The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police brutality have rekindled our nation’s neverending fight against racial injustice. These murders have forced us to reexamine the ways in which we contribute to racism both directly and indirectly.
These events have also had a particularly personal impact. Before I began working in tech three years ago, I’d never heard of the terms “diversity and inclusion.” I’d gotten used to being one of the only few people of color wherever I was, so I’d developed a certain complacency towards the status quo. It wasn’t until I joined Informed K12 that I began questioning what a truly diverse and inclusive workplace should look like.
In my time here, I’ve grown as a diversity and inclusion leader. I’ve been encouraged and supported by the team to create more spaces and opportunities for people of all backgrounds to flourish. We’ve become a majority-minority company and have created consistent spaces to have authentic conversations. Still, the recent events made me realize I’d again found complacency in being part of a “diverse organization.” I hadn’t forced myself to consider the ways systemic racism can still affect our team and much more specifically, our black colleagues. I’d become too satisfied with our team status quo that I’d stopped pushing and educating myself on how to continue to be the best ally I could be.
At Informed K12, diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of our company fabric. Still, while we’re intentional about how we are building the company, being “diverse and inclusive” isn’t enough when confronting the systemic racism that deeply impacts the lives of our black and POC colleagues. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is more than website jargon or a task that can be accomplished. It’s a conscious, intentional, and daily effort to educate ourselves and confront the ways in which we perpetuate racism.
We’ve implemented the following practices to help us keep D&I and anti-racist practices at the center of the values of the company:
- Informed K12: Personal and Political Are Not Dirty Words at Work Guide: Our team has created a running guide to serve as a knowledge bank for our team to lean on when educating ourselves on systemic and institutional racism. The incorporation of personal stories from our colleagues who have volunteered to share their experiences and the impact racism has had on their lives helps us view these issues through a more powerful lens. We value our personal experiences just as much as the knowledge we’re all building together.
- Team-Led Monthly Discussion Panels: Our company has hosted monthly, company-wide panels and discussions on a series of diversity and inclusion topics. While normally organized by our People team, we’ve decided to shift the responsibility to individual teams. Once per month, one company team (Sales, Customer Success, Operations, or Engineering) will host a company wide event on a diversity and inclusion subject of their choosing. The intent is to provide each team the opportunity to explore and educate themselves further, while having the opportunity to share their experience and knowledge with the company at-large. Our hope is to empower our team and demonstrate that creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive team is the shared responsibility of all employees.
- Team Small Group Discussions: Following the murder of George Floyd, our team held a company-wide meeting where our team broke out into small groups and brainstormed how we can better educate ourselves as allies and what action we could take as an organization to foster sustainable allyship. Our small groups identified ways we could further support Black and other POC candidates, while also supporting the general representation of Black and POC people within the tech ecosystem through mentorship and other partnership activities. We’re actively implementing changes to our hiring, onboarding and management practices.
- Observance of Juneteenth as a Company Holiday: Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of the last enslaved peoples in Texas, nearly two years after the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve begun observing this holiday by giving our team the day off and encouraging them to engage in activism and continued education on the history of racism in the United States.
We’re fortunate to have the buy-in from our team to be able to execute such immediate actions, but it is still not enough. Our team will continue to evaluate our own internal structures to ensure that we are creating management and retention practices that address instances of racism that are less obvious. John Rice in his article titled, The Difference Between First-Degree Racism and Third-Degree Racism, breaks racism down into three degrees that better illustrate the spectrum of potentially harmful actions that can happen within an organization vs dividing actions into racist and not racist. (Rice is the CEO and founder of Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a nonprofit aimed at transforming and diversifying leadership pipelines.)
- First-Degree Racism: The most well-understood form of racism involves taking actions that people of color view as overtly prejudiced—policing black citizens much differently than whites, calling the police on a black bird-watcher in Central Park who is asking you to obey the law, calling somebody the N-word to show them they are less than you.
- Second-Degree Racism: Then there is opposing or turning one’s back on anti-racism efforts. This includes not speaking up when you witness an action that can be hostile towards a POC or justifying potentially harmful behavior by downplaying it even when POCs are saying they are harmed.
- Third-Degree Racism: A much less overt form of racism that occurs when employers, educational institutions, and governmental entities do not unwind practices that disadvantage POCs in the competition with whites for economic and career mobility. For example, many employers do not recognize that when their workplace is predominately white, their POC employees may spend up to a third of their mental space thinking about whether they belong or not.
Third-degree racism can be much harder to address and remedy because it is so embedded in our society. I remember experiencing third-degree racism early in my career. I was working at a law firm where I was the only Latinx person on the team. I dreaded our weekly team meetings. We would have lunch catered to us and served by the staff. The staff was mostly all Latinx like myself. One on hand, I was proud to look like them, knowing all the sacrifices they were making to strive ahead reminded me of what my parents sacrificed for me. On the other hand, I became insecure, wondering if my colleagues viewed me as “less than” because I looked like the people serving them.
It is the responsibility of employers to create diverse, representative, and equitable teams to remove these more nebulous barriers BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) face throughout their careers. Our leadership team is conscious of the effects the many degrees of racism can have on employees and the mental bandwidth less overt forms of racism can consume. We’re dedicated to examining and addressing blind spots in our own organization This involves a continuous conversation within leadership and between the rest of the company to discuss how we can better support our POC employees and how we can make our work environment a place where third-degree racism is less likely to occur.
We are committed to examining our practices and reflecting on how much further we need to go. We continue to strive to be better every day and build a company rooted in equity and equality.