View From Here - February 2021
By Kerry Guard
I recently listened to a podcast on Dare to Lead with Brené Brown and Aniko Bethea. Aniko wrote an open letter on Medium to the corporate America the day after George Floyd’s death in May of 2020. The episode works to pull the letter apart and dig in and what more we need to do as organizations. It’s a coaching session. It’s brilliant and inspiring.
In the episode they talk greatly about Accountability. It’s all well and good to show up and say you’re an ally. What are you going to do about it?
With Black History Month having come to an end days ago, our view from here at MKG, is that the work doesn’t stop. We have to keep going.
Last year, after the death of George Floyd, Mike and I came together and said, what next? Here’s what we did:
We held a meeting with clear guidelines and expectations.
In our playbook we talk about how there is no place for politics at our organization as it’s polarizing and drives people apart rather than bringing them together. However, I was clear that this was not about politics. This was about human rights and we need to come together as an organization and recognize that. Politics were still kept off the table and everyone who spoke, spoke in “I feel” statements. Also, this was not a “town hall” like in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. I called each black member of our organization to ask how they were and to see how they felt about having this meeting. Then an email went outlining what the meeting was for, how people were expected to show up, and the agenda.
Everyone showed up. All 14 employees. Not everyone spoke, but everyone was present and was actively listening. Those who did speak all came from a very vulnerable open place with lots of different feelings: anger, hurt, guilt, shame, sadness, and most importantly (IMHO) hope. One of our black employees was even brave to share their perspective which everyone gave them the floor to do with courtesy and grace.
It was the most important meeting our organization has had. As Aniko said in the podcast, don’t just have a town hall to have an open floor and no agenda. We had a very clear agenda and very clear guidelines on how people needed to show up. At the end of the meeting I laid out action items of what we were to do next. The first step was training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
The training was important and helpful. It gave us vocabulary on how to have tough conversations. It was group activity and discussion based. The first was a game to give us vocabulary. Then we did 4 exercises in small groups: Identify what white privilege looks like. Trending For the Future. Then Dream Boards of what having a more black and diverse organization looks like. Scenarios of how to handle tough situations around racism. Finally we talked through OKRs - Things we could do as an organization to be more diverse and inclusive.
Here were some of the ideas on how we can contribute to change.
- Partner with HBCs & Universities to find a paid assistant who we train right out of college.
- Community outreach projects/events with a Mentor/mentee program (different race)
- Dedicate a percentage of budget to things like scholarships and training programs
Every team member showed up and every team member contributed and participated.
Just because Black History Month is over, and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Trayvon Martin (and so many more) died over 6 months ago doesn’t mean the work ends. As Aniko and Brené said… you spell love, T.I.M.E. We’re not going to solve racism over night, but we need to keep the work going and not let up.
The most important element from Aniko and Brené’s talk was about accountability. I like to say at MKG that with freedom comes accountability. This is an important word that keeps our organization in check on both sides - employee and employer.
So in taking this word to heart, I felt that coming out of Black History Month it was important to let our team mates, clients, partners, and readers know how we plan to continue our work.
- Each quarter at all our All Hands we plan to carve out time to dig into one of the team’s ideas and brainstorm how to make it happen, then go do it.
- We also have been working to grow our team’s diversity by finding sites like blackmarketers.org and https://www.hiretechladies.com/. When recruiting we look at cities with high density of diversity like Austin, Atlanta, Boston, and more. 13% of our FTEs are from the black community. We need to continue to diversify as we continue to grow.
- I’m working with Kristina and her team to set up Part 2 of training for this year.
- Continue to diversify our podcast. 12% of our guests are people from the black community. I have work to do.
This is just the list we have right now. That doesn’t mean once we “check these boxes” we stop. It means we dig in and find more and keep learning and keep going. There is work to be done.