Stupid bigotry

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…and it’s still only Spring 2014…

“I’m the one guy who says don’t force the stupid people [racists] to be quiet — I want to know who the morons are.-- #Mark Cuban, billionaire entrepreneur, #NBA owner of the Dallas Mavericks and one of the star investors on the television series #Shark Tank

An honest discussion of race in America picks up once again with a twist, thanks to #Mark Cuban. Although #Donald Sterling claimed he was no racist even after his racist rants, Cuban said Sterling’s comments wereabhorrentandobviously racist” during his Inc. Magazine interview. Perhaps that is why the unapologetic former #New Hampshire Police Commissioner Robert Copeland resigned after he called President Obama the #n-word. In a commencement speech at #Morgan State University, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the greatest threat to equality are “subtle” expressions of bigotry that remain a “troubling reality…”

“While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control,” said Cuban, who describes it as thecost of progress.”

In many ways, Cuban is right. It appears as though Cuban’s point is that we all have preconceived notions—prejudging someone or a group of people before we know the truth. This prelabeling leads to racism and forming stereotypes. A CNN opinion article indicated that racists are not always hateful or uneducated. They are complicated, resistant, underdeveloped people, often the product of complex, cruel, greedy times and institutions. Perhaps it’s the “underdeveloped people” Cuban identifies as “stupid bigots,” of which he admits he is occasionally a part of along with everyone else.

According to Forbes, “America is changing, and the new population carefully evaluates how organizations relate to it. If you are not authentic, consumers and employees will begin to question the authenticity and leadership of your organization. No longer can America’s corporations hide behind their lack of cultural intelligence. Organizations that seek global market relevancy must embrace diversity – in how they think, act and innovate.”

When I first started working at a PR agency in Philly, the agency’s primary client stereotyped me as probably being lazy with minimum education and hired as a token. I proved them wrong. I exceeded their expectations, provided quantitative and qualitative research analysis and findings, and I executed an impactful communications campaign for citywide utility customers of 1.4 million at the time, winning accolades for innovative implementation, especially after they saw the final measurement of unexpected positive results. My manager was happy, the client was happy and customers were happy. This resulted in renewed, extended contracts and new business for the agency.

You see, the clients knew nothing about me. They did not know I was raised by hard-working parents who passed down their strong work ethic and pro-education mindset to me. They did not know I was propelled to the top in my honors class because I turned a routine U.N. project into an impactful PR campaign for a country I was assigned to represent, giving me my first glimpse into communications. They did not know that I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth but was one of five who worked my way through college, graduating with honors. They did not know that I did not learn about racial differences until the third grade when my peers “educated” me. (Racial differences was never a topic of conversation in my home as I was growing up.)

They did not know I married a patriotic Air Force man who never heard the n-word used until he was seven-years-old after his family moved into a nearly all white neighborhood. He was called the n-word by young bigots. Not knowing what it meant, he ran home to his mother and asked, “Mom, what does n—- mean?” She said “that’s a word that ignorant people use to make themselves feel superior over someone else. But don’t let it bother you. You just focus on your studies.” So every time he was called the n-word, he just reasoned to himself that they were using that word because they were ignorant.

In short, we turned their negative perceptions of us into positive perceptions. The only negative cases that remained came from those who chose to remain “stupid bigots,” as Cuban explained. It did not matter to us. For us it was about the pursuit of happiness. That is why God is first in our lives. Perhaps that is why I am so happy and love people today, no matter the race. I look at commonalities. We all have them, beginning with the color of our blood.

So as #Cuban pointed out, as a leader in his own businesses, he focuses on solutions, such as sensitivity training for “stupid bigots.” He smartly encourages them to engage with the very people they fear or don’t understand. “Because it does my company no good, it does my customers no good, it does society no good…” said Cuban. He’s right. 

We all know that diversity is about embracing many different types of people who stand for different things and represent varying cultures, generations, ideas and thinking.  Having an honest, open discussion about this perennial issue is mutually beneficial for our society and people at-large.  BUT IT MUST BE FOLLOWED-UP WITH ACTION that results in positive behavioral change. If I can help make a positive societal difference in this regard, I am willing. 

 

 

Create Tomorrow Today, Sterling

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Story passé? Yes, but the #Donald Sterling crisis remains, as with many other unresolved crises. When I heard the words that Sterling used as a defense to his racist rants saying that he was “entitled to one mistake,” I figured he must be having a confusing day and will retract or clarify. So, I waited two days. He did not come back, at least not yet.

In #public relations, I create strategies aligned with client goals and implement tactics for today that result in building trust, credibility and positive reputation with #stakeholders tomorrow. Why? It’s all in an effort to gain their support and endorsement of your organization, products, services or to vote for you.

In Sterling’s case, his goal is to maintain ownership of the #L.A. Clippers. Besides speaking directly to a segment of his stakeholders, calling the NBA teams “partners” and issuing a self-serving apology with a subtle threat of a lawsuit, he missed all other stakeholders, such as the #NBA itself, LA Clippers, staff, sponsors and fans.

If Sterling gains the trust of eight sympathetic colleagues, he remains in the league. But if 22 NBA teams rule against him, he’s out. As the Sports Illustrated article noted, Sterling scored no points with his words, none with the #NBA nor with the other 29 controlling owners of #NBA teams. Instead of standing on his own truth, Sterling attacked.

With crisis communications, the first step is a sincere apology for what had happened and what you plan to do to prevent reoccurrences. You see, Sterling’s strategy reminded me of my first newswriting assignment in college. I had to write my own obituary. Yikes! It was a scary assignment. I thought my professor was odd until I realized how valuable that assignment was years later.

I learned the importance of creating your tomorrow today. Sterling’s strategy that he implements today will impact him tomorrow. But for some reason, he chose the ad hominem strategy of attacking a person.

From practical experience, I questioned his strategy and what he was trying to accomplish that would influence stakeholders to agree with his point of view. You don’t attack a person with words about his/her past in an attempt to deflect attention away from yourself, as Sterling did with #Magic Johnson. It may result in another crisis.

I thought Sterling’s goal was to fight to maintain his ownership of the LA Clippers. But the path he chose has worsened his reputation, contributing to a perception of an insincere apology. 

As #PRSA noted, this is a study of damage control gone wrong. NBA’s appointment of interim CEO Dick Parsons has helped to bring more control and calm to the situation. Parson: “I’m here to help turn one of the burners off under the pot, not to turn it up higher. So I think I’ll keep my personal views personal and just stay focused on what are we going to do to keep this team on the ascent as it is right now.”

Moreover, #Magic Johnson minimized Sterling’s personal attacks by remembering that stakeholders are people with feelings–H2H (human-to-human) or P2P (people-to-people)–and expressed sympathy for Sterling instead. This invaluable lesson admonishes against ad hominem strategies and staying focused on the goal.

Crisis communications management is about resolving the crisis while protecting the organization’s reputation and getting back to normal or improved operations. It’s about restoring mutually beneficial relationships with all stakeholders. And most importantly, it’s about providing strategic, focused, useful advice to do the right thing today for tomorrow.

He said, “I am not a racist.”

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Since #NBA commissioner Adam Silver had announced that #Donald Sterling would be banned from the NBA for life for spewing racist remarks, this  #Los Angeles Clippers owner Sterling defiantly responded yesterday in a taped recording that he is not a racist and dismissed speculations of him selling the team.

Despite public outcry over his initial racist remarks, Sterling chose the David vs Goliath route to disseminate his response. Instead of communicating though the mainstream media, he chose a lesser known outlet to record an audiotaped response with a long-time friend. Perhaps his strategy was about  trust, control and one-way communication. Either way, his denial and defensive message got out.

Regardless of the justification and excuses for making those disparaging remarks, one question he asked his friend stood out in my mind: “How can you be in this business and be a racist?”

Based on my experience, the same question translates to other disciplines as well. Who you are has little to do with your belief, perception or behavior. How can you be in communications, politics, healthcare, insurance, finance, technology, retail, legal, etc and be a racist? The answer is easy. You follow you wherever you go and whatever you do. Each discipline has its own ethical codes–some follow, some don’t, depending on their own personal ethics.

You see, according to dictionary.com racism is a belief that one’s own race is superior and has a right to rule others. Or it could also be based on a policy or system that fosters racism, resulting in discrimination.  Consequences could be devastating, spurring undesired reaction among stakeholders.

Years ago when I worked with a PR agency in a busy office complex, I became friendly with the owner of a storefront retail establishment that I used to frequent daily. He had two employees who believed his every word. One day, I walked in unexpectedly during the latter part of the day. The owner had his back toward me as he spoke to a customer. As I walked toward them, the conversation happened to be about race. His question to her was, “Doesn’t it feel good to be superior over some people?” The customer looked over at me with guilt, as the owner nervously turned to see who she was looking at. He was shocked to see it was me. One of his employees looked down to avoid eye contact. Bewildered, I turned and left without buying anything. I used to be one of his loyal customers, but no more.

Later, I found out the owner had done this more frequently than I initially thought. He had developed a negative reputation for similar behavior, sprinkled with demeaning racist comments with others. In some cases, he would not even acknowledge minority customers or give them the courtesy of eye contact, but he was glad to take their money. Less than two years later, the once thriving store eventually went out of business because of the #boycott that had ensued. The owner never apologized.

Realization of the impact stakeholders have on a business can lead to negative or positive consequences. In Sterling’s case, after airing his racist rants worldwide, I understood why his sponsors fled. Smartly, they realized they, too, would have been negatively impacted if they had chosen not to respond on the side of the public. Members of the public were their stakeholders, too.

Although Sterling says that “his humble roots gave him an appreciation and tolerance for #diversity,” his words and actions demonstrated otherwise. Just saying you grew up in a multiracial environment or “I have a black friend” is not the answer. Sterling’s girlfriend was multiracial. It’s understood that saying it and doing it is two different things. Perhaps, if Sterling had a reputation where he was loved by a lot of people, as he claims in the audiotape, his racist ranting may have been perceived as a moment of jealous rage. Instead, he has a documented record of exercising racism and discrimination in the past, sometimes putting him at odds with the #NBA.

Since public relations is about developing mutually beneficial relationships that lead to trust and a good reputation, that same stance could have been practiced with the store owner, too. But his unapologetic, prideful attitude displayed no humility. The outcome speaks for itself. He earned bad-will instead of goodwill and was left without a store, his golden asset.

Just as the NBA culture has respect for all individuals, likewise, as a communications professional, the #PRSA Code of Ethics I follow is based on a free flow of truthful information essential to serving the public interest. So I say, ”walk the talk.” Be strategic. Otherwise, the words coming out of your mouth is just meaningless rhetoric. The ball is now in NBA’s court.

Power of the Tongue

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Okay, I’ve been asked to include the #Donald Sterling situation in my blog. As I thought about it, I realized it happened due to poor communications. So, because I am a communications professional, I will respond likewise.

By now, most of us have heard the offensive words #Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling used. The good part is that his words led to unity among his team, the NBA, sponsors, fans and most members of the public. The bad part for Sterling is that the united effort was against him.

Sterling’s words resulted in a tongue-lashing response from #NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who was publicly applauded for his own words. Categorized as racist and hurtful, the words Sterling chose to use led to his own humiliating downfall.

How many more CEOs may unknowingly have the same attitude or use similar words? It’s unfortunate that false, negative perceptions and stereotypes continue to be handed down from one generation to the next. People are not born with negative thinking, they’re taught it.

It boggles my mind that we have 18th century thinking in the 21st century. That leaves a lot of ground to cover in the public relations industry. Now I know why I love it so much…to help make a difference.

We all know word choices can start wars or create peace; can enhance a reputation or destroy it. In this case, Sterling’s untamable tongue led to his own downfall.

Although this is 2014, his ingrained negative perceptions exemplify behavior that continues. As communications professionals, we are charged to educate CEOs and senior management of the organizations we serve in a way that will enhance their reputation and credibility—to change negative thinking to positive thinking. If left unaddressed, they and their organizations may suffer the same calamities as seen with Sterling.

After the news outbreak, sponsors and advertisers, who once supported Sterling, fled when they sensed the danger of association. This emphasizes the importance of research and identifying stakeholders who can directly affect the organization, especially in times of crises.

As PRSA advocates, public relations as a management function counsels management at all levels in the organization about policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social responsibilities. A critical area here is “anticipation” of Sterling’s response to NFL Commissioner Adam Silver.

Although this is mere speculation, perhaps diversity public relations counsel could have helped to tame Sterling’s tongue and to have had him involved in campaigns to keep him walking the straight and narrow path, minimizing negative backlash. From past experience, I know and have seen  this type of turnaround at my first job in communications, a radio station in South Georgia. My own professional behavior transformed my manager from confrontational to amiable, which enhanced his reputation in the communities we served. Although he had been a high ranking official with a white supremacist group, the transformation was obvious. His behavior went from negative to positive towards me, who happened to have been the first African American to work at the radio station during the day.

Without diversity, outcome of campaign results may not be as effective as they could be. Perhaps that may explain the results of a Strategy&, part of the PwCnetwork, 2014 survey of 501 executives at companies around the world with revenues of $500 million to more than $10 billion. Fifty-five percent of surveyed executives said their companies are not focused on executing the strategies they envisioned, and 42 percent said their companies are not even aligned behind their strategy. Others either misunderstood the executives’ strategy or resisted it altogether. A communications disconnect? Or lack of understanding of how to align communications strategy with the overall company goal?

Regardless, ethics play a crucial role with any communications campaign. Acting with integrity demands it. I work hard to gain clarity of the vision and goals of management to approach and implement each campaign that will lead to successful, mutually beneficial outcomes for the organization and stakeholders on behalf of management.

That is why, as a #PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) member, I voluntarily chose to obtain more in-depth studies of communications to confidently provide enhanced services to clients. I knew that having an #APR (Accreditation in Public Relations) would help to distinguish my commitment and professionalism from others without one. This mark of distinction makes me one of about 5,000 worldwide of accredited communications practitioners. I am proud to be affiliated with 67-year-old PRSA and part of the 50th celebration of APR, not only because of the knowledge and ongoing education but also because of their strong Code  of Ethics. I say all of this to boost my own confidence of the strength that lies with me.

 

Why Diversity interest?

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We all have our own rationale for doing what we do. So you want to know why I am interested in the topic of #diversity? The answer is based on history…my own.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That repeated question pondered my mind throughout my school years. The only answer I had was that I wanted to be in a position to help people. Encouraged to experiment to determine a career for myself, at age 14, I chose to become a volunteer candy striper after hearing an announcement on TV about the glamour of the job. I wanted to work in a hospital to help nurses help patients. I was thrilled about the possibility.

On my first day, I got dolled up in my brand new red & white candy striper uniform and arrived extra early. I was introduced to the head nurse who would give me my assignment. I was ready to tell her how excited I was to help, but she coldly shushed me. I couldn’t believe it. I naively thought all nurses were loving and caring, but I was in for a rude awakening. She talked to me as a drill sergeant barking orders. She said I would be making beds, bathing the elderly and cleaning up blood in the lab. I said to myself, “What? I don’t even like blood!” So, my dream turned into a nightmare. Inside, I cried, was horrified and could not wait until my mother arrived to pick me up. On the way home, I sat in the car in silence. With disappointed, angry tears, I ran to my room and ripped off my beautiful new uniform. I told my mother I did not want to be a nurse. It was nothing like my dream or how they explained it on TV. And that was the end of my “nursing career.”

I thought to myself that I just wanted to help people feel better, hold their hands and be a comfort to them. You see, transparency was nonexistent. I did not understand the real meaning of “buyer beware.” No one educated me about the realities. No one told me of the steps I needed to go through first before realizing the vision…and I didn’t ask. I was a 14-year-old innocent daydreamer. Had I known and understood the truth upfront, I would probably be an RN today.

Those feelings of exercising care and concern never went away…if I had only known beforehand. Today, I call “beforehand knowledge,” transparency.

After nearly a year of studying Business Administration and Accounting at a local college, the feelings of helping others resurfaced. I thought of studying Anthropology or some kind of intercultural studies to learn more about people. Then I heard a radio spot describing the career that matched my every desire. A light bulb went off! Finally, I knew. Today, I have a Communications certificate and used it to get a job at a radio station where I flourished. I have a B.A. in Journalism/Public Relations and an M.S. Communications Management degree.

And why do I love communications/public relations? Because it’s about helping people and making decisions based on transparency. It’s about restoring or building reputations and managing expectations. Yes, I am living my dream, my passion. I took the road less traveled, worked in diversified industries on varying projects with a diversity of people. I am loving it! Through my degrees, I am fulfilling the dream of helping others, ensuring that transparency exists to avoid forcing others to experience what I had gone through as a candy striper.

In short, #PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) defined public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” And now with social media at the forefront, strategic diversity knowledge is even more important. My passion has been realized into a beautifully emerging vision that keeps adding new ways to be more effective in creating mutually beneficial relationships that create win-win scenarios. This is my passion and I am happy to oblige locally, regionally, nationally and globally. 

Don’t fear Diversity, embrace it

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Admit it. Despite reluctance to accept the inevitable, society is becoming more and more multicultural, multidenominational and ever more vocal. We live in a global world filled with a #diversity of people from different cultures, lifestyles and backgrounds. As noted by Pew Research Center, in the US nearly one-in-six newlyweds marry across racial or ethnic lines, adding to our multi-color spectrum. Therefore, diversity is here to stay and so is the word diversity. This unavoidable transformation ignores naysayers and continues to move forward, creating a new mosaic America. In fact, according to the US Census, by 2050, minorities will represent 54 percent of the US population, primarily due to international migration.

So, why does this matter to me since I am in the field of public relations? Public relations (PR) is all about people and creating mutually beneficial relationships between the organization and its publics or stakeholders. It’s about building trust that results in a good corporate reputation while illustrating corporate social responsibility as well. But if you only look at technical qualifications and don’t include #diversity in the workplace, how will you effectively communicate or change behavior from negative to positive to a diversified audience with staying power? I’m not talking about short-term campaigns, such as launching a new product or an event that ends tomorrow. I’m talking about long-term change that builds goodwill to positively impact both the organization and the communities it serves.

Perhaps lessons from General Electric (GE) will prove beneficial. The GE website boasts: “With more than 300,000 employees and operations in over 140 countries, GE employees reflect both the local communities we serve and the people with whom we do business. We see diversity and inclusiveness as an essential part of our productivity, creativity, innovation and competitive advantage.”

During my years of working in the field with a diversity of organizations and people, I got a chance to see and experience the outcome of different working environments. In one instance, a homogenous technically qualified workplace unknowingly created insensitive campaigns filled with words and signs that proved offensive to the audience they were trying to reach. This created off-target and ineffective outcomes to the stakeholders they had to work with, generating a negative backlash to the company.

Conversely, #workplaces filled with diversity that encompassed different ethnicities, age and socio-economic groups eased the burden of creating impactful PR campaigns. This diversified workplace shared similar backgrounds with the stakeholders and understood how to handle important sensitivities that would have negatively impacted the campaign. The final campaign led to development of a mutually beneficial relationship of trust, goodwill and increased revenue to the organization because of enhanced product support. In other words, because of the successful PR campaign, stakeholders developed a fondness for the company and wanted to see it succeed because of the positive work it was doing throughout the communities it served. This put the organization on a track record of growth.

Obviously, diversity in the workplace adds value to an organization. It enables workers to approach their jobs from different perspectives in order to address the diversity of stakeholders. One of the biggest advantages is having unique insights and understandings from an array of backgrounds to effectively address diversified stakeholders. In fact, near my hometown, many new Asian hair care retail establishments opened to serve primarily black hair products. The problem is that they had opened with only sales-trained Asian workers, but they had difficulty building trust and creating a mutually beneficial relationship with the black consumer. Regardless of their products, their reputation plummeted, complaints skyrocketed and bad word-of-mouth spread due to language barriers and having lack of shared understanding with their stakeholders. So rather than continue to lose customers, now more and more Asian hair care establishments hire black workers to serve their black customers.

In short, US demographics is changing before our eyes, demanding recognition by professions who rely on public support. Even the Smithsonian Magazine claims a growing minority and mixed-race population is changing the face of America. That change should likewise be reflected throughout our workplaces, too.

 

Semantics: Replace the word “diversity” with “equality?”

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How about embracing “diversity” and using the words “equal opportunity” instead? Diversity and equal opportunity: Absence of discrimination, as in the workplace, based on race, color, age, gender, national origin, religion, or mental or physical disability.

I don’t think about diversity on a racial or color-only basis. In fact, my definition of #diversity is the same as Merriam Webster: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements, variety, inclusion of different types of people, races or cultures in a group or organization. Conversely, equality is about everything being exactly the same—the same quality, the same value, the same measurement. Equality might be an ideal scenario for robots, but human beings are all different. That’s why America is a beautiful melting pot. We are not all the same. Now, if you believe equality means equal opportunity, you have my agreement.

As for the trust built with the radio station as mentioned in my first post, that was a three-phased approach. First, the radio station’s hire of me built credibility for both of us. It encouraged the community to listen and participate since I had the backing of the radio station. So, the previously ignored community saw my hiring as a glimmer of hope for them, too. Second, the community saw my professionalism in researching, coordinating interviews, writing, recording and editing weekly programs. Third, when community leaders heard themselves on the air with phones ringing endlessly of compliments for actions of the radio station and a desire to advertise on the station, the trust factor soared. I not only talked about what was going to happen, but it actually happened. I walked the talk on behalf of the radio station.

So,embracing diversity made a significant difference to all the station’s stakeholders, resulting in their own revenue growth. The station endorsed and supported me to train other minorities to follow the same path. It was a win-win for all.