Pivoting to Antiracism

I am horrified and angered by the killings of Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. Too many members of the Black community have lost their lives because of racial injustice and police brutality. While over the past week we’ve seen expressions of outrage spill into the streets in protest, the protests are not just about getting justice for these most recent murders. The protests are also about hundreds of years of systemic racism, the deep divisions and injustice in our society, and achieving racial equity.

The events of the last few weeks have made it clear that existing diversity and inclusion initiatives at thoughtbot are not enough. It is incumbent upon us to identify steps we can take in our own sphere of influence to actively counter racism.

As a majority white company, we don’t want to center ourselves on this issue. Our goal in making this post is to recognize our privilege and leverage it to provide examples to other companies like us of changes, large and small, we can make towards anti-racism.

We also want to publicly hold ourselves accountable. It is easy to commit to actions right now, but this work does not go away when the current news cycle ends.

Step 1: Listen and Learn

The first thing we did last week was listen and learn. We acknowledged how difficult maintaining professionalism can be during this time, and we shared this post internally of things people can do for racial justice.

Despite our active Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council, internal prior conversations, and training programs, many of our team members wanted to learn more. The reading list below was shared, and many of us have started or are rereading them:

We recommend purchasing directly from the authors when possible, or a local Black-owned bookstore.

Step 2: Donate

The company and many individuals here have donated to racial justice and anti-racism organizations. People sharing matching programs or offering to match others has been particularly effective.

Some of the programs we’ve donated to are:

Step 3: Reflect and Change

We are just beginning this step. In addition to the work happening in our D&I Council, many people in thoughtbot studios have started identifying ways we can further change our own internal policies and practices from one of iterative improvement to thoughtbot towards one of actively countering racism both inside and outside of thoughtbot.

The first of these changes has been made to our official policies. In order for our conference benefit to apply, events now must have a diverse speaker lineup, especially one that includes Black women, nonbinary, and Indigenous speakers. In addition, they now must also have a Code of Conduct or Anti-Harassment Policy. To ensure that the Code of Conduct wasn’t adopted without internalizing it or understanding why, it must also be accompanied by a plan to enforce it.

Similarly, the same requirements now apply for any events we sponsor as a company.

These changes are a start, but we’re not done. It’s very important that we don’t lose momentum, and that we make changes large and small to create change. Along the way, we’ll continue to share the changes we’ve made.

Step 4: Take Action

While we have previously been making efforts to improve our own environment through efforts like our Diversity and Inclusion Council, reducing the impact of unconscious bias in our hiring process, and a variety of training programs, we must take action as we identify the new changes we can make to actively counter racism. We are at the beginning stages of this step.

Our first action will lead to more. We are adding Juneteenth, a celebration of the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy, as an official company holiday in the US. Going forward, Juneteenth replaces our Presidents’ Day holiday.

Because we’ve already taken Presidents’ Day this year, and budgeted for a certain number of holidays, this year we will make Juneteenth a “day of action”. Together we will have the day to take antiracist actions. They could be internal to us, such as continued working on adjusting our policies and benefits to be antiracist, protesting (for those who are comfortable doing so), or finding other ways to take action.

We are just getting started with this more active stance against racism, and it will be a long road ahead. thoughtbot is filled with well-intentioned, kind, and thoughtful people, but the hard truth is that because of the systemic presence of racism, whether through our own action or inaction, we have not always been a safe place for Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC).

This truth weighs heavily on my heart, and I am committed to taking the next steps, in solidarity with our BIPOC team members, to unlearn the racism that manifests in our hearts, minds, and actions, and to become the company and community we aspire to be, fully living up to our values.