While the rest of the world is learning to recognize (dare I say, accept) transgender and nonbinary people, Israeli society is moving back into the Dark Ages as it continues to erase women in the public sphere.
Last week’s scandal erupted when it was discovered that women’s faces on products at a Be pharmacy (a chain of pharmacies owned by Shufersal), were being erased. This took place in the Ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. Following public backlash, the Be company retracted their stance removing the products with the purple stickers they had put on the faces of women in order to erase them.
Interestingly, the brand chose to cover women’s faces with purple stickers that match Be’s branding. What the brand (or branch managers) chose not think about, were the company’s values, and if those were in line with their actions.
When values live only on paper
Let’s take a step back for a moment to discuss values, as every company seems to have them plastered on their website. Don’t get me wrong, a company’s values (as well as its mission and vision), can help companies in ways it couldn’t in the past. To paraphrase Jim Stengel, former CMO of Proctor and Gamble and author of Grow, in a world where everything has become a commodity, what sets companies apart are their values.
Except that having your company values listed on your website, or painted on your office walls, means nothing. Having values and living by your values are two very different things. The value of values from a business standpoint come into play when companies have values and live by them. Values are a vital and powerful tool that, when used correctly, act as a north star guiding companies in their strategy, enabling alignment, helping companies build a competitive advantage, and strengthen brand loyalty, among other advantages.
When companies fail to act in accordance with the values they claim to live by, they reveal a misalignment that undermines their competitive advantage and erodes brand loyalty.
Code of Ethics – Really?
If you visit Shufersal’s vision and code of ethics page (I couldn’t find a similar website for the Be chain which Shufersal owns), you’ll find that Shufersal ties its vision to its code of ethics.
Except that having a code of ethics and core values you claim to live by, mean nothing if your employees and stakeholders don’t understand what they mean. Values need to be clearly communicated and understood across the entire company in order to avoid mistakes in alignment.
According to Shufersal one of their values is “upholding human dignity” which they define as “treating with respect all employees, customers, and suppliers with whom we work.”
I won’t get into how they could have written that better, or why upholding the dignity of people would only apply to the people they work. Instead let’s take a look at the key word that defines how they uphold human dignity – respect.
Respect – what does it mean?
In a post I wrote for Yom Haatzmaut, Oshra Yosef-Friedman, the Deputy Director-General of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, defined respect as
“the recognition and protection of human dignity. The most basic rights are the right to life and dignity. The right to dignity states that every person has the right not be subjected to degradation, disrespect, or abuse, the right to privacy and the right to not have false information published about them…”
But respect means different things to different people and different organizations.
One of 3M’s core values, which they share in their code of conduct handbook, is “be respectful.”
Before we talk about how they define it. I’d like to point out how they understand values as shown in the message from the chairman and CEO on page two:
- “Great and enduring companies are driven by purpose, and built on a foundation of trust…”
- “Every decision we make must be guided by our Code of Conduct.”
- “Living and working by our values is fundamental to our continued success as a company and as individual.”
In other words. According to 3M:
- Values are important
- Values guide actions
- Success is a product of living and working in accordance with values, and values are intrinsic to humans, and not just when they’re at work
3M then go on to dedicate eleven pages (!) to explaining what respect means.
If you look through the code of conduct, you’ll see that 3M didn’t leave anything to their employees’ imagination. They highlight respect as a core value, define it, and even provide examples of what it should look like (and not look like), as a behavior.
What could Be have done differently?
If Shufersal’s vision and code of ethics applies to its drugstore chain, then its employees should have been trained to understand what the values in the code of ethics mean and how they apply in every day life.
Had these values meant anything, decision-makers could have asked themselves:
- What does “respect” mean and how do we apply it?
- Where the culture of customers at a certain branch differ from customers at other branches does the definition of “respect” change? And if so, how?
- Does redefining “respect” elevate everyone’s human dignity or diminish it?
- Do we let biases compromise the way we define “respect”?
- Is ongoing monitoring and evaluation conducted to ensure that human dignity is upheld consistently?
On the other hand, if Be has a different vision and code of ethics than Shufersal, then it should let its employees and stakeholders know. I could not find a site devoted to the Be brand. And though their LinkedIn page states that the chain was acquired with the “vision of reshaping the Pharm industry in Israel and creating significant innovation,” how they define it and what that looks like is unclear.
If Be has different values than its parent brand, their work is cut out for them.
Be (and Shufersal) made a huge mistake. It is still too early to tell what the implications may be.
However, if they are wise, Be (and Shufersal) can use this as a learning moment to gain knowledge and insights into things they can do in the future to “uphold human dignity” if this is indeed one of their core values.
First steps include:
- Reflecting on their company’s vision, mission, and values. And if these don’t exist, they must begin with asking themselves questions like: why does Be do what it does? What difference does Be make? Why does it matter?
- Engage with employees, customers and suppliers and ask them questions such as: Why did you choose to work with us/buy from us? What do you like most about working here/working with us/buying here? What sets us apart from other companies?
- Do a competitive analysis. What are some successful pharmacies in Israel and in the world. What are their values, how do they define them, live them and communicate them? Identify themes and opportunities that set them apart.
If they do nothing else, I hope Be (and all other brands), learn from their mistake. Israel may be light years behind in how they treat women. It’s time to fix that. Apart from being the right thing to do, there’s a lot of money that can be made by companies that do it right.