Editor’s note: Olivia Watson is marketing manager, Sense360, a California-based market research firm. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared under the title, “Survey insights: What should companies do to reform racial inequality?”

Recent #BlackLivesMatter protests highlighted the systems in our country that reinforce racial inequality. We are all part of those systems, and this is a time for reflection on how we can make things better.

At Sense360, we are in a unique position to be able to elevate the voices of people all over the country who are affected by racial inequality.

We feel it's important to survey people; relay their voices to companies and change-agents in the world; share insights on how to facilitate meaningful change; and contribute to reforming systemic racial inequality. 

On June 5-6, we asked people nationwide what kinds of actions companies should take to respond to racial inequality (n=706). 

What should companies do to support the movement?

People want to know that the brands they support are taking action. Large corporations have the platform, funds, lobbying power and influence to make significant reforms a reality. Survey responses indicate that corporate responsibility is not only needed and wanted, but will also generate goodwill among consumers. 

Of the types of corporate actions we asked about, the ones that were given the highest approval rating include volunteering to help clean up after protests and issuing a statement calling for system-wide changes to end racial injustice.

The worst-rated option was if a company stayed silent on the issue, except for expressing a commitment to listen. Companies who participated in the recent #BlackoutTuesday trend should take note – people feel that action is needed, and paying lip service to the movement is not enough.

The chart below shows each corporate action in terms of its Net Promoter Score by subtracting detractor scores and adding supportive scores. The most polarizing response was for companies to "stay silent, except for expressing a commitment to listen."

According to this survey, the worst thing companies can do that feel hesitant to engage in promotion during this time is nothing. Customers want to hear from brands – especially if they are taking concrete, meaningful actions that directly support the cause.

However, people's opinions on corporate responsibility are not uniform. Significant skews on this question emerged between respondents who identified as Caucasian and those who identified as people of color.  

People of color responded more favorably toward the idea of companies sharing and promoting content created by activists who are directly involved in the cause, and also donating to equality programs.

Caucasian respondents were more interested in companies issuing statements calling for peace and unity, but without taking a side politically.

The most and least popular actions saw a high level of consensus, but other options had wider variation in approval based on the ethnicity of the respondents.

Write-in responses on how people would like companies to respond

With the write-in responses in the survey, some common themes emerged. People want companies to support protesters, work to understand one another and take action that goes over and above mere words. 

What about the coronavirus?

Lastly, we asked respondents whether they expect the protests and civil unrest to change the level of attention or seriousness given to COVID-19 restrictions.

Over half of people felt that the protests would divert at least some attention away from COVID-19. 

Let's continue the conversation

At Sense360, we stand in solidarity against racism and join the peaceful protesters who strive to fix a system that has failed too many people. In addition to sharing our research with the industry, we're matching employee donations to non-profits that support the fight for racial equality.

Methodology note: The survey was fielded June 5-6, 2020, to the general U.S. population, with results weighted to align with Census representation of gender, age and ethnicity.