By Erin Ewart
As we recognize and honor Black History Month, I thought it was a good time to share an update with you on our commitment to anti-racism.
I shared some initial thoughts on this over the summer, and today I want to share what we have been working on since then, and what we are committed to doing in the year ahead.
What We’ve Been Focused On
In the early stages of this work we have been focused on three main areas:
1. Naming our values. As a foundation for this work, we have formalized our organizational values, with one of these being Equity & Access. Just as we encourage our clients to get clear on their values before embarking on a career transition, we recognized that it was important for us to have this foundation in place to move forward with this work. These values will guide everything we do moving forward, including our anti-racism work.
2. Engaging in learning and reflection. The more I learn about anti-racism, the more I realize I need to learn. This is of course a lifelong process and something that I as an individual and we as a team will be continuing on an ongoing basis. In 2020, I joined several anti-racism training and education programs and worked 1:1 with a coach focused on anti-racism. I also committed to reading and listening to more content created by people of color to deepen my understanding of their experiences and the history of racism in our country.
3. Exploring how to expand access to our programs. In summer 2020, we implemented a scholarship program for participants in our Job Search Bootcamp Program who identify as BIPOC. We provided five scholarships in 2020 and we are continuing this program in 2021. We know that this is not the only lever in providing more equitable access to our programs, and we will continue to explore other ways we can honor this commitment.
Our Commitments for 2021
Below are the commitments we are making for 2021. This is our starting point, and we very much welcome your feedback. These commitments have been informed by the anti-racist small business pledge that we signed on to last summer.
1. Ensure at least 30% of our spending goes to Black-owned businesses. After analyzing our spending for 2020, this figure was just over 20%. In 2021 we are aiming to make this at least 30% by seeking out and prioritizing working with Black-owned businesses and vendors.
2. Update our programs and content with an anti-racist lens. We will be reviewing our content to ensure that diverse perspectives are represented, that we are infusing anti-racist principles into our curriculum, materials, and teaching, and that we are prioritizing inclusivity in our programs. This is an ongoing and long-term process which we will continue beyond this year.
3. Continue to expand access to our programs. In recognition of the systemic barriers that our BIPOC clients have faced, we will continue to prioritize offering scholarships to our group programs in 2021, and we will explore other ways that we can expand access to our programs for traditionally marginalized groups.
4. Commit to continued anti-racism education and learning. This is an ongoing process, and we will continue to add to it. I am committing to participating in at least two programs focused on anti-racism this year and to continuing to prioritize reading, listening to, and watching content that will broaden my understanding of the history of racism in our country and the lived experiences of marginalized groups.
5. Create a statement about our commitment to anti-racism. This statement will be displayed on our website and in other public-facing materials (i.e. job descriptions, program applications) to make it clear where we stand and ensure that our future clients, partners, and vendors understand and share our commitment.
What’s Guiding Our Work
I know that anti-racism is something that many of you are also thinking about and working to embed into your lives, so I wanted to share a few of the themes and learnings that are informing our approach, in case they are also helpful to you.
1. Balancing the need for deeper internal work and learning with taking action, and the need for transparency and accountability with the risk of being performative. Over the last few months I have recognized how much personal learning and growth I have to do in my own anti-racism journey, and that this process is never-ending. One of the big themes I have learned about and a key characteristic of white supremacy culture – and something I have definitely recognized in myself – is the tendency to want to jump right into taking action, without engaging in the deeper work that is needed to truly understand the roots of racism and the needs and experiences of people and communities of color.
Right now, I am trying to balance this need for continued learning with taking some initial actions, such as shifting our spending. I am trying to resist the urge to wait until I have it “right” to speak publicly about where we are, while also ensuring we have something substantive to say and that we’re not talking about this work to feel or look good. I do think it’s important to periodically share what we’re doing, to align with our value of transparency and so that we can be held accountable for the things we commit to, which is why I’m sharing this update now.
2. Creating systems and structures that keep anti-racism work front and center, and finding ways to align it with what we already do. This work is so important to me personally, and I recognize that it will require intention and commitment to continue it over the long-term. My goal is that eventually it will become ingrained into all my thoughts and actions, and that it will be an integral part of how we think about and run all aspects of this business.
I know that getting to this state of alignment will take time, intention, and deliberate practice. So for now, I am putting structures in place to ensure that I am consistently thinking about and focusing on anti-racism. So far, this has looked like working with a coach and taking courses to continue my learning in a structured way, and engaging in a group with several other business owners who I meet with regularly for peer support and accountability.
My coach has also encouraged me to diversify more aspects of my life by following my interests and seeking to add more diversity to the things I already do and am naturally drawn to. This was an important mindset shift for me and has helped me start to incorporate this learning into my life in a more organic way. I love history, so one thing I’ve been focused on is reading and listening to content that looks at racism through a historical lens, like the 1619 Project and Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste.
3. Focusing on what our unique contribution can be. There is so much work that needs to happen to dismantle racist systems that it can sometimes feel overwhelming. When this happens, I try to remind myself that while none of us can do everything on our own, we each have important work to do that aligns with our own strengths and capabilities.
I believe that as an organization we can add the most value by focusing on the realm of work and careers, both by helping our clients know and center their values as they navigate their careers and helping them understand how racism and other forms of discrimination permeate the workplace and hiring systems, and how they can navigate these systems and play a role in dismantling them.
We look forward to sharing and developing more content on these topics, and as you make your own anti-racism commitments we encourage you to think about the areas and actions that align best with your strengths, skills and experience.
Thank you, and we will look forward to sharing periodic updates with you as we continue this work. If you have feedback you would like to share with us as we move forward, I would very much welcome it.