In times of civil unrest, political turmoil, and fights for social equality across race, gender, class, and sexual orientation, Black women have always risen as leaders. The current pandemic the globe is facing has proven to be no different, with Black women being on the front lines as healthcare providers and political and business leaders. Finding myself in the position of having to cope with how Covid-19 has affected me personally while also supporting my team and achieving my company’s business goals as a Black woman in middle management, I’ve been particularly interested in the latter: How are Black women business leaders showing up for their colleagues and their customers while caring for themselves?
To find that answer, I began interviewing Black women in top positions at at some of the largest companies in the world, the first being Raj Register, Head of Brand Strategy and Growth Audience Marketing at Ford. Having witnessed Ford’s purposeful commitment to Black women firsthand at Essence Fest last summer, and again with the brand’s new Escape “Built Phenomenally” campaign which debuted during Urban One Honors this year, I was curious whether the coronavirus had shifted that focus at all. When I spoke to Register by phone, she told me in no uncertain terms it had not.
“African-American women are very important to us, our business, and our bottom line and so we won’t turn our backs.”
Check out our conversation below as she talks about how Ford is showing up for Black women, the African-American community as a whole, and frontline workers during this tumultuous time and why she doesn’t want the world to go back to how it was once the pandemic passes.
How has Covid-19 affected your role as Head of Brand Strategy and Growth Audience Marketing at Ford?
It’s hard to say it’s just me. It’s how has our team, how has our company, how have our agency partners been affected. We all have to become very agile but also very focused on ourselves and our families first. I’m thankful to work for Ford where it was very early on, “We need to shift the direction.”
For me and my team, I really make sure that they’re okay first. We do multiple weekly check-ins, and the first thing I truly really want to find out is, is your family okay? How are you doing? And then we get into business. There’s a lot of tough choices that we had to make and there’s a lot of things that will shift and evolve because of this, but my attitude has been, one, to stay positive and make sure that they understand that I’m here when they need me and to be understanding that they’re going to have a kid run in or a dog barking or need to run to the store to grab an essential or something like that so we have to be flexible with how we treat one another but also keep the business first and foremost and make sure we’re still able to deliver.
Can you talk about Ford’s commitment to provide respirators for healthcare workers and ventilators for coronavirus patients? Are there other relief efforts underway?
All of those things are continuing to evolve. We committed to producing 50,000 ventilators. Our commitment was 1,500 by the end of this month, another 12,000 by the end of May, and then get to that 50,000 commitment number by July 4 and then as is needed. The plan is to provide up to 30,000 a month thereafter.
We partnered with Wayne State University to create mobile testing for Covid-19 for the first responders so we’re able to do about 100 of those a day with the results coming back in 24-36 hours. Face masks, that’s another thing we worked with 3M on, we’re looking to provide about 3 million face masks and to not only look out for our community, but also those on the front lines and in the fire of this terrible pandemic. We need them, but they also need to be safe.
This year in particular a lot of effort has been put forth in placing Black women at the forefront of your campaign and marketing efforts, how does the virus change that? In what ways is Ford showing up for its African-American customers in particular, whom we know are disproportionately affected by the virus?
As of now the company is taking a holistic look at Covid-19. There are several communities, especially in the southeast Michigan area, where African Americans are being affected, so with the Ford Fund there’s been several initiatives that they’ve put in place. Right now they have a match program with Bill Ford where he’s donating $500,000 of his personal dollars which will be matched by other donors up to $1 million. So some of those designated communities for African Americans will receive some of that money. They also have a program called Read and Record where several employees across the globe are reading children’s books in their language to try and help those students with literacy and learning that may not have as many necessary resources. Ford Fund also had a big initiative with HBCUs helping provide funding for students who were stranded to get home.
Our commitment to African Americans has not been set aside by any stretch of the imagination. Right now we’re trying to understand from a planning and marketing standpoint how we’re going to address this consumer after all of this dies down — so what’s the mindset of African-American women and how are we going to put forth things in the community that will help them in the aftermath? Quite frankly, I don’t know what that looks like. Today we had a meeting with a media partner and they gave us data on the disparity of African Americans under-indexing in being able to work from home because they are the first responders. They are the ones that are working in the production facilities and they’re the ones being affected most often. When you think about the whole picture, we’re going to be looking at what can we do to support them with this new normal.
From a national standpoint, we came out with Built to Lend a Hand, which is six months of relief for qualified consumers, so three months will be deferred payment and then there will be another three months relief funded by Ford Credit. That’s another area where some of our community may be able to benefit if they are in a situation where they just acquired a new vehicle or purchased a vehicle within the last year they would be able to benefit from this program.
Ford is a founding partner of FREE THE WORK, a nonprofit initiative advocating for companies to provide more opportunities for underrepresented creators. Due to Covid-19 many content creators are finding themselves out of work. What do efforts with that initiative look like right now?
Overall, the business itself is evolving, but our commitment has not changed. Ford is a founding partner of FREE THE WORK and it’s still very important to us, but we have to make sure that we operate with integrity and that we aren’t going out and producing too soon or pushing the needle where people are getting sick or affected because they’re on set with us and they had to be there because they want to make money. We want to produce content as well but we have to do it in the safest way possible, so right now we’re looking at all different solutions. It’s evolving but our commitment to FREE THE WORK is still as strong as when we signed on as a founding partner last November.
How are you taking care of yourself and your family at this time as you navigate these new waters?
By grace and mercy to tell you the truth. My days are very intense, but I’m not too hard on myself. I have two kids and they’re both doing different types of things for learning so I start the day with looking at their schedules and making sure that they’re setup for virtual learning. My little guy is in kindergarten so he’s much more active where my daughter is a lot more structured so I balance that, along with preparing meals, and I have a husband, and am working so one thing I’ve really tried to do each day is plan a portion of time to eat lunch consistently. Before I would work through lunch, now I can’t do that so I just block off 30 minutes to get lunch together and set up dinner, and if a ball drops that was a soft ball then I don’t worry about it. I try to keep the glass ones in the air while also making sure people around me understand what I’m able to do and what I’m not. And I lean into my friends. I have virtual chats, gratitude sessions, and happy hours to make sure I protect my mental space as well because I can fill the day up with tasks but at the end of the day it won’t really get me anything other than being tired. I also take family walks and workout as I want to end corona on the right side of the fence mentally and physically.
How do you remain positive and what are your hopes for what life and business look like on the other side of Covid-19?
I start my day off with meditation and listing the things I’m grateful for and also recognizing the things I did well and not focusing on the things that went wrong. I don’t really wish the world would go back to how it was. I think that this is causing all of us to take a pause and be very grateful for relationships, for blessings that we have, for resources, and I really hope that when we come out of this there will be a lot more community and togetherness. I really hope that the world changes, and it may sound grandiose but you have to force yourself now to pay attention to stuff.
If this didn’t happen, I was going to be gone probably three weeks in the month of March and at first I was kind of bummed out, like I’m missing this conference or I’m missing this or that and then I just took a step back and said thank you. You know, I have a house, I have food, I have resources. Do I have everything that I want at this point right now? No, but at the same time, almost every day I’m seeing a death. My dad had Covid and spent a week in the hospital. He’s still recovering. I have friends that have been affected. We lost a family friend — my husband’s fraternity brother and high school friend died. So when you start putting it all together it’s like, what’s really important? Is it the stuff or is it how we live and how we show up for those we love and care about? So how I want to see it, I want everyone to thrive and be happy but I think there should also be a lot more intention for how we show up in the world.