Taking a Stand on Inclusivity: The Effect of Corporate Activism

Corporate activism is a concept that carries significant weight in today’s global landscape. It involves not only responding to events that directly impact the workplace but also recognising their broader societal implications. In a recent conversation with Eric Thomas, a seasoned professional with insights into this topic, we delved into the nuances of corporate social activism and its relevance in modern business practices.


team discussing in meeting room - corporate activism


What is Corporate Social Activism?

Corporate social activism involves navigating global social events that may or may not directly affect the workplace. These events can impact employees’ daily experiences, mental well-being, and peace, regardless of their connection to the company’s operations or revenue generation. 

Eric highlighted a recent US Supreme Court decision that is expected to have ripple effects throughout the corporate world. That includes Genesys, the company Eric works for. Genesys has a decision-making process that involves careful consideration of how making a stance can affect its relationships with customers and partners. The focus lies on maintaining a delicate balance between speaking out, remaining silent, or taking action in response to such events.


Focusing on the Human Element

At Genesys, the focus is squarely on the human aspect of activism. Despite the external pressures for companies to take decisive stances on social issues, Eric emphasises the complexities inherent in such actions. He identifies the George Floyd case of May 2020 as a watershed moment that prompted numerous organisations to declare their values boldly. However, this move is a huge reputational risk. For Eric, organisations need to assess and anticipate employee reactions to uphold trust and credibility.

Another risk is that this move can easily veer into political territory if not handled well. Genesys prioritises the human aspect of it. The company has integrated equity and inclusion as indispensable components of its business strategy. It has invested considerable effort in ensuring it permeates all aspects of its operations. This holistic approach aims to establish a sustainable culture of inclusion that transcends current leadership, fostering long-term positive change within the company.


Eric’s Early Success in Affecting Change

Eric remembers a time not long after college when he got his first job at a traditional American company. There, employees had to wear white shirts and ties every day, and there was a strict rule about being clean-shaven. As an African-American man with curly hair, shaving every day caused him skin irritation and a condition called Pseudofolliculitis barbae. After visiting a dermatologist and learning about his condition, Eric talked to his boss about the challenges he faced. As a result, the company changed its policy on shaving, which was a big win for Eric in making a positive change.

Another experience he recalls was starting an African-American employee resource group (ERG) in his previous job because there wasn’t enough inclusion in social events at the office. What began informally soon became an official ERG, supported by Eric’s connections with the leadership. 

Eric also talks about the SEEDS Model, which helps educate people about unconscious biases. The proximity bias means people tend to favor those they’re physically close to or interact with often. The similarity bias means they prefer people who have the same beliefs as them. Eric admits he’s encountered both biases in his leadership roles. He stresses the importance of recognising and addressing biases in decision-making, especially when hiring or developing talent. 


This is a collective responsibility. – Eric Thomas


Inclusion is A Collective Responsibility

Having two adult children in their twenties challenges Eric’s traditional viewpoints as a 50-year-old. Every day brings new learning opportunities, especially in his current role, where he’s particularly attuned to people’s intentions. This dynamic encourages him to listen to their perspectives, admitting that wisdom isn’t solely tied to age. He understands that fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion involves letting go of old beliefs to embrace new ones. Overall, Eric sees this journey as an incredible opportunity for growth and learning.

Eric acknowledges that his approach to work involves a lot of trial and error. This process is essential for understanding what resonates with the workforce, what leadership can support, and what fosters employee satisfaction and pride. This mindset allows him to reflect on past experiences and glean new insights. 

Inclusion issues are universal, regardless of location or societal challenges. Certain demographics have been systematically marginalised over time and this can have generational impacts. For Eric, starting with the most marginalised group is the most inclusive approach. Then, it ensures that the system accommodates other minorities, as well. There are times when uncomfortable conversations are necessary, particularly when addressing certain topics that may cause discomfort for specific groups. However, business growth requires stepping out of the comfort zone.


How has corporate activism helped Eric become a better leader?

Eric’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion embodies a balanced, empathetic leadership style that fosters meaningful change. His commitment to understanding diverse perspectives and fostering open dialogue exemplifies the transformative potential of inclusive leadership. As we strive for greater societal harmony, Eric’s vision of influencing broader mindsets offers hope for a more inclusive future.

Eric acknowledges that recognising his blind spots compels him to maintain a curious and growth-oriented mindset. Being conscious of his proximity and similarity biases keeps him open-minded to different viewpoints.  His insights serve as a beacon for leaders navigating the complexities of corporate social activism. 

What’s your takeaway from this episode? If you have comments and stories you’d like us to hear, please share them in the comments.

You can listen to the full interview with Eric Thomas on the Taking a Stand on Inclusivity: The Effect of Corporate Activism podcast or watch the episode on YouTube.

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