A Guide to Pushing for Diversity at Work - No Matter Your Role

An opinion piece by Shelbi Ragsdale and Gabi Skoff

July 14, 2020

Thought Leadership

These past few months have shined a light on the fatal failures of longstanding systems in the United States. On a global scale, we have seen societal structures fracture under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic, our representatives unable to coordinate efforts within long, complex supply chains and broadly inaccessible systems. On a national level, the United States has witnessed and paid a heavy price for uncoordinated federal and state abilities to control the spread of the virus and provide assistance in areas disproportionately impacted, especially in Black, Indigenous and communities of color. The inequalities laid bare by this global pandemic have activated a sudden, heightened awareness of a fundamental, underlying issue: systemic racism and violence against Black lives.

With the national and global Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement protesting against police brutality and systemic racism, has come a focus on the interconnected systems of racism and inequality that have failed People of Color (PoC). We see it in law enforcement, healthcare, housing, education, business, and beyond. In this globally connected world, we can find signs of exclusion and oppression in every space we turn our focus to, in every country.

While for some this burst of attention on systemic racism may be a moment of learning — the beginning of a journey to understand just how deep the roots of racism are in our society — this has been the lived truth of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPoC) for their entire lives. And their fight for equality started long before 2020. Much of the struggle and work done to change these systems has historically fallen on the shoulders of BIPoC communities already burdened by the generational trauma of this lived experience.

It is time that we (people born with privilege — whether that be the color of our skin, our gender, sex, economic status, or other) step into the role of true allies, and commit to doing the work to create a society that is equitable for all. We are called on by those who have been systemically oppressed, as a first step, to engage with the notion that we contribute to and benefit from the perpetuation of systemic racism and inequality. Only after truly acknowledging this fact, can we seek out ways to empower change through activating in our areas of influence and centering our actions not on ourselves but on uplifting and engaging communities of color.

Through this moment, we have learned that being an ally means pushing for change, no matter where you are. Change can’t happen if everyone thinks their voice or their platform is too small to make a difference.

We must become active allies that push for change in our spheres of influence, whether that is within our families, with friends, at work, on social media, or within other groups. As we continue to unlearn racism and use our voices, we must ignite the conversation in these spaces, especially in environments where these conversations may not be happening at all.

One area of influence that we have defined for ourselves is our workplace. The technology space is a notoriously monocultural, white domain, which has impacts reaching far beyond representation. Technology built by un-diverse groups can recreate and reinforce existing divisions (such as predictive algorithms, as this article explains). The need to address this challenge and stop the spread to other areas of emerging technology is urgent, and can only be solved through real representation in the sector and through prioritizing existing capacity for racial literacy.

As participants in the technology industry, we recognize our responsibility to bring this issue to light at the company we work for, and ask that we contribute to moving the needle toward a more diverse and equitable industry.

The following guide describes our journey of action within our organization, Topl. We detail a few things we learned, some resources we used in supporting our argument, and the response we received from leadership. We hope this can serve as an introductory guide to helping you take steps to make your organization more diverse and inclusive, especially in a small business or start-up. Please note that we are not experts, and as such, this guide is intended as a resource for people who may not know where to begin as an ally, but it is open for anyone to use.

How to affect change when you don’t know where to start

We should start by acknowledging that these conversations can be hard, require a large amount of emotional and mental effort, and may not be met with appreciation.

You should have them anyway.

1 | Get some support

Especially if your work environment is currently socially-distanced, it can be difficult to feel like you have support within your organization. Reach out to others to see if they would be willing to help — there is strength in numbers. If you cannot find support internally, seek out advisors or mentors outside of your organization to help you prepare for these conversations.

It should go without saying that if you do have BIPoC employees in your organization who want to be involved in this process, ensure that non-BIPoC team members play a supporting role and do not take the lead. At the same time, do not assume that every BIPoC wants to or has the capacity to take this on.

Remember: You should never put additional educational and/or emotional labor on BIPoC team members, friends, educators or mentors without their consent and/or proper compensation.

2 | Research is a powerful tool

Attend webinars and read articles from Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) thought leaders and experts. Find and connect with those in your industry talking about these things (if we can find people talking about diversity in blockchain — you can find relevant industry voices too!). Look at what other organizations are doing right, and start from there.

Gather your resources in one place that you can share with others, collaborate on, and refer back to when you are justifying your arguments. In many cases, showing a statistic from a reputable source can strengthen your point, especially when talking to stakeholders that may not understand how these issues impact their business.

3 | Have a plan

Work together to create a plan with both short-term actions and long-term goals. What can leadership do right away to begin enacting change in your company? How do these actions support your long-term goals for creating greater DE&I in your workplace? For example:

  • Long term goal: Increase engagement with BIPoC communities
  • Short term actions: Seek out universities or groups with large BIPoC representation.
Consider barriers to true inclusion and think systematically about your approach.

How can you engage these communities through speaking events, workshops, internships? How you can ensure these engagements are as accessible as possible? Some may not have the means to attend a paid workshop, for example.

Remember Human Resources (HR). All actions that increase the diversity of a team come to nil if all members of that team do not feel supported and heard as diverse individuals. Proper HR training on issues like unconscious bias, and a consistent focus on ensuring diversity is truly supported will be essential to the success of any DE&I plan.

Meet leadership half-way. This plan is not a task to place on someone else, but a group initiative that requires the engagement of everyone who wants to be involved and the directors of the company. When you make suggestions to leadership, also ensure you include how you are willing to support them.

4 | All about framing

When bringing this issue to leadership, come with a mindset of educating, informing and activating with compassion and care — not shaming or judgement. Understand that some may not be as exposed to this debate as you are, and that confronting them with reproach, anger, or vilification will likely be counterproductive. We had success presenting this as a business case, not an emotional case.

Did you know that research consistently links a company’s profitability to its level of diversity? Framing your argument from a business and profitability perspective may make it more compelling for business-minded leaders. Perhaps initiate the conversation by offering to present some ideas on diversity initiatives that could have a positive impact on business.

Remember: you can still achieve the same goals with different framing. At the end of the day, this is not about you, but about impacting change. You may have to be creative in your approach to do so.

Some helpful resources

Actions that Topl has pledged to enact and work toward as a result of this discussion

  • Defining what Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion mean at Topl
  • Setting and monitoring diversity goals in leadership, board, and team
  • Creating a Hiring Plan with a strong focus on how to maintain inclusivity and engage more diverse networks
  • Creating an HR Plan for creating a culture that empowers every employee, and investing in education for current team members on the topic of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Plan for engagement with communities of color, both locally and regionally, through speaking engagements on blockchain and business development, and establishing an internship-to-job pipeline at these points of engagement
  • Compiling all of these components into a DE&I Plan for our investors, stakeholders, and future employees

As an organization, Topl works to help other companies and communities demonstrate that their actions speak louder than words. As such, we will strive to ensure that our commitment to progressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our own environment reflects our core values of transparency and accountability and that we can track and measure our own impact, as we enable others to do so with theirs.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for us in this process, please get in touch! You can leave us a comment here or send an email to community@topl.me. We look forward to hearing any feedback and suggestions you may have and are committed to contributing to an ecosystem of support for others on this journey as well.

Image from Women’s Agenda, “More proof that diversity & inclusion are good for business”

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