How crisis gave us an opportunity to change

No one wants to hear privileged leaders complain, especially in the middle of the biggest socio-economic crisis many have ever lived through. What I want to share are the opportunities that these unprecedented times are giving us as leaders.

Many companies right now are focusing solely on how they are performing and whether they are positioned to weather the storm. But we should use this as an opportunity to do things better, to improve our brand purpose and ensure, both internally and externally, we are truly an inclusive company.

COVID-19 has allowed leaders to take stock. My company, Brand Advance, was an office-based company before the pandemic, headquartered in London with a satellite office in NYC. Personally, I like working from an office and wrongly believed that office workers were more focused and productive. But lockdown forced us to change our company policy overnight for our then-20-plus staff. Laptops and screens were shipped, time-logging software deployed, and within hours Brand Advance was able to function as a fully remote company with clients none the wiser. We are now leaving lockdown nearly three times larger than we entered.

Lifting up the “forgotten demographics”

This set me on a personal journey of development and realisation that will truly see me become a better CEO – a journey of learning trust. As a startup founder it’s hard to put your full trust in others when it comes to your business. But I now understand that having trust in my people to deliver has allowed me to focus on other elements of our growth, whilst allowing my team to show their capabilities, and they amaze me daily.

Then came Black Lives Matter. Now as a company that helps brands and agencies reach diverse communities globally, and being a Black CEO with a mixed race son, Black lives have always mattered to me. I have spent most of my adult career advocating this point and trying to sell-in the commercial and ethical reasoning for brands to ensure they are purposefully reaching all demographics across race, religion and sexual orientation.

I’ve been telling companies for years to remember these “forgotten demographics”, and the time is now. Granted, I never wanted or expected that turning point to be both a global pandemic or a life-changing movement. But in all honesty I don’t care how it’s come about; it’s here and it’s not going away.

Over the course of four months, bus drivers, nurses and supermarket staff, many of whom are ethnic minorities, went from ‘low-paid workers’ to ‘key workers’. We now understand that they, plus many millions more from minority backgrounds, are the very foundation of our country, and when the world actually stopped spinning and we all wanted to get off, the forgotten demographics kept things going.

Embracing the change

This change in mindset now means government campaigns are geared towards reaching these demographics, and spending by brands within diverse publications and platforms has increased.

Now is the time to refocus our companies to continue this movement. Now is the time to look at our companies and ask ourselves, do we truly represent the communities we serve? Do we truly include these communities in our external communications and marketing campaigns? Do we want to remain relevant as the Gen-Z generation comes into their own and decides they are not interested in working in our offices or buying our products? Do we want to be forward-thinking, progressive and relevant? Do we want our company to survive?

We have a real opportunity to make tangible changes that will not only change society but also help our companies and ourselves personally develop and survive in the current crisis. I hope, like me, any CEO reading this truly sees this for the opportunity it is and comes with me and many other leaders on the ride of change. The rewards will mean we will look back at Q2 2020 as the moment we became better.