Brands Taking Stands | Waking Up to Unconscious Bias

Nov 21, 2018 10:15 AM ET
Newsletter

THE BIG STORY

Waking Up to Unconscious Bias 

That’s me in the photo above, engaging with an interactive, virtual reality (VR) installation on the “Check Your Blind Spots” unconscious bias training tour bus. In this VR experience, I’m invited into an encounter between two young black men, a suspicious elderly white neighbor, and a white policeman. The point is to immerse the viewer into an all-too-common situation that is loaded with potential for misunderstanding and conflict (fortunately, nothing violent took place in this instance). The title of this exercise, “Look Into Someone Else’s Reality,” is both a literal description of the VR experience and a larger, metaphorical call-to-consciousness about racial, ethnic, and gender stereotyping and resulting behavior. 
 
This was one of several such interactive offerings designed to examine unconscious bias in everyday life presented in the custom-built bus, a project of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion initiative. There’s a “Wake Up Call” audio experience that plays conversations between landlords and potential renters; a “Through a Different Lens” gamification quiz; a “Face Yourself, Face Reality” mirror booth; a “Check Yourself” how-diverse-is-your-world evaluation; an interactive LED touch curtain; a testimonial video-capture booth; touch screen media libraries; and an “I Act On” pledge sign-up section. The bus combines cutting-edge tech with hot-button pushing of dinosaur brain emotions to deliver its strong message: “To face unconscious bias, build inclusion, and broaden impact beyond the business community.” 
 
This $10 million “bias bus” is on a 100-stop tour to workplaces, universities, and communities across the country, with a goal of reaching 1 million people in person and online. Last week, it was parked outside New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center building where the second annual CEO Closed Door Session was taking place. Over 70 CEOs gathered to discuss the launch of the “Check Your Blind Spots” bus tour, the initiation of the “I Act On” pledge, and the upcoming “Day of Understanding” on December 7th,when nearly 150 CEO Action signatories will host conversations about race, gender, and other key D&I issues at their organizations.
 
Readers of this newsletter know that I have regularly highlighted this coalition. Since its beginning last year, I have considered it to be one of the most effective private-sector efforts addressing the issues of diversity and inclusion. To date, CEO Action for D&I has collected 500+ signatories representing 85 industries and 12 million employees.Supported by research from Cone Communications that shows 78 percent of Americans want companies to address important social justice issues, and driven by the leadership of founder Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner at PwC, CEO Action for D&I aims to double its number of signatories to 1,000 CEOs and add 100+ university leaders. The combination of its large scale and its top-down direction mark this coalition as one of the most significant civil rights initiatives of our time.
 
One of the executives attending the meeting, John Miller, president and CEO of Denny’s, told me that the company signed up early on. “I was at an executive leadership conference a couple of years ago, and heard about the initiative there. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity so we sort of invited ourselves in and took the pledge. We were on the first list—which was all Fortune 500 companies except for us. We have 1,700 Denny’s but we’re just a billion dollar company.”
 
Why was Miller so insistent on joining up? “Tim’s leadership was so inspiring. And there’s this: As a CEO, you can’t hide any more.”

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NEWS YOU CAN USE

Purpose Is Key to Brand Reputation
What’s in a brand name these days? How does a brand establish and maintain a good reputation in the current heavy business weather of increased transparency and overheated social media? Purpose is one of the three key factors,concludes the 2018 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Premium Index: How Companies Can Unlock Reputational Gains by Leading with Purpose. (The other two elements are quality and vision.) The study evaluates consumer perceptions of the top 200 companies in the U.S. and finds that purpose and reputation are intrinsically linked. “Purpose is the final major dimension of reputation,” claims the study. “Comprising 13 percent of a company’s overall reputation, the Purpose Premium, can boost overall reputation to edge out competitors and build vital brand affinity among consumers.”

The bottom-line finding is one that supports what we at Brands Taking Stands have long understood: “Consumers want companies to act, care and advocate.” The Porter Novelli/Cone report explains the details in a list of “purpose attributes” that are most important to reputation. As prioritized by those surveyed, Americans want companies to be

  • responsible (86%)
  • caring (85%)
  • advocates for issues (81%)
  • environmental stewards (79%)
  • philanthropic (73%)

“Purpose itself is a multifaceted concept in the eyes of Americans,” said Alison DaSilva, executive vice president of purpose and CSR at Cone, a Porter Novelli company. “As we peel back the onion, we see consumers first expect companies to operate responsibly. However, they also want to know that companies truly care – and this means advocating for issues that are important to them, as well as supporting social and environmental causes.”
Learn more about the findings and insights in an upcoming webinar that explains key data and critical implications for business, as well as best practices and examples of leading companies. The complimentary presentation of the 2018 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Premium Index is on December 6, from 1:00-2:00 pm ET. Click here to register.

Faith Takes a Stand on Finance
In yet another twist on the idea of aligning money with morals, the current issue of GreenMoney Journal takes a look at stewardship, a religiously-tinged term that also implies an approach to guiding investments by principles. “Today millions of people are aligning their investments with their sincerely held beliefs and values,” writes founder and managing editor Cliff Feigenbaum, introducing the “Faith and Finances” issue. Featured articles include “What Would the Good Samaritan Do? Finding a Shared Vision for Values-Driven Investors.” It posits that “whether one participates in organized religion or not, the idea of finding a mechanism that calls us to step outside of our personal situation to view things from a different, morally grounded perspective can have many benefits especially for values-driven investors.” Then there’s “The High Calling of Business,” with its thesis that “many Christians believe that the purpose of business is to serve the global common good.” The insights come from an unexpected direction, but land squarely on the nexus where profits mix with principles. 

Christmas Ad Banned as “Too Political”
The U.K. supermarket chain Iceland thought it had a winner in its entry into the flood of Christmas TV ads sponsored by retailers that is an annual feature of British television during the holidays. To stand out from the traditional fuzzy, feel good spots and to take a stand, Iceland proposed an animated video from Greenpeace that told the tale of an orangutan whose rainforest had been destroyed by palm-oil growers. However, the organization that approves U.K. TV ads said that it did not comply with the rules in the Code of Broadcast advertising re: spots placed by, or on behalf of, “a body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature.” Iceland promptly publicized the ad as banned, gaining it over five million views to-date on YouTube.

Richard Walker, managing director at Iceland, said: “Whilst our advert sadly never made it to TV screens, we are hopeful that consumers will take to social media to view the film, which raises awareness of an important global issue. Our commitment to help protect the home of orangutans remains extremely close to our hearts. We are proud to be encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices, even without the support of TV advertising, ahead of the Christmas shopping season.”

C-SUITE COMMENTS

“If you surround yourself with people who think like you do, who have the same background experiences, you’re not going to make it very far. And this issue of diversity, it does include demographics but it also includes people who think very differently, who are willing to challenge, to test the waters, who think kind of outside of the way you have typically thought.”

—Susan Story, CEO & president, American Water Works Company
excerpted from Chief Executive
 

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Bekeme Masade-Olowola, Jack Ehnes, and Dr. Jianzhong Lu will join the Global Reporting Institute Board of Directors for three-year terms on January 1, 2019. Their appointments reflect GRI’s multi-stakeholder nature and commitment gender, regional and background diversity. A social entrepreneur, Bekeme Masade-Olowola is the chief executive of CSR-in-Action, a group made up of a consulting firm, a think tank, and a training institute dedicated to corporate social responsibility, policy development, advocacy, empowerment and sustainable development in the region. She helped establish the Business Coalition for Sustainable Development Nigeria (BCSDN), an initiative affiliated with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Jack Ehnes is chief executive officer of the California State Teachers Employees' Retirement System (CalSTRS), the largest educator-only pension fund in the world with $229 billion in assets serving 933,000 California public school educators. He is currently chairman of the FTSE Environmental Markets Advisory Committee and a member of the FTSE ESG Advisory Committee. He serves as a public member of the Board of Governors of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and on the board of Ceres. Dr. Jianzhong Lu is president of Weir Group. He is a former global partner of Brunswick Group, providing strategic advice to Fortune 500 and large Chinese companies in the areas of M&A, IPO, Corporate Transformation, Brand & Reputation, CSR & Sustainability, Corporate Communications Strategy, Risk and Crisis Management. Previously he was the group executive vice president of RGE, chief rep of RGE, chairman of Asia Symbol Pulp & Paper Ltd., and vice president of Sateri Group. Prior to RGE, he was the acting president of BHP Billiton Group.

Shawn Outler has been named as executive vice president, chief diversity officer by Macy’s. Outler has held a number of leadership roles within Macy’s since joining the company in 2006 as the divisional vice president/merchandise manager of Better Traditional Sportswear at Macy’s Central Division in Atlanta. Most recently, she served as EVP of licensed businesses/food services, and multicultural initiatives where she was responsible for managing Macy’s leased partner businesses, licensed business development, and the foods team. In 2016, she was appointed as the SVP of lease, pricing and multicultural initiatives, where she oversaw Macy’s leased partner businesses, including Sunglass Hut, Louis Vuitton, and Finish Line. Earlier in her career, Outler worked as a buyer and a divisional vice president at Lord & Taylor.

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