February 1, 2021

Progressing Towards Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Written by kevin-c

Equity Diversity And Inclusion

At the end of January we checked in with our Chief Of Staff, Dunja Vujovic, and our Director of Talent, Elly Bradley about TextNow's examination of issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion and how it impacts our organization. And the one thing we all agreed on is: we, and the tech sector as a whole, need to do more to reach our goal of having a truly inclusive workplace.

The first steps were to educate ourselves on the issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), especially as it pertains to the tech sector, which (sadly) has not historically been great about diversity, to say the least.  And while progress has been made, Silicon Valley is still a domain heavily skewed towards white & asian men, as this Wired story makes clear. One example from that Wired story is illustrative of the overall demographics:

"At Google and Microsoft, the share of US technical employees who are black or Latinx rose by less than a percentage point since 2014. The share of black technical workers at Apple is unchanged at 6 percent, less than half blacks’ 13 percent share of the US population."

Given that upsetting data-point, In July of 2020 we assembled our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) committee as a way to discuss initiatives to educate and learn about how we can improve as a company  with regards to our internal operations, and how what we can impact our communities externally as well.

And, because we're a tech company, we started by defining some terms:

  • Diversity refers to who we are. It includes the mix of our identities, experiences and perspectives, including, but not limited to, race, gender identity, national culture, age, religion, sexual orientation, language and (dis)abilities.

  • Inclusion relates to what people experience. It’s a state in which all employees can be their authentic selves at work and feel that their differences are valued and leveraged.

  • Equity is about how we operate. It includes ensuring fairness, transparency and consistency in everything we do, including our policies, processes and practices.

Which also, conveniently, double as some excellent goals to set.

The committee then set out on these key initiatives:

Self identification survey:

We surveyed our employees as a starting point to help us understand the makeup of TextNow, in order to be able to measure our change as we continue to work towards increasing inclusivity and diversity.

Book club:

Last summer (2020), TextNow hosted a book club to learn more about anti-racism, with weekly discussions to get different points of view and learn more about the history of racism. We kicked off with How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Celebrations Calendar:

The committee created a shared calendar on our company intranet in order to:

  • recognize various cultural traditions, celebrations and events.

  • help educate those that are unaware of cultural traditions outside of their own, and help make those who do recognize those events feel included.

Worked with Empowered:

A consulting company who specialize in EDI strategy, design and implementation, who helped us to create a survey to help us identify how diverse, equitable and inclusive we are as a workforce. We also hosted focus groups with members of the Empowered team to discuss survey results in more detail, all working towards the goal of learning how we can operate more inclusively and make the fairest decisions as possible across the organization.

Film Club:

The book club for people who are allergic to paper, we watched The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson, and hosted a viewing and discussion about this movie to learn more about Black gay rights activist Marsha P Johnson and the history of violence against members of the trans community.

Diversity dashboard:

Created a dashboard for our EDI initiatives, publicly viewable right here, with two main goals:

  • help potential applicants and other interested parties get an idea of the TextNow workforce.

  • also be transparent about the steps we're taking to improve diversity across the company.

30-day EDI bias challenge:

This February, we're taking on the 30-day bias challenge, where each day we commit to one action or reflection to become more aware of the biases around us, to foster a conversation about what we’re learning and unlearning on this important topic, and encourage our participants to try this challenge with their own teams or family members.

Seeing as it's Black History Month, we've also committed to using our platform every week this month to spotlight the contributions of Black individuals in the tech space, as well as sharing some resources and links for a deeper dive into all things EDI.

As an aside: Here's a thing I recently learned about Black History Month: it was only established in 1971, by then President Gerald Ford. It was expanded from previous recognition starting in 1926 called "Negro History Week," observed the second week of February. Which, in and of itself, is sort of an ironic commentary on the struggles of African-Americans within the US, and indeed, on the reasons why focusing on the contributions of African-Americans is so necessary. It took 45 years to get from a one week to a single month.

Stay tuned!