It’s very difficult for organizations to balance all of the things they have to do. They need to make money so they can hire employees and offer benefits. They have to make products and provide services that their customers will love. And they have to remain true to their values. It’s a sign of credibility.
Over the past few weeks, many organizations have made declarations that they are opposed to systemic racism. But there have been numerous articles pointing out that sometimes what companies say and what they do might not always align.
This is much too important a topic to let it drop on our priority list. Organizations should regularly review their values and ask themselves, “Are we still staying true to our word?” And it starts with the CEO.
Carmen Miller is the CEO of McKinley Insurance Services, a full-service agency located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Carmen for over a decade. We first met as volunteers at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) annual conference in Orlando. And we spent several years working together on the board for HR Florida, the SHRM state affiliate. I asked Carmen if she would talk about her experiences as a CEO and thankfully, she said “yes”.
Carmen, thanks for being here. What does Black Lives Matter (BLM) mean to you?
[Miller] To me, BLM means that ‘people of color’ and not just Black people, in this country are fed up with repeated injustices that are consciously and continually committed, with no valid repercussions. It is a stand to acknowledge there is a problem and then work toward a solution.
I’ve read a few articles recently that one of the ways white people can show allyship is by supporting Black-owned businesses. As a small business owner, I definitely want to support others and their values. But I’ll be honest, I’m concerned that if I’m vocal about my support that it will be misinterpreted as opportunistic or disingenuous. Are there some tips for showing this type of entrepreneurial support?
[Miller] It is a cautious and discretionary path for sure! You have to walk the walk and talk the talk, all the time, not just now. It can be good as well as bad in affecting business, but realistically, imagine that you even have to think that way.
As a small business owner, never mind as a Black small business owner, I understand it can be difficult to find middle ground, even I struggle with it sometimes. If supporting the ‘movement’ alienates some, to ignore it does the same. It is a Catch-22 either way. It is in no way opportunistic, unless it genuinely is.
Some people do it and say it and you know who is genuine, they have always walked the walk, they have always supported people regardless of color and they do that because they trust that that person/company will do a good job. Many small business owners I know have tried taking the middle ground on this issue to ease all concerns – and many white owners really expect this to blow over in time – so they do just enough to get by. Those are the disingenuous ones. To stand tall at the risk of survival, now that’s real.
Over the years, many organizations have notoriously been apolitical. A few years ago, I attended a conference where CEOs started talking about how their employees were telling them that they needed to take a stand on issues they’ve shied away from in the past (like racial injustice). While many CEOs have been public with their feelings about BLM and racial injustice, I’m sure there are still CEOs who are apprehensive about making political and social statements. As the CEO of your own business, is there something you can suggest to other CEOs that might help them consider what issues they might want to support?
[Miller] CEOs should address issues that are directly affecting their staff and supporters. So, if there is no diversity in the workplace, then they know that’s the perfect place to start. It should be as personal to the CEO as it is to staff and supporters.
I believe this is also an opportunity to look within yourself (company) and see if what the staff is saying is actually happening. Many times, it is. This is where the confusion starts. Many CEO’s don’t know and/or don’t truly understand what the issues are, so the best place to start is within their own organization and the community in which you work and live. Know what affects them. Listen and take action based on your own staff. Start there and then work to support the drive toward resolution.
If you could give people one piece of advice on how to support others and their values during this time, what would it be?
[Miller] Put your own biases aside. We all have them, in some way, shape or form. It may be uncomfortable initially, but you will find that regardless of color, we are all the same.
Stop ‘giving’ money and give time. Give of yourself and actually be with the people who you are supporting. Talk and listen to those who are trying to effect change and learn why they are trying to effect change. Try to understand whatever hits home in the communities you work, live, and serve. Support and assistance are needed in a lot of areas. Choose to stand and be proud of your choice. It’s the only way.
A huge thanks to Carmen for sharing her insights and experience with us. My takeaway from our conversation is that remaining true to our values starts with us. And organizational leaders should make sure that they are setting the example through their actions and those of their organizations, not just talking about it.
Creating organizational equity is going to be a priority for a long-time. Candidates will want to work for companies that demonstrate they have it. Employees will expect it in their job experience. It’s time for organizations to truly live their values.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby at the 34th Street Graffiti Wall in Gainesville, FL13