How Baltimore biz leaders are addressing protests and racism, this week and beyond - Technical.ly Baltimore

Growth

Jun. 4, 2020 2:00 pm

How Baltimore biz leaders are addressing protests and racism, this week and beyond

Here's a look at notes CEOs sent to teams to start conversations, and how they're thinking about systemic change.
Black Lives Matter protestors in Chicago.

Black Lives Matter protestors in Chicago.

(Photo by Max Bender via Unsplash)

As George Floyd’s death at the knee of a police officer brings protests, call for justice and an end to systemic racism, it’s a moment when business is not as usual.

There’s a role for companies to address it with teams, albeit virtually on platforms like Slack amid work from home. Below, find responses from a few Baltimore companies.

Speak up

Horrified by the video of Floyd’s death, VitusVet CEO Dr. Mark Olcott shared a note with his company’s team on Sunday, even as he allowed that he was struggling to find the right words.

“In instances like this, I understand my privilege. I didn’t grow up in a community that lived with violence and trauma. I also know that my experience is not universal, even within our team,” Olcott, who is a founder of the Canton-based pet health technology team, wrote in part. “With headquarters based in Baltimore, our local community has suffered violence. Just five years ago, Baltimore looked like Minneapolis does today. Traumatic wounds are reopened and our neighbors are grieving.”

As teams like VitusVet are working from home, Olcott told Technical.ly that he sees it as part of leadership to bring up these topics and creating an environment where people “can have difficult conversations about what’s important to them.”

“Many are afraid to bring up their concerns or fears over something in the news so it’s a leader’s role to broach the topic,” he said, and “to guide the conversation and acknowledge that which everybody is thinking but nobody is saying.”

This transparency is important to creating a team where others listen to and care about them: “I’m committed to listening, learning, and supporting our team and those who may need time to process emotions and grieve,” he wrote to his team.

These are acts where we’ve seen teams are creating space during the workday. Fearless CEO Delali Dzirasa said his team held a meeting for open dialogue on Tuesday.

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“The time is billable, optional, and it will not be recorded. People will have the option to share anonymously what they are feeling if they would like,” Dzirasa told us Monday.

An ongoing conversation

At Remington-based edfintech company Allovue, CEO Jess Gartner said the company addressed the topics in an all-hands meeting, and in the company’s weekly newsletter. In the message, she wrote that with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the “parallel story of Amy Cooper’s display of weaponized whiteness against Christian Cooper” and the backdrop of COVID-19, “it is more important than ever for us to support the Black Lives Matter movement.”

“To our Black team members: please do whatever you need to practice extra self-care right now,” she wrote “Whether it is time off to rest or participate in protests across the country, our leadership team supports you. Please let us know if there is more that we can do; we will also be actively seeking out additional ways to support you,” she wrote. “To our nonblack team members: it is more important than ever for us to engage in personal reflection and education for how we can practice anti-racism at work and in our personal lives.”

As we’ve seen in recent days, a response can start with reading and resources. Points North CEO Jessica Watson offered plenty of places to start in an op-ed Technical.ly published yesterday. Sharing books and media is a regular occurrence at Allovue, Gartner said. Gartner said she is reading “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo, and invited team members to do so.

“White people must do the hard work of dismantling these systems that have been designed to benefit white people at the cost of excluding and oppressing people of color,” Gartner said. “This must be a constant process of reflection, discussion, and action. We try to incorporate our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion into everything we do, with decisions ranging from which businesses we support for catering company events to our hiring and onboarding process to our compensation equity. I am fortunate to have a team that shares feedback with us and helps us improve; I know we still have more work to do.”

Funding and hiring

Supporting and funding Black communities in the cities where it operates is at the heart of the response for Canton-based SmartLogic.

The software development consultancy is committing $8,460 in grants — a number that references the eight minutes and 46 seconds the officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck — to Black-led organizations in Baltimore and D.C. It’ll offer grants of $500 to $1,500 to community organizations, and is seeking suggestions by June 5.

“We live in a system designed to limit opportunities for people of color. Institutional racism is inherent in education, the justice system, jobs, and all corners of our society. We are allies against injustice and stand in solidarity with communities of color. These communities must be heard,” a blog post states. “We stand in support of Black founders and Black-led organizations whose voices are necessary for change.”

It builds on inclusion efforts such as the Baltimore Women in Tech Micro Grant program that SmartLogic has funded in the past. CEO Yair Flicker is engaging a community panel to evaluate recipients, and is hoping to encourage other companies to step up and provide funding as well.

When it comes to actions VitusVet is taking going forward, Olcott said the team is looking locally both as it seeks to hire and through support of community organizations.

“We are increasing our financial support of a couple of local groups, like The Boys and Girls Club, in the wake of recent events in an effort to enhance the wonderful work they are doing in our community,” he said. “We also believe in hiring locally and ensuring that our team reflects the community we serve and the community in which we live. Finally, we are big believers in internships and apprentice programs and think these can be highly impactful ways to engage with younger people (or those looking for a career change) who love technology and are looking for opportunities in IT.”

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For further reading, we’re publishing op-eds responding to the moment. Want to contribute your perspective? Email stephen@technical.ly.

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