The recent tragic events and the protests that followed in the Black Lives Matter movement have been a catalyst for me to do some introspection, both personally and professionally. One place this journey has taken me is to reflect on my early formative years as a creative. I was privileged to attend a high school that had the funds to support two full time art teachers, a half time pottery teacher, one full time drama teacher and a full music program. I took every art and theatre class I could. Exposure at that formative time in my life made me realize that I could go to college and get a creative degree. I did, and the rest is history.
As middle class white folk, we would normally look at a story like this and say, “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have this type of education.” But if I’m being honest, luck had nothing to do with it. I was privileged. It was not luck but rather a system that I was a part of that allows for these types of opportunities in one’s formative years. My family was an educated middle class family that had the privilege and means to live in an area with the funds to intentionally create schools that were designed to give young developing minds these types of opportunities and experiences. These educational opportunities, in tandem with inherited wealth, help the privileged to then go to college and launch good careers. Our society engineers this type of privilege, and privilege begets more privilege, all inherently favoring white people.
I realize that working to advance racial justice is something I, as a white privileged person, must pay attention to. I can’t say it is the work of the Black or brown community to do. It is my work to do. It is our work to do. So I asked myself ,”What I can personally do, and what can my agency, Tangible, do to support Black lives?” Here are some answers. This is not exhaustive by any means and should really be seen as a work in progress. But here goes:
1. Hire a diverse workforce.
In talking with my leadership team, we realized we had a blind spot in our hiring practices, as evidenced by the fact that we had no Black creatives on staff. As a customer experience and brand loyalty company, we know that the more we reflect the nation in which we work, the stronger our work is. And yet, while gender and sexual orientation are all represented in our agency, when it comes to racial diversity, we have fallen short. A lot of our hires are from our network, so it’s not surprising that our company looks like our network — both are lacking in racial diversity. This is a perfect example of the fact that it’s not enough to not be racist. Because we were not actively working on the problem, we became part of the problem. In response, we are examining our hiring practices and looking at how we can improve them to be more inclusive and working to broaden our networks. When my team and I started this journey I had the perception, “Well… there are just not a lot of Black creatives out there.” Turns out I was wrong. The next time we’re hiring, we’re going to ask around, and keep asking. We’re going to look at a wider variety of job boards, as well as specific directories like blackswho.design. We’re also working on revising our job descriptions to make them more inclusive, and adding a diversity statement. But hiring alone does not make someone feel welcome to a company and is not the sole answer. We must go further. So…
2. Create safe spaces by encouraging honest and ongoing conversations.
We have started to invest in our employees and have group dialogues with each other. We are doing our best to make room for staff to have input and dialogue with each other and ability to have the opportunity to support racial and economic justice. Recently, we got together over Zoom and watched a TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on “The danger of a single story” and then had a group discussion on what it meant for each of us, both at work and in our personal lives.
3. Look at our business through a lens of inclusion.
I teach design thinking and I am constantly encouraging my participants to question the norms, turn the status quo on its head and reframe the problem in ways that we have not thought about before. We should be doing that every day in business when it comes to racial justice. To that end, we are continually examining if we are as inclusive as we think we are. Beyond that, one thing we try to remind our clients about their end users is that just because the quant data shows them to be a majority white, middle class, cis and able bodied, that doesn’t mean that others wouldn’t be a user if there was space for them. Part of making space for them is learning about their needs and designing with them in mind. Another way of making space for them is including them in marketing materials. So when trying to decide how to present and message to an audience, don’t just speak to those who currently make up the majority of your audience. Instead, make your message aspirational and speak to those you want to include. This approach inherently grows your audience AND supports marginalized groups — win/win.
4. Don’t be afraid to just talk about it.
When my crew brought the issue of racial justice up to me, my first reaction was something like “Yeah but it is really not our place to take a stand for this. This is a tricky issue to navigate and we might make a misstep.” They convinced me that keeping silence was really not an option for us. The truth is best stated by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” So we must risk it. We must talk about it. We may make mistakes, but we believe this process will make us a better company. There are no perfect words to talk about it, but we must have the conversation. This post is part of that. Did this all come out perfectly? I doubt it. Was it scary to write? Hell yes. But I am putting it out there and I hope to grow as a person and as a business owner.
I don’t want to hide behind the “we are such a small business what can we do” excuse. I know that finding ways to act with limited resources can be hard. But change, innovation and improvement favors those in motion, and so, we are exploring ways to act as a business. One way we have found to do that is to support the exposure of Black and brown high school students to creative careers by supporting Inneract Project. I love that Inneract Project is dedicated to giving Black and brown students the opportunity in their formative years to experience design — to help them explore the possibilities of a creative career that were given to me as a young student. That way they can see themselves in design and creative careers. We need more of this and I am proud to support this program. I encourage you to do so as well.
As a company, Tangible has made a commitment to work towards racial justice. When we went looking, we saw plenty of advice out there for large corporations. But as a small creative business, we have found that there aren’t as many resources. We wanted to share what we have learned so far on our journey. We hope it’s useful, and we look forward to hearing from and learning from you on where this journey has taken you as well.
What we’re reading: