On Friday night, a group of white nationalists descended on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville bearing torches while shouting "you will not replace us."
On Saturday, the white nationalists continued their protest, and were met with counter-protesters. The exchanges between the two groups escalated, resulting in a brawl. One counter-protestor was killed, and 19 were injured. A state of emergency was declared in Virginia as a result.
People around the country followed what was going on with horror, and many took to social media to express their feelings.
As a business leader, you may be tempted to look at the events in Charlottesville and think it best to stay out of it. To think that it doesn't concern you or affect your company.
But silence speaks volumes too. And it only contributes to the problem.
Whether or not you intend this to be the impact, silence implies acceptance. Ignoring racism and bigotry doesn't mean they don't exist, and it will not make them go away. And ultimately, because both your customers and the people who work in your business are people, it becomes more important than ever in times like these to reinforce that your company is a safe space, and an environment where your team and your customers can feel like they belong.
Here are 11 more productive things to do instead, to help be a part of the solution in the aftermath of Charlottesville:
1. Reinforce your values.
This could be as simple as reiterating what you stand for. Consider issuing a company statement in which you outline the core principles and values that guide your thinking and decisions. Let everyone know these values are what your company lives by. They are not just nice, yet meaningless, words that are printed on a piece of fancy stock paper and shoved in a drawer.
2. Be clear about what type of behavior will not be tolerated.
There is no room for ambiguity. You don't have to see detestable behavior rearing its ugly head firsthand before you denounce it. Be proactive.
3. Acknowledge that sometimes people hold views that are in conflict with company's beliefs.
Just recently, a Google employee published a manifesto expressing his belief that women are under-represented in tech because of "inherent psychological differences between men and women." Although he was fired, it's been reported that many of his former colleagues echo his sentiments.
Expressing awareness that it is possible for team members to hold views that are in conflict with the company's is an important step in demonstrating your commitment to doing the necessary work to create a productive, diverse, and inclusive environment.
4. Clearly show how and why diversity affects business results.
Paint a clear picture of why diversity isn't about being politically correct. There are very real financial benefits to embracing it, and consequences when you don't.
5. Revisit your diversity goals.
Evaluate what your company needs to do to effectively position itself to meet the changing makeup and needs of your customer base.
6. Engage, activate, and empower your employee resource groups.
Encourage active participation from team members who don't identify with a particular group. Coming together regularly to dialogue and share will help tear down biases that prevent advancement.
7. Create safe spaces for people to talk about experiences at the company that made them feel less than comfortable.
People are experiencing slights at work, great and small, every day. For proof, consider the public challenges Uber has faced with sexism, or check out the black women at work hashtag. Don't just assume these things don't happen at your company.
8. Go to lunch with someone who looks different from you or who has a different experience.
Learn. Get perspective. Broaden your frame of reference, so you can express empathy.
9. If you aren't sure what to do, enlist assistance from others outside your company who can help.
You don't have to have all the answers. Nor does anyone expect you to. Seek help from someone who can help you move in the right direction.
10. Create an ongoing diversity training program.
Help everyone on your team embrace their differences. Design an interactive curriculum that helps your team see how much better they can be when they embrace your collective differences.
11. Take a public stand to push back against toxic behavior.
It's not about making a political statement. It is about taking a stand and letting your customers and team members know who belongs with you and who doesn't.
And Merck did it when its CEO resigned from the president's American Manufacturing Council following his remarks on what happened in Charlottesville.