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Walking the Talk
Research Shows Business Imperative for Authentic Action to Address Social Injustices

The latest Porter Novelli Purpose Tracker reveals a new mandate for US companies to authentically and substantively address racial inequality and myriad social justice issues.

The Porter Novelli Purpose Tracker: The Business Imperative for Social Justice Today unpacks key data and insights on intersection of social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and racial inequality in the United States — and how the US public expects companies to back up their words of support and solidarity with action.

Purpose-driven business has been on an upswing for the past few years — and the 2019 redefinition of the “Purpose of a Corporation” by the Business Roundtable in 2019 seemed to solidify the notion that business solely for profit was largely a thing of the past. Then came 2020 ... and many companies carried forward the notion of an economy that serves all by pivoting their product and service offerings in real time to meet immediate needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, social issues are at the forefront — with galvanizing and polarizing topics including racial injustice, police brutality, transgender rights and white supremacy dominating news and dinner table debates, Purpose has come to encompass not only a substantive and vocal commitment to a cause, but a call to action to answer for years of entrenched biases and systemic racism and injustices. In the past, companies would have likely steered as clear as possible of these topics; but speaking out and taking action to address these issues is now not only a moral imperative, it has become a public — and business — mandate.

Along with the rise in companies pledging their commitments to operating ‘Purposefully’ is a corresponding growth in consumers able to both recognize and challenge those claims — so, companies can no longer get away with not walking their talk around Purpose. In the words of Soon Mee Kim, EVP of Diversity & Inclusion at Porter Novelli: “Purpose without justice is whitewashing.”

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The racial justice zeitgeist triggered by the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Atatiana Jefferson, Elijah McClain and an unconscionable number of other Black people at the hands of US police has prompted a range of brand responses — ranging from tepid, social media sound bytes; to more substantive actions, including calling for legislation and concrete steps to dismantle systemic racism (Ben & Jerry’s), pulling their ad dollars from Facebook, which has not taken a stand against hate speech on its platform (The North Face, Patagonia, REI; and ads calling out white people’s role helping to end systemic racism (Procter & Gamble).

As Porter Novelli’s research has found, unless Purpose is infused into the bedrock of an organization — with special attention to DEI embedded into how it does business — it is only window dressing. From now on, brands that are unprepared to level the playing field both internally and externally, and authentically engage with stakeholders on how they are operationalizing responsible action, will lose the trust and loyalty of their discerning US customers.

Key findings Include:

  • 71 percent of US consumers believe companies have more responsibility than ever before to address social justice issues; and 56 percent say companies that do not talk about social justice issues in their marketing or communications are out of touch
  • 80 percent say companies need to recognize their role in systemic racial inequality; and the same amount (80 percent) say they wish more companies would be honest about their past mistakes or biases in addressing or talking about race
  • 77 percent say companies that have strong DEI policies have more credibility to engage in social justice conversations; but 76 percent think companies need to make more progress on advancing DEI in the workplace
  • 74 percent think that, while a company can be known for rallying behind one issue (ex: childhood hunger, advancing equality in tech), that doesn’t mean it can ignore other important issues (ex: addressing DEI, human rights)
  • 35 percent of employees are reconsidering their current job because their company is not doing enough to address social justice issues externally.

The numbers speak for themselves, according to Dwayna Haley, Porter Novelli’s SVP of Innovation & Impact:

“It’s time to get uncomfortable in order to make a difference. As communicators, we have a powerful opportunity (and the accountability) to positively influence behavior change. Through messaging with strategic calls-to-action, brilliant creative and multichannel outreach, we can impact widespread sea change in any environment.”