Each day brings about newly consequential, societal change. News coverage regularly reports on an increase in anti-LGBTQ violence, mass demonstrations following police killings of people of color and state bans on reproductive rights. Consequently, companies can no longer remain on the sidelines and simply focus on maximizing their profits.
As a result, communicators must help their organizations navigate and address life-changing sociopolitical issues. This is in addition to their long list of traditional responsibilities. While some may shy away or become overwhelmed with the challenge, Alesia Howard, vice president of communications and social responsibility for the WNBA’s New York Liberty, embraces it.
“Part of my job is to watch, publicize and advocate for women’s basketball, and the athletes who play the game,” said Howard. “It’s very near and dear to my heart. As a former athlete, it gives me a sense of community.”
Now in her fourth season with the Brooklyn-based professional basketball team, Howard shares how communicators can help organizations address social justice issues. It starts with tapping into one’s own humanity.
“Be honest, authentic and timely,” said Howard. “Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations with your leaders because it’s important to bring diverse views to the table. Whatever message your organization shares publicly, it should be authentic to the company’s voice.”
Howard also believes organizations should do more than simply share thoughts and prayers. One of Howard’s responsibilities is creating tangible opportunities for the team to support the New York community – showcasing how social justice, equity and accessibility are central to the organization both on and off the court.
Social responsibility at Liberty
BE UP identifies Liberty’s four social responsibility pillars.
- B – Basketball: The Women’s Sports Foundation estimates that by age 14, girls drop out of sports at two times the rate of boys. To keep girls dribbling and shooting baskets, the team regularly hosts youth clinics with Liberty players, clinicians and athletic trainers.
- E – Embrace: Liberty is committed to strongly advocating for gender equity through career development and mentorships.
- U – Unity: Liberty’s annual Unity initiatives, which challenge social injustices, began in 2016 in response to the unjust police killings of unarmed Black Americans.
- P – Pride: The organization treats every day as an opportunity to stand up and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community and combat unjust biases. This past June, the team celebrated its eighth annual PRIDE Game at Barclays Center, with pre and post-game events, a half-time drag performance and a $5,000 donation presentation to the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
Howard also went deeper into how her organization approaches some key advocacy campaigns.
50th anniversary of Title IX
2022 is the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs and activities, including athletic programs.
To celebrate the golden anniversary, the team hosted a free Title IX Anniversary basketball clinic for girls around New York City, where youth learned about the legislation’s impact on young female athletes; while participating in drills, yoga and other mindfulness exercises.
“It was great to get out into Brooklyn and have an impact on a generation that may not know about Title IX’s history,” Howard said. “Many didn’t even know there was a time when girls weren’t afforded the same access and opportunities as their male counterparts.”
Women’s Empowerment Night
Over the summer, the team hosted its second-annual Women’s Empowerment Night, consisting of a panel discussion with Liberty CEO Keia Clarke, SeatGeek president Danielle Du Toit; and Empire BlueCross BlueShield’s clinical programs manager Deborah Ruggiero. The panel talked about what each leader was doing to empower and advocate for women in sports and healthcare.
Liberty’s #ShineLoudSunday campaign also recognized female leaders who advocate for social change, gender equity, environmental justice and wellness. 2022 honorees include a bakery founder, a principal, and the founder/CEO of a footwear company focused specifically for women’s basketball.
The future of leaders tackling DEI in the workplace
Howard said she is hopeful when asked about how future communicators and leaders will navigate social justice issues in the workplace.
“Today’s leaders are stronger than yesterday’s and much more accepting of others’ differences,” said Howard. “It makes for better culture. People are not being chastised for their differences as they were many years ago.”
Howard, like many leaders, thinks there’s still a lot of work to be done and it all goes back to tapping into one’s humanity.
“We can all use a little more compassion, especially in a world where the COVID-19 pandemic, overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor exists,” she said. “We need to start by viewing our employees as holistic people. Not just people who can do things for us, but for who they are when they leave the office.”
Maria Garcia is actively seeking a career in internal communications. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Communication, and a Master of Arts degree in Professional Communication from DePaul University.
Michelle Patrick is the manager of strategic communication initiatives at DePaul University. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Public Relations and Political Science from Millikin University, and a Master of Arts degree in Professional Communication from DePaul University. When she’s not working, you can find her reading, drinking coffee and planning her next travel adventure.