How Local Tech Companies Are Taking Action to Support the Black Community

July 16, 2020
NYC article
illustration by  Tetiana Yurchenko/shutterstock.com

While allyship can assume many different forms, recent efforts from a trio of local NYC tech companies share a common through line: intentional introspection and thoughtful dialogue paired with decisive action.

“I think the past few weeks have been both a wake-up call and a call to action for companies that consider diversity and inclusion to be among their core values,” Genesis Whitlock, talent acquisition manager at Gemini, said. 

According to Whitlock, recent endeavors from the cryptocurrency platform include charitable donations to anti-racism organizations, recognizing Juneteenth as a company holiday (a first) and the formation of a “principal-level” DEI position that Whitlock herself will soon assume.

“With this kind of support and action, I’m excited to continue the work I’m doing to build an inclusive company alongside my colleagues,” Whitlock said. 

Likewise, e-commerce marketer Yotpo has taken steps to bolster its DEI initiatives, according to Director of People Stevie Cogan. Actions have entailed highlighting Black-owned businesses, reviewing recruiting and onboarding efforts and tapping an external DEI consultant to help cultivate a more inclusive work setting. 

“We’re committed to continuing to financially support and bring awareness to the organizations empowering the Black community and fighting racism,” Cogan said.

Shoring up immediate efforts helps bolster long-term impact, said David Miller of online lending platform OnDeck, which, among other actions, has matched employee contributions to organizations like The Trevor Project (a suicide-prevention nonprofit for  LGBTQ youth) and Campaign Zero (a nonprofit aimed at overhauling policing practices). 

“We realize that one action alone is not enough to demonstrate support for racial justice and equality in our communities,” the SVP said. “We need to see multiple actions over time, continuous dialogue and a change in mindset as well as the way we operate.”

 

Genesis Whitlock
Talent Acquisition Manager

What steps is your company currently taking to support racial justice and equality in your community or at the national level?

I think the past few weeks have been both a wake-up call and a call to action for companies that consider diversity and inclusion to be among their core values. Our founders publicly shared our support for Black Lives Matter and described immediate actions we’re taking to back up our statement. To support the work that’s being done to combat systemic racism, we’ve made company donations to national organizations and to local organizations in cities where we have offices. We’re also offering a matching program for individual employee donations. This year, we also observed Juneteenth as a company holiday for the first time.

We also formalized a principal-level role to focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. I am excited to further our DEI strategy and set long-term goals.

 

Internally, what is your company doing to support and empower Black team members — both inside and outside the office? 

Consistent with our company mission, we want to build diverse and inclusive teams that reflect the people we want to empower. Part of that goal means providing more direct and visible support to, and empowerment for, Black team members, as well as other team members who self-identify among underrepresented groups. I’m excited to be fully stepping into the principal DEI position soon, where I’ll focus full-time on existing and new DEI initiatives. 

We’re ensuring that the curriculum of our manager training includes discussions about respecting the experiences of team members who regularly experience bigotry and racial injustice outside of our environment, and are providing guidance on how to acknowledge those in our working relationships. We’re also in the process of creating a steering group, inclusive of Black team members, that will work closely with me to continue building concrete foundations for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. 

We want to build diverse and inclusive teams that reflect the people we want to empower.”

How have you worked to ensure your actions are meaningful, impactful and in alignment with the needs of the Black community?

My Black colleagues and I have had a lot of meaningful and necessary discussions among ourselves, and with our leadership team, about how the company can take more visible steps to show support and allyship. During these conversations, I’ve observed humility, openness and a willingness to do what’s right, even if it’s not necessarily easy. With this kind of support and action, I’m excited to continue the work I’m doing to build an inclusive company alongside my colleagues.

 

Stevie Cogan
Director of People

What steps is your company currently taking to support racial justice and equality in your community or at the national level?

We’re supporting racial justice and equity by acknowledging our role in systemic racism, educating ourselves and our employees, and taking steps to dismantle those systems — not just with big plans, but on an individual level as well. We’re committed to continuing to financially support and bring awareness to the organizations empowering the Black community and fighting racism. We’re spotlighting and lending our platform to Black-owned businesses. Soon, we'll be launching an initiative supporting Black-owned businesses with Yotpo services.

 

Internally, what is your company doing to support and empower Black team members — both inside and outside the office?

We’re taking a hard look at our internal processes for racial disparities in an effort to identify them so we can make necessary changes. On a compensation front, we regularly do compensation reviews to ensure that each of our employees are benchmarked and compensated fairly. On the recruiting front, we’re re-evaluating everything from sourcing to interviewing to onboarding to ensure we have a diverse pool of candidates, properly educated hiring managers and an interview process that empowers Black candidates. 

We’re also reconsidering how to create a more inclusive work environment for our Black employees. To do this, we’re bringing in an external DEI company. Before we jump into training around topics like anti-racism and allyship —  which we will get to — we’re going to bring the team together for an open dialogue to share experiences in a facilitated safe space. It’s our commitment to continue to listen, learn and act on the ways we can support and empower our Black team members. There’s more we can do and we will.

It’s our commitment to continue to listen, learn and act on the ways we can support and empower our Black team members.”

How have you worked to ensure your actions are meaningful, impactful and in alignment with the needs of the Black community?

Right now, we first and foremost believe it is crucial to stand with the Black community. Systemic racism isn’t new; dismantling it will require long-term commitment and the conscious integration of anti-racism practices into our culture. It was important to everyone here that we be firm in our statement and take action immediately. 

We donated $25,000 directly across six organizations that are actively fighting racism. We also matched an additional almost $30,000 from our community. 

While there is a sense of urgency here, and some actions like our facilitated dialogue must be taken immediately, we’re approaching our long-term DEI revamp strategically, using data, internal feedback, external resources and the help of a DEI consultant. We’re committed to addressing the day-to-day overt and covert racism that the Black community faces by implementing education and training that will help employees and leadership identify racism within our company, and provide a clear plan of action when racism is experienced or observed. Last but not least, we’re listening to our employees and the Black, Indigenous, and people of color within our community to identify our areas of opportunity and implement change where it is needed most.

 

David Miller
SVP of Technology & Executive Sponsor of Black at OnDeck

What steps is your company currently taking to support racial justice and equality in your community or at the national level?

We realize that one action alone is not enough to demonstrate support for racial justice and equality in our communities. We need to see multiple actions over time, continuous dialogue and a change in mindset as well as the way we operate. That said, an initial step included issuing a public statement about our commitment to racial equality and making a financial contribution to Black Lives Matter. Our company also matched employee contributions to Black Lives Matter, as well as other organizations meaningful to our team members, including Campaign Zero and The Trevor Project, two nonprofits impacting Black communities.  

 

Internally, what is your company doing to support and empower Black team members — both inside and outside the office? 

One of our goals for 2020 has been to build a more diverse and inclusive company. Earlier this year, we embarked on a number of initiatives that provided support for Black team members. These include supporting the launch of Black at OnDeck (BOND) affinity group; reporting on quarterly metrics to increase transparency of our workforce representation; conducting a pay equity analysis across our workforce with a focus on BIPOC representation; and creating a diversity and inclusion council to hold the company accountable for delivering on its goals.  

Additionally, we held several internal events with a focus on providing a safe space for our Black team members to share their experiences and perspectives, and for all team members to discuss the systemic racism that exists in our communities. We also announced a half-day for the company on Juneteenth, encouraging team members to use time off in a way meaningful to them, whether it be participating in a peaceful protest, reading anti-racism resources published on our intranet or watching video replays of internal events. 

We realize that one action alone is not enough to demonstrate support for racial justice and equality in our communities.”

How have you worked to ensure your actions are meaningful, impactful and in alignment with the needs of the Black community?  

We took a collaborative approach, testing and developing ideas in partnership with BOND and our diversity and inclusion council. These individuals also crowdsourced ideas and discussion topics more broadly across the organization. In this way, we were able to shape authentic, employee-led experiences that resonated and felt purposeful. We continue to discuss progress on our D&I goals at our weekly company meetings and intend to survey team members about the initiatives put in place and the support for our Black team members in the near future.

 

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