How do I have conversations about social justice with my clients, vendors & peers?

Hi Steph,

I did have a thought and not sure if it’s something you’d write about. I’m wondering about how we can have difficult and uncomfortable conversations about anti-racism and social justice with our clients or other businesses we work with. For example, people I want to maintain relationships with because they’re peers in my field. I’ve brought it up with my friends because I’m unsure of how to approach it – on the one hand they could be doing their part behind the scenes (ie. signing petitions, donating, etc.), but publicly on social media I’ve barely seen or heard anything, which troubles me. It’s hard to know how to manage this especially as someone who’s in the early stages of their business.

Speaking Up For Social Justice

Be the change you want to see in your industry.

Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” If you’re here, I’m guessing that you don’t want to choose the side of the oppressor. You want to stand up for what you believe in and work to make change for oppressed and marginalized people everywhere.

We all know that the real work doesn’t always happen publicly on Instagram. Often it happens through quiet self-study, conversations, and behind-the-scenes changes. That being said: things are different now. As consumers, we are much more aware of systemic racism and want to see decisive statements, policies and actions to fight oppression being taken by the companies we are purchasing from.

And even though our audiences are not as broad, small businesses still have a role to play in this fight. As values-based entrepreneurs, we get to lead by example. We’re used to infusing our businesses with intention, and social justice work is no different. It has a place here, too.

Here are my ideas for how to communicate your social justice & anti-racism values clearly with the people you’re working with, whether they be customers, partners, peers, or big companies.

1. Have a sense of abundance

When we have an abundance mindset, we recognize that there is more than enough to go around, we are always being taken care of, and there are limitless opportunities. In this particular context, having an abundance mindset means that we remember that we can afford to lose followers, clients, or partners if they’re not ready to take this journey with us. We can hope that they are, but we won’t hold back on sharing our beliefs & values on the off-chance that they’re not. We trust that there are more people out there who will resonate with our message and want to work with us as a result.

Rachel Rodgers once said: “If it doesn’t cost you anything, you’re not doing enough.” Speaking up about these values may indeed come at a cost, whether that’s financial, interpersonal, or emotional. But having an abundance mindset reminds us that more is always coming. Plus: if we could alienate someone over something as important and fundamental as rights for all human beings, is that really much of a loss?

2. Get loud about your values

Ask Steph: How Do I Talk About Anti-Racism With My Clients & Peers? – Stephanie Pellett CreativeYou asked about how to have these conversations with others, but I think the conversation really starts with us. We can set the tone for our professional relationships by making it abundantly clear where we stand, pun intended. Honestly, this is something I advocate for in all areas of your business! The more specific and clear you are about your values, the easier you make it for your people to find you. Like attracts like. Don’t be afraid to be a little bit polarizing, to niche it down, to be outspoken.

One way to help attract the right people is by making your policies & stances easy to find on all your platforms. Here are some ideas for how to do that:

  • Add a page to your website that outlines your commitment to social justice. Here is my page, here is the one from Wandering Aimfully, and here is one from ilovecreatives.
  • Add a clause to your contracts that specifically indicates your policies around anti-racism and inclusion
  • Add information about your anti-racism & social justice policies to your FAQ page, your Terms of Service page, or your Policies page, if you have them
  • Make a clear & transparent post on your social media accounts, if you haven’t already, that shows your stance and your commitments
  • Don’t stop talking about anti-racism & social justice in your outward-facing communications like newsletters, Instagram stories, workshops & beyond

The idea is to embed these policies and ideas into various touch points of your business. They don’t have to be a “big deal”, because they’re not! Anti-racism can be business as usual, based on how YOU do business. 

3. Invite people in

The fact is that a lot of people have good intentions but may not have a lot of experience with social justice work. Maybe they don’t know how to talk about these issues or where to start with doing the work. These interactions don’t have to be confrontational, they can be invitational.

Could you take initiative and propose a professional development group for your industry, with a focus on social justice? If you’re already part of a mastermind community, can you suggest the addition of an anti-racism portion of each meeting? If you see a cool educational workshop being advertised by a Black activist, can you invite one of your business besties to attend it with you?

Assume that people share your values & act accordingly. Don’t be afraid to extend these invitations or make suggestions where you see the need. Just presume that folks want to do better and offer them ways to contribute.

4. Ask businesses directly where they stand

Ask Steph: How Do I Talk About Anti-Racism With My Clients & Peers? – Stephanie Pellett CreativeWhen it comes to larger businesses, I think we can push back a bit more. As a friend reminded me recently, big companies have a much larger burden of accountability than small businesses. They have many more employees, resources, and policies that affect people’s lives and well-being. It makes sense to expect somewhat more from them in terms of transparency and action than we might from the small mom-and-pop shop down the street.

So if you are asked to be a part of a project (or conference, or panel, or campaign, etc.) with a larger company, and you don’t see any definitive policies from them that satisfy you? You can quite simply ask, in a direct way. I like this script, and this one, as starting places. Both are written for influencers, but they can be modified for anyone.

Or say something super simple:

“I have a policy in my business to work with companies that prioritize anti-racism & social justice. Could you let me know what your business commitment is to issues of racial justice [and/or LGBTQ justice, and/or environmental justice] and what action steps you are taking to support Black, Indigenous and People of Colour [and/or LGBTQ people, and/or the environment]?”

Again: this doesn’t have to be as scary as it may seems. It’s just business, the way you (and millions of others) do business. It’s 2020. Companies need to be expecting this line of inquiry and they need to have an adequate answer. If they don’t, perhaps you don’t want to work with them. Abundance, remember?

PS. Use your privilege!

All of the above are especially important to do if you are non-Black. Black people are disproportionately more likely to suffer negative professional and financial repercussions for pushing back and asking for more transparency around issues of racial & social justice, or speaking up about these issues in their own businesses. If you are white or non-Black, you can help to normalize these conversations by using your privilege to make them an accepted part of all business relationships.

Being committed to human rights is not bold, even if it feels scary to say it so explicitly. (The reason it feels scary? We live in a white supremacist patriarchal culture, which punishes those who speak out against its structures.)

So use your voice and your platform, regardless of how small it might be. We are cheering for you, and we are excited that you are on the side of justice for all.

I’d love to know: How have you made your values clear to others within your business? What are some examples of companies whose diversity and social justice policies are inspiring to you? Let me know in the comments below, or on Instagram @stephpellett.

PS. Want to see my commitments to anti-racism and social justice? Click below to access the page which I will be updating monthly.

Ask Steph: How Do I Talk About Anti-Racism With My Clients & Peers? – Stephanie Pellett Creative