- in Environment
Employees at Ovo Energy were confused to find their company had taken part in #blackouttuesday on 2 June.
The normally bright green branding on the Bristol based firm’s Instagram posts had changed to a black square, alongside millions of others that day, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
An accompanying post, made by Ovo Energy’s chief executive, Stephen Fitzpatrick, said: “The events in America this past week have appalled all of us,” and then he pledged to improve diversity at the firm.
The Instagram post prompted a reaction from staff members.
One employee said on an internal communications channel: “Thank you for showing solidarity with the blacklivesmatter movement. Forums with employees were held about this last year, and we are yet to get [any] updates?“
Several wondered if it might have been hypocritical for the boss to say on social media that “starting right now, we will commit to review our hiring practices to increase our representation of black and ethnic minority colleagues”.
Another employee commented: “Oh, missed this. Would have been nice if this message had gone out to staff as well…”
The company says it did provide details on its intranet alongside Mr Fitzpatrick’s statement, but adds that it was sorry that some employees missed this.
A further update has since been emailed to all staff with details of plans to improve diversity numbers at the firm.
Ovo employees are not alone in their feelings of scepticism, and in some cases anger, towards their employer.
Sweeping company statements made about the Black Lives Matter movement have been badly received by workers in various industries, for lacking communication and measurable change on an issue they feel strongly about.
Two black presenters at the UK’s biggest hip hop music radio station, Capital Xtra, said they were “embarrassed” by statements on race issued by parent company Global Radio.
When women’s lifestyle site Refinery29 blacked out its homepage for Black Out Tuesday last week, one former employee accused it of hypocrisy, while others described a “toxic company culture”. The editor-in-chief later resigned.
The editor-in-chief of US food magazine Bon Appetit also resigned this week after a “brownface” photo scandal, and amid staff allegations of a culture of racism at the magazine.
Many people have taken to social media to call out perceived hypocrisy in their sector.
Hashmukh Kerai, a 3D illustrator in the advertising industry in London, posted on LinkedIn: “I’ve seen a lot of creative directors, agencies and studios supporting the current Black Lives Matters events. But, if you want real change, starting looking at what’s happening on your doorstep.”
In seven years Mr Kerai says he is yet to “walk into an agency when I am not the only person of colour working with the team”.
It is easier for him to work as a freelancer, he tells the BBC, dipping in and out of teams rather than having to fit into a culture where he feels he would never belong.
“I work in an industry that is mostly single white males. It’s still a bit like Mad Men – full of people who do not represent me,” he says.
Corey Gaskin worked as a tech reporter for Digital Trends in New York for nine months but says he was overwhelmed by what he felt was a toxic environment for women, LGBTQ people and people of colour.
He left after he was disciplined for calling a company video racist.
“Publicly accusing your co-workers of being racist is not okay,” he was told by Jeremy Kaplan, the editor-in-chief at Digital Trends, in a message seen by the BBC.
Last week, when Digital Trends joined the #blackouttuesday campaign, Mr Gaskin tweeted in response a picture of the company’s chief operating officer, Chris Carlson, dressed as a racial stereotype at a “Gin and Juice” party the company threw in its offices two years ago.
Mr Gaskin’s remarks on Twitter unleashed a storm of current and former employees giving their own accounts of racism and sexism in the company.
The firm held a three-hour Zoom call on Wednesday to address them.
Digital Trends has released a statement with an apology accompanied by a seven-step process, which includes a new zero tolerance for racism and harassment, and commitments to equitable pay and transparency.
Because the action list has deadlines, a representative from the company said there would be repercussions if they were not met but was unclear what those repercussions might be.
D’Wayne Edwards also posted a LinkedIn response to a Nike post to talk about the shoe company, where he used to work as the lead designer of Air Jordan.
Nike spends billions of dollars in endorsements on black athletes and entertainers but could support their black consumers better by investing in black communities and hiring more black talent to work at Nike, he said in his post.
When he made his start at footwear company LA Gear, Mr Edwards says he was the only black person in the building.
Today, he says there are still only about 175 African American footwear designers in the industry.
Mr Edwards says one of the reasons he left Nike was because the industry targeted African American kids as consumers and as brand ambassadors but did not recruit them as employees.
“It’s hypocritical because our industry is sending a really twisted mixed message to the world. It says we care. They do care, but not enough to change what the internal workforce looks like,” says Mr Edwards.
He likes the promises brands have made on social media because they are opportunities to hold the firms accountable in future.
“You were public enough to say something,” says Mr Edwards, “Now, I want you to tell me every month, how are you doing on those actions that you presented to the world?”
This has been the very centre of the conversations he has had this week with executives from Nike, Air Jordan and Adidas. The most common question he has received was: “What do you honestly feel we should do that is authentic?”
Last week, Nike’s Jordan brand said it would donate $100m (£78m) over the next 10 years to African American communities in addition to a $40m commitment announced by Nike.
Mr Edwards believes educational programmes in black communities is where money should go, and has set up his own programme called Pensole, to mentor and train young black shoe designers.
“I’m tired of conversation. Let’s get some stuff done. We’ve been waiting a long time. It’s time to get some stuff done.”