Here's how 5 #dctech leaders are responding to the nation's civil unrest - Technical.ly DC

Professional Development

Jun. 3, 2020 4:26 pm

Here’s how 5 #dctech leaders are responding to the nation’s civil unrest

Company heads from Halcyon, Byte Back, Hatch, Upside Business Travel and MemoryWell share how they're dealing with systemic injustices against Black Americans from within.
A protest against police brutality in D.C. on June 1.

A protest against police brutality in D.C. on June 1.

(Photo by Michelai Graham)

In some way, we’re all experiencing civil unrest right now.

It’s important that the #dctech hears responses from local companies on how they feel about the continued fight against police brutality, as the nation has been affected by an uproar of protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25.

(If you’d like a closer look at the scene at recent protests in D.C., check out this reporter’s essay on protesting at the frontlines.)

At Technical.ly, we’ve been focused on centralizing this national topic in a local way to keep our communities informed. In D.C. specifically, we’ve already published stories this week about amplifying 10 voices in #dctech, a guest post from Vinetta Project DC Director Dawn Myers on how to acknowledge and fight systemic racism and another post from Happied founder April Johnson offering recommendations on how to be actively anti-racist.

In an email on Sunday, after a weekend of anger, frustration, protesting and a national call for an end to systemic racism, we asked some local organizational leaders a few questions:

  • Will you be addressing these events with your employees (or professional community)? If so, how? If not, why? Do you have any advice for others?
  • And looking to the future: Are there plans for an ongoing response? Say, six months from now?

Here’s responses from five #dctech leaders. Their replies have been edited for length and clarity:

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Kate Goodall, CEO of Halcyon

We did address the events of these last few days with our team Monday morning, inviting any and all to share if they choose, and reminding them to take space to process, protest, and mourn. We reminded our team that we stand with and behind them and each of our fellows, and I as CEO shared my own perspective, recognizing that vulnerability builds empathy we so need in our communities right now. This, to us, is the bare minimum for empathetic organizational leadership, and we urge other employers to do the same.

Halcyon’s programming was built with the goal of finding social entrepreneurs and artists with the best ideas for social impact. We built our programs on the foundational understanding that talent and ideas are distributed evenly throughout the world, but access to opportunity is not, and have always sought to do what we can to disrupt who gets access to realize their visions. The longer we do this work, the more we understand that even more programs and mechanisms are needed, and based on conversations over the last few days we can say with certainty that six months from now we will have even more programming specifically dedicated to supporting black entrepreneurs.

Elizabeth Lindsey, CEO of Byte Back

Lindsey shared the below message via Slack with the Byte Back team on May 31, and the tech inclusion nonprofit also shared an external message with the community on Monday.

Param Jaggi, CEO of Hatch

Yes, I’ve addressed the events from the weekend with my team and customers. For better or worse, I’m a strong believer in taking a hard stance on morality. Forward looking, we’re going to update our operating playbook and policies to make sure we’re doing our part. It’s important to be explicit with our beliefs. A few years ago, we established a zero tolerance policy for any forms of sexual harassment in response to the #MeToo movement. I think it’s now important to actively create policies around racism and biased actions. There are often things that we take for granted in the work space, especially as young founders. I’ve learned that certain policies need to be written, communicated, and constantly reinforced.

As a leader, I always think about the different forms of diversity. It seems as though the tech industry has been changing over the past couple of years by hiring more diverse candidates. But there’s a long way to go to establish “intellectual diversity” that will move our industry forward. It’s easy to find someone that looks different than us. Very rarely do we hire someone who looks different than us that actually challenges our deep rooted beliefs and assumptions. This is how real change will be made. I think every team needs to be aware of this moving forward.

Genevieve Rafla, director of communications at Upside Business Travel

Scott Case, CEO and cofounder of Upside, hosts an 8:45 a.m. daily update every day since we went 100% remote on March 19 due to COVID-19. We use this time to communicate core business messages and discuss mental health with our full team. I have enclosed a screen grab of Scott’s Slack that tee’d up Monday morning’s update. Scott has been avidly posting on social media this weekend, and is planning to for the foreseeable future on a daily basis. Here are two of his most recent posts from May 31 and June 1.

As a company, we have been asked to watch Trevor Noah’s recent video. As a team, we have a #diversityandinclusion Slack channel that has been humming all last week and into this week. Our team has taken it upon ourselves to pull together a crowdsourced document on our shared knowledge hub to share resources, actions, and ideas to enact change.

We are fired up and looking to contribute as a technology company, leveraging Scott’s social platforms to add a voice to the mix, and collaborate with the startup community to lift up underestimated and underrepresented entrepreneurs. We’re sponsors of The Founders Mind, a D.C.-based podcast focused on telling the untold stories of entrepreneurship regarding diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Scott hosts twice-weekly meetups, Founders Focus, for founders to hash out shared pain points, success stories, and actionable advice. He’s joined on Tuesday and Thursday by a variety of experts to deliver value-add wisdom to any and all founders — 100% free. We are working with past co-hosts to build out a focused diversity and inclusion conversation.

Alexander Karmazin, CFO of MemoryWell

We will be addressing these events with employees and providing them with a forum to speak their minds. During COVID, MemoryWell started doing a daily stand-up where employees give an update on their day, and share thoughts, feelings, and frustrations they may be feeling. At first these were mainly focused on issues related to the lockdown, but recently we have begun discussing the massive upheaval felt nationwide. It’s important for us to create a space where people can just talk with limited structure to give their opinions and feelings a voice. As managers, we typically get the ball rolling, but allow the staff to feel free to address any part of these multifaceted issues that they want.

We do hope to continue these conversations moving forward. Everything is in flux right now, but we hope to continue providing employees with a space to constructively have conversations about these issues.

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