Good Good Work has a problem.
Our social justice oriented co-op is currently made up entirely of white contributors. We’re not alone in this; it’s no secret that technology companies often have this problem.
I’d been busily chugging along with work until a couple weeks back, when someone brought up a conversation about emoji skin tone usage in our contributor Slack channel. It prompted a much larger conversation about race, identity, and diversity. Needless to say, that then prompted me to write this post, publicly acknowledging the problem.
My intention here is to be transparent, honest, vulnerable, to admit that I’m not necessarily doing it right, that I may continue to not do it right as I learn and grow, and to open the space to many more voices.
My hope is to make Good Good Work a better place to work and to make myself a better person to work/be in relationship with.
You can track along with me (and Good Good Work) here. I’ll be writing updates on my/our progress as I/we begin to address this issue head-on.
How it got this way
It wasn’t that I didn’t notice all the white faces, it was that I hadn’t made diversity a priority.
When Good Good Work first started out in the spring of 2017, Drew (my co-founder) and I were aware that we were likely to encounter this problem if we weren’t proactive. Before we even had time to write a plan for addressing equality and inclusion, we published the first version of our website. Almost immediately there were people from all walks of life reaching out, wanting to join. I was in no place to bring people in, though. I barely knew how to make it work for the two of us! There was zero capacity to mindfully onboard anyone else…plus the co-op had no money yet.
I turned no one away, but I did tell everyone the same thing: “We can’t offer you any client work right now. What we can offer you is a place to bring clients and projects that need a bigger team, or a place to collaborate and build something new, so long as you’re willing to steward your own projects.”
No one was really interested. Surprise, surprise. The prerequisites for that kind of work are often experience, expendable income, and privilege. Asking folks to generate their own income excludes otherwise hardworking, valuable, and talented people of all backgrounds.
And that’s how we landed here.
Immediate next steps
The issue isn’t that we need to fill a quota. The issue is that we need a diversity of lived experience to do our best work. If my aim as a technologist is to build tools to help communities find justice and autonomy, then I believe the people who are building those tools should represent the very people they’re serving. Because I didn’t initially prioritize outreach and inclusion, I’ve landed here, at a place that feels out of alignment with my values and goals.
Here’s the truth: I do know some of the steps we need to take as a group to make the right changes. The very first step is to do an assessment of implicit bias and cultural proficiency in our own group, requesting each person to do some deep internal work. At least this is what I would do if I were brought in as a consultant for a group that has this same issue.
Steps beyond this assessment (for me) will likely include stretching past my capacity/comfort zone, connecting with other communities here in Colorado, and building relationships with people one-on-one. Not showing up and telling, not making a request, just listening and connecting. From there, it’ll be more obvious where collaborations on work will come from.
Relationships first, work second.
It’ll be hard, in part because Colorado is probably the whitest place I’ve lived since I was 10 years old. I spent most of my life in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York, where communities of color are less segregated than they are here. But that’s no excuse.
The reality is that I need to stretch past capacity to do the work that’s most important to my values; I believe people find time for the things that are most important.
At the moment this feels like a big stretch for me. The challenge ahead is balancing this work with self care, especially where it comes into play with my mental health and my need to manage my capacity for social interaction (hint: it’s pretty limited).
I’m not quite sure what this looks like yet, but I have faith in the process. I hope you’ll follow along and join the conversation. And if anyone reading this has any tools for introverts trying to be social while maintaining mental fortitude, I welcome them with open arms.
Thanks for reading.