6 tips from Seattle tech companies on how to support racial equity programs
As people around the country observe the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, companies that pledged to do more to support diversity, equity and inclusion in the wake of his death are sharing their progress and ideas.
The nonprofit sea.citi recently convened a panel of Seattle tech leaders to talk about DEI efforts. The overriding message emphasized the need for open, honest, supported communication around sensitive racial issues and setting clear goals for improving diversity.
The conversation included Kim Vu, global head of diversity and inclusion at the fintech company Remitly, and Neal Myrick, global head of the Tableau Foundation, a philanthropic initiative within Tableau, which was acquired by Salesforce. Stephen Uy, Facebook’s head of public policy and community engagement in the Northwest and vice chair of the sea.citi board, moderated the discussion.
Here are some of their top tips for taking meaningful steps to support DEI initiatives:
Establish transparent, accountable goals: Tableau has set a 2023 goal that half of its U.S. workforce will be made up of people from underrepresented groups. The foundation also has its own set of goals for greatly expanding its network of BIPOC-led organizations and foundations that it can partner with and provide resources for.
“After 30 years of commitments from companies, this time around I feel like we’re making a lot more progress because of the transparency and accountability that companies like Salesforce are supporting,” Myrick said.
Empower employees: Remitly last year provided training and resources to help employees learn how to civically engage with elected officials, attend city hall meetings, share petitions on social media and participate more actively in the public process.
The company is “really encouraging and empowering our employees to fully lean into that and use their voice to really create change,” Vu said.
Create structure for DEI conversations: Talking about race and equity issues can be emotional and difficult so it’s best to set ground rules before tackling these topics. Remitly asks employees to listen without judgement or interruption. It’s also important to recognize that it might take multiple conversations for people to let down their defenses and reflect honestly on their attitudes and actions around equity.
Recognize that events and culture impact people differently: As COVID hit, Remitly tuned into the impacts on its customers, many of whom were essential workers using the company’s platform to transfer funds to family around the globe. The company considered ways to make its products more accessible and waived fees where needed.
When viewing DEI efforts internationally, Remitly recognizes that local cultures and laws differ in their acceptance of LGBTQ people. While the company tries to create an environment where people can be their authentic selves, in some societies that can be dangerous in public.
Rethinking support: Tableau Foundation was already providing unrestricted grants to organizations, allowing grantees to use the money where they saw fit. During the COVID pandemic, it tried to lower the barriers even further, researching and reaching out to recipients with offers of money, skipping the application process and offering multi-year grants. A lack of resources and unnecessary hurdles to funding has historically held back community groups, particularly those with BIPOC leadership, Myrick said. The foundation also allows for anecdotal evidence to demonstrate that the money is being well spent, versus hard data.
Learn from your mistakes: Even people who are approaching DEI issues with the best of intentions will make missteps in their words and deeds. When it comes to working on racial justice, “I’m constantly afraid I’m gonna say the wrong thing,” said Myrick, who is a white man. “I’ve just decided I’m going to screw up all the time, and that I’m just going have to learn from it.”