With daily protests across the country and around the world in support of Black lives, there is increased scrutiny on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in business, as well as all other aspects of our lives. You have probably seen multiple emails and tweets from companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks, and even Gushers affirming Black Lives Matter. I’m also seeing responses ranging from appreciation, to laughter, to “Too little, too late.” As a company, we chose to speak up as well. Not because we believed our small voice was significant, but because its absence would have been.
We also know that words without action are meaningless.
To this end, we have been focusing on the purposeful next steps we can take. We are a new company that cares passionately about DEI. We are also a small company that is currently all white. We do not think that it is our role to lead in this world-changing time, but to follow with integrity and purpose. To that end, we’ve decided to be transparent about our principles, decisions, and next steps. We intend to learn and grow publicly, for both accountability and to help others learn with us.
We also invite feedback. Please let us know what you see. Where do we need to do better? What are we missing? How can we align our values and our actions better? We appreciate your criticism in whatever form it takes, as we recognize it’s not the job of marginalized people to look after our feelings.
We affirm these values
- Black lives matter. Indigenous lives matter. We believe Black and Brown customers and users are vital to our business and are never less of a priority to us than white customers.
- All genders are real and valid. We use gender neutral language where possible and are committed to building a product that actively supports our customers having their gender respected.
- We are LGBTQAI+ inclusive. We respect the many different ways that people can have and build families and communities.
- Accessibility is a priority. If a customer can’t use our products, that is a failure of the product, not the customer. We value what customers with disabilities teach us about design that helps us build better products for all our customers.
- We are committed to equitable compensation and not furthering wealth concentration.
- We will be open about our imperfections. That is how we grow. We understand that vulnerability is a source of power, growth, and innovation. If things are never scary, we are not really being vulnerable.
This list is not meant to be all inclusive, but to highlight our belief that centering marginalized people is what leads to the best outcomes.
Our values have led us to the following choices
- Diversity must be along many axes and come with authority. Right now, we are a company of two co-founders with two official advisors. We have strong representation with regards to gender, LGBTQAI+ status, and neurodiversity. We lack diversity with regards to race, socioeconomic upbringing, disabilities, and national origin. We are committed to bringing on at least two official advisors who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). As with our other advisors, they will be appropriately compensated for their work. We are currently working on our approach to recruiting these advisors so that we can find the right people, both in terms of expanding our perspectives, and for building the best products and outcomes for our customers.
- We prioritize psychological safety. We hold regular retrospectives to ensure we’re learning as we go - not just what to build, but also how we work as a company. We affirm each other’s choices for self-care, agency, and growth. We are practicing now, so that when we have employees, we will have built the habits and be able to model the behavior we want to encourage.
- We recognize that “safety” and “comfort” are not the same thing. Growth is uncomfortable, and it is easy to experience calls for growth as attacks on one's safety. That response can be used to silence those who are raising important topics. We cannot make progress towards an equitable workplace without everyone, including those at the top of the organization, actively inviting discomfort. We must put in safeguards to protect people when they speak up about problems - good intentions are not enough. Safety for all is a priority over comfort.
- We know that building a safer company involves understanding risks and mitigating those intentionally. Much like safety in a car involves seat belts, airbags, anti-lock brakes, windshield wipers, and a host of other features, workplace safety must be made up of a series of overlapping systems that together create space for learning, growth, and self-expression. We have begun to think about these systems, and we know this will be a process of studying, implementing, measuring, and refining that will last as long as our company does.
- We have an even ownership split. We know this is controversial within the startup world, but we made this choice after many difficult conversations because we believe this will help us build the best company. We are both trained and experienced in healthy collaborative conflict and decision-making and we have regular discussions about how to ensure we’re moving forward in the way that’s best for our business.
- We think about how our business partnerships impact our company, our customers, our employees, and our world. We prioritize partnering with underrepresented groups where possible. For example, the law firm we chose to represent us is small, woman-run, and supportive of work-life balance for their employees. They’re providing excellent support, and we want our money to go to this kind of business.
- We prioritize privacy and security in what we build, and with whom we partner. We’re committed to keeping your data secure, and giving you the power to decide who gets to see your data. We read the terms of service and privacy policies for companies we partner with, and we invite you to read ours. Please let us know if you find anything in them that you don’t believe fits with these values so we can address it.
- We are committed to building an online conference environment that protects our customers from harassment. The features we implement will be evaluated for how they will impact the safety of our customers and users.
Here are some of our next steps
- We need to do our homework towards recruiting a racially diverse team. We need to clearly state what we are looking for, what we are able to offer, and be prepared to start conversations in a way that doesn’t waste the time and energy of potential partners.
- We need to clearly articulate our process for choosing partnerships and vendors. We anticipate this will be a living document that will grow as we do.
- We need to continue to post our learnings and principles, so Versatackle is an example of the kind of transparency we believe in.
- We need to get more feedback, especially from people who are underrepresented in the startup community.
We are certain that something we’ve said here will turn out to be problematic, but staying silent would be worse. We choose to seek growth. We invite you to journey with us and we appreciate everyone who helps us learn as we go.
This is all a work in progress, as are we all.