The Plank Center’s Statement on Recent Events

In the aftermath of the tragic death of George Floyd, America is being forcibly accelerated into a necessary examination of the state of race and bias. Business leaders will have to participate—on the record, and with the wisdom, judgment, courage and compassion we expect people in positions of great influence.

That starts with communicating with their employees. We’ve seen corporate leaders proactively communicating over the past week, and it’s encouraging that many of the CEOs and companies that weren’t moved to action after the events of Charlottesville, Va., are now committed to engaging their people.

Real leadership requires more than a statement or a memo. Leadership on an issue this vital, and visceral, isn’t a function of a good soundbite, expressions of sympathy, outrage or disbelief. Fulfilling the role of leadership begins with ensuring that employees are clear on the answers to questions like: “What does our enterprise stand for? What do we value? What do we reject? What are the core beliefs and principles we will never compromise?” These are critical questions every leader must consider.

But it goes well beyond communicating. Great leaders also understand the power of genuine listening, showing an openness to the idea that the issues run deeper in their company than anyone has been willing to say out loud. Most importantly, genuine listening must bring a commitment to learn and change, at the level of policy and practice.

This much is certain: Silence is acceptance, and it is no longer acceptable.

On issues of equality in America and our most cherished national traditions—faith in majority rule and insistence on minority rights—we believe business leaders must stand up, place themselves and their organizations on the right side of history, and actively work for the systemic, sustainable changes required in business and society. They will earn, or forfeit, massive levels of trust and respect via their actions on justice, equality and tolerance, and in how they use their roles to advance the health and quality of a free, fair, functioning society.

Throughout a lifetime of leadership, our founder, Betsy Plank, worked actively for change where it was needed most—in our profession, in the communities where we live and serve and among diverse groups of students, educators and professionals. She did so with a spirit of humility and a commitment to ethical behavior, integrity, transparency and doing what is right. She would accept nothing less. As an example of her character, Betsy told the story of joining the last leg of the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery because it was “the right thing for a Southerner to do.” In a later interview reflecting on Selma, Betsy said she was “very concerned about civil rights and cared very much about the issue and its many facets.”

We can no longer accept silence. In the spirit of our great founder, the advisors of The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations are committed to advancing authentic dialogue and actions for racial and social justice, accountability, and diversity and inclusion.