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The Race Conversation Is Tough, but Crucial


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Cheikh Mboup, president of Edible.

As the anguish surrounding George Floyd’s death evolves into an ongoing conversation about race, business leaders face more and more pressure to address that very big, very sensitive topic. 

Misty Chally, the executive director at the Coalition of Franchisee Associations, said her organization was looking for people to share stories in the wake of Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police and the subsequent social unrest. But many didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of a political minefield. 

“A lot of people just don’t want to speak out or have themselves out there. Franchisees are concerned if their name is in the paper they’re going to be targeted,” said Chally. “These are business owners that are already struggling to keep their business open.” 

These difficult conversations are never convenient to have, never mind having them in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Cheikh Mboup, president of Edible, says silence may be even worse.

“The unfortunate piece is there’s no blueprint,” said Mboup. “It’s such a taboo that we haven’t had an authentic conversation. But the absence of talking about it can’t be it; it has to be addressed.” 

He said while the discussion doesn’t have to take the form of a public address or be out in the broader community per se, franchisees taking time to have a dialogue can be especially powerful. 

“I think franchisees are better equipped than a larger organization. The ability to empathize usually goes in parallel to how well you know someone. So, an owner with five, six, seven employees knows them better than someone down in Atlanta, so you need less guardrails,” said Mboup. 

But the effort has to be authentic. He said it’s OK not to have all the answers, but for a business leader, boss or manager to say, “We value you,” is powerful. Just don’t make it political.  

“I think when you have these conversations, and we do it all too often, the easy resort is to point the finger to someone. Which political party can I blame when it’s been around for centuries? Which professional field can I blame when this has been around for centuries?” said Mboup. 

He said there’s a business case for having these discussions, too, because if one person in an organization is hurting, that anguish will come out in some way. Maybe they’re less productive, or call in sick to take a day to decompress. Or worse, as Taco Bell learned, they take to social media. That’s what Taco Bell employee Denzel Skinner did, sharing a recorded conversation with an unnamed manager about wearing a Black Lives Matter face mask. 

The manager said it was company policy that he couldn’t wear the mask, and he was fired for all to see. The video spread, as did the hashtag #RIPTacoBell. Taco Bell was quick to respond, but that kind of brand damage should be terrifying to any company. 

In a statement, Taco Bell said, “While our policies at restaurants do not prohibit Team Members from wearing Black Lives Matter masks, we are working to clarify our mask policy so this doesn’t happen again.”

Both Yum Brands’ chief people officer and chief diversity and inclusion officer called Skinner to apologize and discuss the situation. 

Mboup said that need to be heard is why Edible partnered with Cigna to offer a call line for corporate employees, franchisees and store-level staff to call and discuss their feelings or just vent with a certified therapist. That, he said, gave more space for the especially personal topics. But the authentic conversations still have to be had. 

“Are there going to be disagreements or backlash? Possibly. But that is miniscule in comparison to the positivity we can provide from community leaders, and all those franchisees are community leaders. Those are the individuals running the companies—it’s not just the church leader or the Imam, it’s all those people, too,” said Mboup. 

Additional Franchise Times coverage on this topic:

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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
 twitter.com/mlarson1011.
 

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