and training is put in place.
Behavior training like this takes a lot of role play practice and time, but it is the only way to change the way your crew interacts with shoppers. Every shopper should be given the same care regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or whether or not one of your employees thinks they “look like they have money.”
It’s those type of judgments that hurt people as well as hurt your business.
It's easy to say we all are alike when we don't understand there are different perspectives and realities at play for those who do not share our sexuality, gender, race, and more. if we want to build a world worthy of our grandchildren, it needs to remove the idea of they and us .
We have all arrived at this time through different paths, different experiences, and different viewpoints. We can’t erase those biases we’ve carried around.
We can’t simply say, I understand, and suddenly we do.
It is up to each of us to try to understand everyone better but particularly those who have a different skin color. It is not their job to educate us; it is ours to educate ourselves with reliable sources.
Consider these two points: Black households earn less than 60% of white ones. The median net worth for white families is 10 times that of black families.
We can’t see a couple weeks of demonstrations around the world and then say, Glad that’s over, and pretend we can unsee the reasons our cities erupted in protests.
What we can do as retailers is understand that we have a responsibility to our communities to look like our communities - in our marketing materials, in our product choices, and most of all, on our sales floors.
Our Director of Customer Experience Mary-Grace said it best, “After hundreds of years of oppression, a small gesture like this might seem like too little, but it is never too late.”
The days of Friends is over, but the days of friends can happen, if we actively work to make it happen.
If you are looking for how to educate yourself about how to help banish racism, I highly recommend this list of articles, movies, podcasts and book recommendations to help you do just that here.
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