Actions Must Support Words


In light of recent conversations at a PR Week-sponsored event and at an Uber all-hands meeting, we feel compelled to revisit a blog post written earlier this year by our colleague Joe Kowalke. In “Please Talk Politics At Work,” Joe wrote about our company’s practice of talking in the office about gender equality, executive orders that limit civil liberties, or how we’ll no longer support corporate vendors that practice sexism. Joe wrote, “These conversations are learning moments that build trust. The process isn’t perfect, but, … we’re willing to wade into these murky waters for the greater good and figure it out along the way. We’ve already seen these discussions strengthen our teams, and our openness around important issues has sparked big, creative ideas that have benefitted our clients.”

If we are to give both PR Week and Uber the benefit of the doubt, both organizations recognized an issue in their industry and company respectively regarding gender diversity and equality and both, “we’re willing to wade into these murky waters,” and attempted to have conversations with good intention. Both fell down in the process.

PR Week’s misstep was to convene an all-male panel, at a conference honoring women in PR, to discuss sexism in the industry. One of the takeaways from the panelists, on the panel to which women were not invited, was that women should speak up. The irony. Uber’s akward moment came at the company meeting the ride sharing company held yesterday to discuss, among other things, how the company would address allegations of sexism. At that meeting, a board member, who has since resigned, made a disparaging comment about women. Ouch. Both situations resulted in a slew of negative headlines.

And that’s the thing about corporate values: if they are not lived from the top of an organization to the bottom, from the bottom to the top, from inside out and outside in, they don’t matter, and no amount of meetings, panels, press releases or memos can cover up that fact.

The process of tackling tough topics and showing corporate courage isn’t perfect. Organizations will make mistakes. People will say the wrong thing. The most important thing is that we try to advance the conversations and the causes with good intent. And the organizations that will succeed, will be the organizations where the actions back up the words. So, in the spirit of believing good intent, it seemed the right time to revisit these guidelines for open communication that Joe shared in his post:

  • Listen: To learn, not reply. The best way to understand people with different points of view is to seek their perspective rather than an opportunity to retort.
  • Communicate with good intentions: Think before you speak or hit send on that email. Make sure your purpose is positive.
  • Integrity: When your values and actions are aligned.
  • Commitment: Invest in the whole person, not just the coworker. Respect where the person came from, is right now, and honor where she’s headed.
  • Ownership: The only thing you can control is yourself. Take responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, words and actions. Your decisions, and the results that follow, are yours.
  • Flexibility: Be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.