Not long ago, Wal-Mart Stores instructed its outside legal firms to diversify their teams of attorneys. From Wal-Mart's perspective, its cadre of national law firms didn't reflect the true diversity of the communities where the retailer conducted business. So the company took a stance. Law firms took notice. And so did leaders in the many communities of color.
State Farm questioned a suggested LPGA policy that could have imposed penalties on golfers who lacked a yet-to-be-determined level of English proficiency. State Farm was puzzled by the need for such a policy and asked the organization for an explanation. But where were some of the other companies that serve as sponsors of the LPGA? Their silence spoke volumes. And Asian-American community leaders have taken note of this silence.
And when shock jocks JV and Elvis upset Asian-Americans in New York, community leaders protested by addressing the station's sponsors. Within days, companies such as Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, McDonald's, Mercedes, Mitsubishi Motors, Toyota and Verizon pulled their ads from the offending program. Even the NYPD withdrew support for the station.
Most recently, companies such as Apple, AT&T and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. joined the fight against a highly controversial California initiative known as Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would define marriage as a bond exclusively between a woman and a man. Proponents claimed that Proposition 8 would defend the institution of marriage, prevent gays and lesbians from getting married, and would eliminate the risk of having gay marriage taught in public schools. Opponents have argued that gays and lesbians shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens, and that marriage is a fundamental right for any person regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I have wondered what the proponents for Proposition 8 meant when they said they were working to defend marriage. From what, I ask? Marriage as an institution is already in disarray with more than 50 percent of all couples divorcing after only a few years of marriage. Perhaps counseling would be a better way to defend marriage.
Unfortunately, Proposition 8 has passed in California. And now the courts will have to determine if marriage can only be between a woman and a man. Frankly, civil unions aren't the same as marriage, and gays and lesbians still don't have the same rights as couples who are legally married.
I wish more companies would take stands that promote diversity, inclusion and, most importantly, engagement. Consumers and shareholders should demand more from the companies they patronize and guide by asking them to do even more than just window-dressing. Policies on diversity and inclusion only have impact when companies take clear, decisive, and measurable action. And this action has to be more than just producing (and placing) an ad that claims that a company supports and embraces diversity. Companies should offer tangible proof to their employees, customers and shareholders.
Deeds and actions that have clear, measurable and definable impact do speak more loudly than words. And companies that live up to their obligations do more than just sell products and build shareholder value. They help promote dialogue, understanding, acceptance and trust.