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Culture and Engagement

Our plan of action for an inclusive and anti-racist workplace

How do we understand and meaningfully address our part in perpetuating systemic racism? What does it mean to create an inclusive and anti-racist work environment?

10 minute read
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The killing of George Floyd last May—along with the subsequent protests against racial and social injustice around the world—deeply challenged us as an organization as well as our sister company OXD. Diversity and inclusion had always mattered to us, but these events made us realize that there was so much more we could be—and should be—doing.

Like many organizations, we wrestled with how to respond. In an all-staff email sent on June 2nd, 2020 to both companies President and Founder Darren Gibbons paraphrased political activist Angela Davis, “It’s not enough to be ‘not racist’—we need to be anti-racist.” He announced a donation-matching program for staff but also wrote, “Alone, these acts are empty gestures and nothing more than virtue-signaling. These are quick reactions to a long term problem.”

We agreed that it wasn’t enough to merely post a generic message of solidarity and then assume we had done our part. Real, genuine action is more than a social post or a public statement of empty condemnation. And yet we were fearful of not getting it right.

How do we understand and meaningfully address our part in perpetuating systemic racism? What does it mean to create an inclusive and anti-racist workplace? While this wasn’t exactly a new direction for us, we realized this was a real opportunity for change and action in the workplace.

One of our core values is “We Evolve.” But where would we start?

We invited employees to participate in collaborative group discussions covering a variety of topics including: 

  • Reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement 
  • Reaction to our president’s all-company email on the topic
  • Emotions we felt over the past few weeks
  • What being anti-racist means to us
  • What following through on our company commitment to justice and equity should look like

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Eight themes

These conversations generated over 120 different ideas. We analyzed the data, merged similar ideas, and grouped them into eight theme areas: 

    1. Advocate to customers
    2. Improve our project process
    3. Review our hiring practices
    4. Review the use of anti-racist language and design patterns in our product design
    5. Partner and volunteer with anti-racist organizations
    6. Publish what we’re doing to combat racism in our company, city, province, and country
    7. Create diversity and inclusion guidelines to give our teams direction and make a public commitment to hold ourselves accountable for continuing this work
    8. Engage with outside consultants and experts to train and educate our staff on anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion

Based on these themes and ideas, we developed lots of potential tactics as a starting point. In the interest of transparency and continued accountability, we’re sharing these publicly. And, while all these ideas may not apply to your company, we hope that by sharing our approach we can help other organizations that are also struggling with where and how to begin.

Tactics and ideas

Here is where we’re at so far with our list of staff-generated ideas from the discussion series. This isn’t a complete or finalized list and not all of these may be feasible, but it’s a starting point. Our work here will be evolving and generative.

Theme 1: Advocate to customers 

Intended outcomes: Advocate on behalf of users who are inequitably treated through the way our software is used, and positively influence our customers’ culture and process at the same time. 

Potential tactics

  • Evaluate who we do business with and seek out customers who align with our values.
  • Provide guidance to our employees who are unsure of how to deal with racist and problematic behavior from our customers and colleagues.

Theme 2: Improve our project process 

Intended outcomes: Revisit our processes through the lens of systemic racism and identify opportunities to promote diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

Potential tactics

  • Plan mandatory time for a racial and inclusivity assessment of our work into each project.
  • Use intersectionality as a lens for user research.
  • Examine user interview practices for sources of systemic bias.
  • Develop best practices for research participant recruitment criteria regarding race and other diversity considerations.
  • Use more diverse testing data when creating test scripts for quality assurance testing.

Theme 3: Review our hiring practices

Intended outcomes: Continue to build on the good practices already used by Thoughtfarmer’s leadership team. 

Potential tactics 

  • Review the language we use to reach out to candidates.
  • Engage with Black and Indigenous employee resource groups for hiring advice.
  • Look for inadvertent biases, for example, through. third-party recruiters.
  • Ensure that we’re looking for job candidates from a wide pool of diverse groups.
  • Partner with training and internship programs that bring under-represented groups into the industry.
  • When hiring, look for candidates with diversity- and inclusivity-based skill sets.
  • Support Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) staff in their career development goals.

Theme 4: Review the use of anti-racist language and design patterns in our product design

Intended outcomes: Develop best practices for our documents and deliverables that are inclusive and culturally safe. 

Potential tactics 

  • Create a process to check for internal biases and stereotypes when creating visuals.
  • Counter racial stereotypes as much as possible when it comes to selecting visuals in our creative work, creating personas, and telling stories about our users.
  • Use inclusive language in communications, marketing copy, and product copy. 

Theme 5: Partner and volunteer with anti-racist organizations

Intended outcomes: Build on our legacy of volunteering and donating in the community by intentionally partnering with BIPOC organizations. Use company influence and purchasing power to support BIPOC contractors and vendors. 

Potential tactics 

  • Make our June 2020 anti-racism donation-matching program an ongoing initiative.
  • Buy everything from office supplies to catering from minority-owned businesses.
  • Offer free intranets for organizations at the forefront of the racial justice movement.
  • Promote and partner with organizations already doing the work for social change in work similar to ours.
  • Amplify BIPOC voices and work in design and technology.
  • Offer paid internships to students from marginalized communities.
  • Partner with local BIPOC organizations and support their work. Offer tutoring or mentoring with these organizations.

Theme 6: Publish what we’re doing to combat racism in our company, city, province, and country

Intended outcomes: Create an aligned understanding within our organization. Hold ourselves accountable by sharing process and progress internally and externally.

Potential tactics

  • Publish our company’s progress on these initiatives every quarter.
  • Publish blog posts on what we are doing.

Theme 7: Create standards and principles

Intended outcomes: Create a culture and standard of safety, diversity, and inclusion with clear, socialized values and guidelines. Provide staff with the tools required for personal and professional growth.  

Potential tactics 

  • Create a strategic plan to proactively bring greater equality into our paid projects.
  • Develop our inclusive design principles and publish them on our website.
  • Incorporate anti-racism statements into our values.
  • Review Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action (PDF) and take action.
  • Review our communications terminology and move away from racialized terms. 
  • Engage with staff to understand problems and issues in our workplace.
  • Create an anti-racism playbook with concrete actions, things to say, and ways to approach problematic situations.
  • Articulate inclusive behaviour human resource standards and post them on our intranet.

Theme 8: Engage with outside consultants and experts to train and educate our staff on anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion 

Intended outcomes: Continue a culture of continuous learning, personal growth, and professional development for diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism. 

Potential tactics 

  • Bring in third-party training and workshops that deal with diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.
  • Give employees time to attend webinars or educational sessions on diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.
  • Create a directory of diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism workplace resources, especially those specific to our work and industry.
  • Ensure that the existing diversity and inclusion  practices in our work are visible to others in the company.

Personal growth and action for our individual employees

As many ideas from the discussions have relevance at both the office and at home, we collated individual actions for employees to consider for personal growth and action.

Self reflection 

  • Identify where you have been racist or anti-racist.
  • Learn techniques and activities to examine your own biases.
  • Listen before speaking.
  • Address racist actions and behaviour in the moment you hear or see them.
  • Re-evaluate the companies you choose to support in favour of those that take an anti-racist stance.

Self education 

  • Commit time to read, learn, and write more about anti-racism and to share useful resources.
  • Learn from and work with the next generation on what it means to be anti-racist.
  • Learn specifically about the history of racism in Canada and the United States.
  • Research political candidates and make voting decisions based on removing systemic racism.

Next steps to an anti-racist workplace

On the surface, a list of ideas might not seem much more active than a social post. But the process of engaging staff over these difficult topics has already impacted our corporate thinking and approach on many levels. And of course, we’re not stopping there. This is just the beginning.

Our next steps include: 

  • Establish concrete goals and commitments at the corporate level.
  • Create a running backlog of initiatives, and work through them in a sprint-based, Agile process.
  • Expand our working group and never stop gathering feedback and ideas.

We look forward to keeping you updated as we continue our journey to creating a more inclusive and anti-racist workplace. If you have any feedback or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.