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A memo from a Massachusetts company on the killing of George Floyd is a case study in how leaders should address race and the events in Minnesota with their employees

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  • The medical-device-manufacturing firm Boston Scientific released an open letter denouncing the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis last week after a white officer handcuffed and pinned him on the ground. 
  • CEO Michael Mahoney's open letter to the company shows the value of employee resource groups and listening to workers from marginalized backgrounds — especially after major incidents tied to systemic racism.
  • The letter explains the need for companies to stand in solidarity with marginalized workers, create a space for processing these traumatic situations, and challenging racial discrimination in the workplace.
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On Thursday, Boston Scientific sent an open letter to its employees. In a statement signed by executive committee members, the medical-device-manufacturing firm denounced the actions of a white police officer in the death of a black man last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Boston Scientific isn't the first company to try to address issues like police violence and racism in the wake of a series of deaths of African Americans involving police. But Boston Scientific's efforts were unusually effective. The letter is a case study in how to broach sensitive cultural issues in a workplace context.
For background: A widely circulated, eight-minute video showed George Floyd, 46, crying for help while now former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd's neck with his knees.
According to the Guardian, Floyd was unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. That week, he was looking for work. The police were called after a grocery-store employee reported that someone had used a counterfeit $20 bill to buy a pack of cigarettes, Business Insider reported. Since the incident occurred, protests have erupted across the nation.
Boston Scientific published its open letter on its company website. According to the letter, nearly 9,000 Boston Scientific employees live and work in Minneapolis, where Floyd died. (The company is headquartered in Marlborough, Massachusetts.)
Here's what Boston Scientific did right.

The letter gives employees a chance to voice their concerns

In the second part of the letter, Boston Scientific's executive committee writes that in the coming weeks, the company's leadership team will be expanding the "real-talk" conversations they've already been having with employee resource groups globally.
The committee also acknowledges that not everyone will process George Floyd's death the same way. "Tragedies like this can feel traumatizing," they wrote, "especially for members of marginalized groups."
This is key. Experts say it's important for leaders to encourage workers of color to talk about race, though it doesn't happen often.
One survey highlighted by Harvard Business School Working Knowledge found that 38% of black employees feel it's never acceptable to discuss their experiences of racial bias at work. But HBS senior lecturer Anthony J. Mayo, a coauthor of "Race, Work, and Leadership," told HBS Working Knowledge that employees who feel they can be authentic at work are more engaged and contribute more to the organization.

The letter empowers employees with tools to address racism at work

The executive committee lays out a clear action plan for employees who experience or witness racial bias at work.
The first point: "No matter what the issue, say something. If you don't know what to say, start by asking, 'What did you mean by that?'"
This kind of tactical advice is useful in addition to a more general mandate to stand up to racism. Business Insider's Marguerite Ward reported on research by Accenture that found 98% of senior leaders feel their company is inclusive — but only 80% of rank-and-file employees feel the same way.
This so-called perception gap is jarring not solely because it suggests that leadership is somewhat oblivious to employees' experiences. According to Accenture, the perception gap also translates to $1.05 trillion that's lost because companies aren't inclusive. That's because, Ward reported, employees tend to be more engaged and productive when they feel included.

The letter ties Boston Scientific's values to a broader social mission

"George Floyd's death reflects deeply ingrained, long-standing divisions in our society," wrote CEO Michael Mahoney. The CEO goes on to say that the executive committee feels "compelled" to "reaffirm our commitment to live by our values and cultivate a workplace that makes equality, diversity and openness priorities — a workplace that sets an example for the greater community."
What Mahoney does here is put the company's values in context. Mahoney's letter reminds employees that the company has an obligation to make the world a better place.
Some companies have a social mission embedded in their business model. (Think ice-cream company Ben & Jerry's or outdoor apparel company Patagonia.) At Boston Scientific, employees know their work advances medical science in a way that benefits people around the world. But ultimately, how they behave toward their colleagues on a daily basis matters just as much.
SEE ALSO: BI Prime Edit in Viking A memo from Airbnb's CEO announcing huge staff cuts is a case study in how leaders can conduct layoffs in a compassionate way
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