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Reflections on: ‘The role of comms in building an anti-racist brand’

20 July 2021

Unless organisations are genuinely tackling racism then communications will simply perpetuate the status quo. This means moving away from always trying to control the message and trying to present the most positive view, towards talking honestly and openly about failures and lessons.

That’s why it was so inspiring to see so many charity communicators tune in to ‘The role of comms in building an anti-racist brand’ seminar – an event that weeks later still has my head buzzing with ideas.

The fact the charity sector can have these conversations is powerful testimony to the desire to understand the role of communications in helping to transform the sector and lead lasting change. It is a time of great opportunity for us to stand up and help deliver this change and while I am still taking time to digest the important themes discussed, here are a few initial reflections which have stayed with me.

Leaning-in to discomfort.

All our speakers shared their experience of working facing racism in our sector which was deeply troubling and moving. They spoke of feeling unable to be their true selves at work, self-censoring, trying to fit in, suppressing their full potential and being blocked in their career development.

And yet, by embracing anti-racism campaigning they became resilient and even better communicators. Using their determination to become more radical, to go out of their comfort zones, to challenge the status quo and to bring vision and ambition to their work.

Comms – a hindrance or a help?

As Jonathan Cornejo said, behind every campaign win is the story of how communications has helped shift the needle, a story of innovation which helped drive the change.

Communications teams can help bring excluded voices into a safe space to be heard, to analyse the language, dismantle racist systems and stereotypes and create a culture and new narratives to be proud of.

And by moving from being gatekeeping blockers to accountability engines we can all also become champions and guardians of the new narratives so that they can be communicated consistently and with authenticity and impact.

Empathy and wellbeing

Putting people of colour at the heart of the conversation and creating a safe space to share their experiences can be very emotionally draining. Checking in with colleagues to make sure they are ok and to offer support and resources, demonstrating compassion and solidarity is a must.

Honesty and accountability

It takes bravery to look at yourself and ask, “Am I a racist?” Is my organisation racist?” Yet this is what the NCVO, the Wellcome Trust and IIED have done, publicly acknowledging their organisation’s role in perpetuating inequality and committing to a programme of change. Being put in the media spotlight can act as a powerful spur to go further faster and help to embolden others.

Moments of joy

It was inspiring to hear all the speakers say how much they loved doing this work. It helps them feel energised and empowered to use their communications skills. The camaraderie of coming together to unlock inequalities and see colleagues make positive choices to change, fills them with hope and greater determination.

The power of partnership

Last but not least, working with Collette Philips founder of Brand By Me and irrepressible campaigner to facilitate this timely conversation was a delight. Collette brought us expertise, connections, and passion, allowing CharityComms to focus on convening our community and making sure the event experience was as enriching as possible. Being able to work in partnership on something that matters to us all is a great thing and something we hope the whole sector will embrace doing too.

Staying timely and relevant: Next steps

At CharityComms we work really hard to stay close to our members and listen to the issues and challenges you want to address and learn more about. So it was great to see our ‘role of comms in creating anti-racist brands’ seminar attracted an incredible response with over 600 delegates and a chat box flooded with empathy, questions, and knowledge sharing.

Clearly though this is a topic that the sector needs to keep talking about and addressing. Many of you have told us that your organisation is on a journey and that this work is not a one-off “project” but an ongoing programme of work to tackle diversity, equality, and inclusion.

Our role at CharityComms is to help connect, inspire, and empower you by helping to share experience, knowledge, and skills. So, let’s work together to ensure this is a turning point. As our guest curator, Collette Philips, reminds us “comms teams are perfectly positioned to lead the charge.”

Suggested resources

  • Keep in touch to let us know how you are doing, share your challenges and moments of joy. We’d love to hear how we can help keep the conversation and action going.
  • Refresh your memory – you can rewatch the seminar on-demand here
  • And read our post-event blog

Further reading and resources

Image: Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash

Adeela Warley

CEO, CharityComms

Adeela has over 20 years’ experience in charity communications across multiple skills and functions: strategic planning, market research, media, PR, events, brand, publishing and digital. Before joining CharityComms, she led the development of organisational communications, brand and audience strategies for Friends of the Earth, putting them at the heart of the charity's campaigning success and supporter engagement.