There’s Nothing Fulfilling About an Empty Message

This is an article intended to apologize on behalf of my company and all the other tone-deaf companies—and to let the world know, there are people who try to do better.

If you read my bio, you know as much as I love writing for Taffeta, it is not my full-time job. I work as the communications director for a company focused on education tools and textbooks. Basically, that means I spend all day putting pretty words together to sell more products. It’s fine. It pays the bills. Sort of.

My company has always held a very steadfast, non-partisan view on anything even remotely political. So, I was floored when, two weeks ago, my boss asked me to craft a message that would be posted on our social channels and emailed to our customers in regard to Black Lives Matter.

A Company that Needs to Change

A little context: My company, like many, lacks diversity—especially among the C-level staff. We have one female VP. Otherwise our attempt to sell books about the Founding Fathers may as well be coming from the Founding Fathers themselves. So, I was thrilled that we could use this opportunity to invoke a shift in the way the company thought. That they were aware of what has been going on in the bigger world around us, and that this could help improve the little world we worked in.

The first message I crafted spoke to actionable items my company would commit to doing in order to acknowledge and attempt to remedy our own contributions to social injustice. This included pledging to increase the diversity of our executive level staff, our board of directors, and our employee base by 25% by 2021. It also included offering some of our products for free to underserved communities in the pursuit of achieving accessible and equal educational opportunities.

They rejected literally every word.

Them: “These are significant changes you are proposing here.”

Me: “Yes. I know. We need significant changes.”

Them: “We can’t commit to this without discussions and meetings and approvals.”

Me: “So, go get that.”

Them: “That will take time.”

Me: “I can wait.”

And so could the message. I did not believe in sending anything out that we were not committed to. But no. They could not wait. They wanted a generic, feel-good, “we are pretending we care because that seems to be a thing that other companies are doing” message. Something that they could send out that day to jump on the bandwagon and alleviate their white guilt.

So, I excused myself from the conversation and refused to help.

A Battle of Wills

Well, the you-know-what hit the fan. This is not about me, so I’ll spare you the back and forth of emails that followed, but just to be clear about how deep my company was digging their heels into this issue, keeping my job came into question. In essence, they very loudly vocalized their disappointment that I was not standing with the company over such an important issue.

Exactly. It is really important. Which is why if the company was not willing to do it right, I wanted nothing to do with it.

In the end, someone wrote the meaningless, empty message about “striving to be better” and “committed to being part of the solution” that they wanted. And the company was (rightly) eviscerated when they posted this on social media. And I am embarrassed and ashamed of where I work. For a place that is focused on education, they have a lot to learn.

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About Lily Winters

A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.

View all posts by Lily Winters

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