Three Elements of Successful Corporate Social Justice Initiatives

The NBA’s social justice efforts have been a slam dunk. Here’s how your organization can do the same.

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As the National Basketball Association prepares to tip off its 2020-21 season later this month, fans are still feeling the excitement of the historic season gone by. From LeBron James’s record-breaking accomplishments on the court to Adam Silver’s ingenuity in pulling off the “bubble” experiment at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, a lot contributed to making the most recent NBA season one for the books.

However, when people talk about the NBA’s 2019-20 season in the future, what may stand out more than any game was the player-led movement in response to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Following the 8 minutes and 47 seconds that sent shockwaves through the United States’ collective moral consciousness, many corporations stepped up with both words and actions — some more impactful than others, to be sure. But the universal mandate for corporations to engage on social issues is real. It’s no longer OK for corporations to have a single, siloed corporate social responsibility officer. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Markstein and Certus Insights, 46% of consumers pay close attention to a brand’s social justice efforts before purchasing a product, and a whopping 70% of consumers want to know what the brands they support are actually doing to address social issues.

Three ingredients — a workforce that unites behind a vision, an executive who either has a vision of their own or makes an honest commitment to supporting their workforce’s vision, and an organizational value system that is built to implement and sustain that change — are absolutely essential for corporate social justice initiatives to stick. Without all three, efforts may be internally stymied.

Take Netflix as an example of an organization with a leader with an appetite for social justice impact and a vision for how the company can invest in racial inequity, but whose organizational culture — and a failure to address racial inequities within the organization itself — undermines its efforts. In June, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated $120 billion to historically Black colleges and universities. The company also launched a Black Lives Matter content stream on its platform and announced that it would move part of its $5 billion in cash to financial institutions that focus on Black communities.

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