By Barbara Frankel
Diversity and inclusion starts with deep, well-communicated values, emanating from the top. That’s why jcpenney didn’t drop Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson when One Million Moms made demands. It’s as clear an example as we’ve ever seen.
This is a case study for all corporations on determining your values, keeping the message focused and on point and, most importantly, standing by those values when you come under fire. Companies committed to diversity management and building inclusive workplaces face this type of pressure periodically; the response tells you a great deal about how ingrained those values are.
If you haven’t followed this story, jcpenney, No. 35 in The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity, revamped its marketing strategy under new CEO Ron Johnson earlier this year. The company decided to hire a spokesperson and felt DeGeneres was the perfect fit because of her stated values of honesty, compassion and equality. One Million Moms, a division of the American Family Association, which has a strong anti-gay agenda, launched a campaign to have her removed as spokesperson. Not only did the retailer stick to its guns, but Johnson himself went public supporting DeGeneres.
One Million Moms argued that “jcpenney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families.”
Johnson countered by saying, “We stand squarely behind Ellen as our spokesperson, and that’s a great thing because she shares the same values that we do in our company. Our company was founded 110 years ago on the Golden Rule, which is about treating people fair and square, just like you would like to be treated yourself.”
For a video of Johnson’s comments, click here.
DeGeneres herself discussed the controversy on her television show, pointing out that One Million Moms is a misnomer, since the group only has 40,000 members on its Facebook page. DeGeneres, who married actress Portia de Rossi in 2008, said: “My haters are my motivators … the values I stand for are honesty, equality, kindness and compassion.” Actually, Facebook and online support for DeGeneres has far exceeded support for One Million Moms.
3 Specific Lessons
Let’s analyze what jcpenney did and how you can use it as a template for your company’s communications.
No. 1: Be Clear About Your Values
Too many organizations muddle their values and throw in the kitchen sink in efforts to please everyone. A values statement should be direct and simple and one that gives employees, customers, suppliers and investors a clear idea of what the company stands for.
For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ website states: “Our programs are guided by one common commitment: to do what is right for our clients, our people, our communities and the environment.”
And IBM, which has a specific section on values on its website, states: “In the end, IBMers determined that our actions will be driven by these values: Dedication to every client’s success; Innovation that matters, for our company and for the world; Trust and personal responsibility in all relationships.”
No. 2: Make Sure the Message Comes From the Top
The CEO is the leader and the public face of your organization. Without strong CEO commitment, diversity efforts don’t succeed. Without a strong and visible CEO presence, even in controversial situations, no one believes these values are the top priority.
Look at the messages sent by some of the CEOs we’ve interviewed recently, including John Stumpf of Wells Fargo, Tom Voss of Ameren, John Veihmeyer of KPMG, George Chavel of Sodexo, Beth Mooney of KeyCorp, Michael Ward of CSX and jcpenney’s recently retired CEO and Johnson’s predecessor, Mike Ullman.
As Stumpf said: “We have the same common view: We want to care about each other and our customers, our communities and our shareholders. We’re going to work together. We’re going to learn from each other, and each one of you ought to know how your role fits into the greater good.”
CEOs also can enforce their belief in these messages by holding people accountable for upholding these values and personally ensuring there is no tolerance in the organization for bias and disrespect of individual differences.
No. 3: Don’t Cave In to Pressure
We’ve seen the examples of organizations that bow to pressure and then face huge backlash, most recently with the Susan B. Komen organization. In corporate America, there are several examples, such as Lowe’s publicity gaffe, and they primarily occurred with companies that did not have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and firm leadership from the top.
Transparency in responses, as JCPenney has done, is paramount. If you watch Johnson’s video, there is no equivocating or hedging his support of DeGeneres and of jcpenney’s values of inclusion. You know where he stands and where the company stands.
The responses from consumers have been exactly the opposite of what One Million Moms intended. Many who never shopped at jcpenney now say they will shop there.
A couple of comments from Facebook:
“Perhaps One Million Moms would prefer [that] an honest upstanding lesbian be replaced with a lying heterosexual”
“Love Ellen and loved the video. At the end when she talked about what she stands for, I teared up. The world could use a LOT more people like her!!!!!”
“Now I’m going to start shopping at jcpenney.”