“Racism is a pandemic. Whether it’s tech, or whether it’s any other form of business, we have the need for a vaccine that’s going to stop it. And I think that can take many forms.”
Those are the words of Adriane Brown, an Axon and eBay board member, former Intellectual Ventures president, and venture partner at Flying Fish Partners. She was speaking during a conversation about race and the tech industry, organized by GeekWire as protesters demand racial equity and justice following the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of white police officers.
The conversation was hosted by former Tacoma Mayor and past Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Strickland, a candidate for U.S. Congress. Also participating were Leafly Chief Product Officer and longtime Seattle entrepreneur Dave Cotter, and Remitly CEO and co-founder Matt Oppenheimer.
In recognition of Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, we’re presenting Part 2 of the conversation in this special episode of the GeekWire Podcast. Listen below and continue reading for highlights.
You can also catch up with Part 1 of the conversation here.
Marilyn Strickland: “In the world of tech, you typically have white folks in the C suite or even in the senior management ranks, and they say they want to listen. I’ve heard people say, I have no idea what to do. I really don’t know what to do. … How do we bring them along? How do we respect the fact that they’re acknowledging they have no idea what to do?”
Dave Cotter: “Instead of trying to sign up for all the things that we should be doing, maybe it’s more of a commitment to sign up for a process, first and foremost around listening. Schedule a one-on-ones with your black employees, schedule small group settings or create an environment where conversations can be had. … Don’t worry about the punch list of activities, just worry about the activities that allow you to listen better, and to learn more, and then things will start flowing.”
Adriane Brown: “Start with your own products and services. What can you do within your world that opens up equity, justice, human rights, what fits your mission and the things that you do as core to your company. And I think that’s going to draw employees to you. Because if you don’t fulfill that, they will be on social media, they will tell the world about you, and you will have more and more difficulty. You will not fulfill your purpose, will not fulfill the full capacity of what you should be as a company.”
Matt Oppenheimer: “It’s something that is a journey. It’s not a destination. I’m continuing to learn how to be a better ally. I think that is rooted in humility, listening. It’s rooted, for me, in trying to change the power paradigm to where I’m enabling others to be heard or in power, and sometimes at the expense or decrease of my power or prominence, which I think is really important.”
Cotter: “Tech companies are going to find that consumers are going to vote with their pocketbooks. They’re going to look for companies that have values and stand by those values, and those values are going to have to be more lived, more front-and-center than just simply something that’s in a shareholder letter.”
Strickland: “Historically, social, political and economic systems were not built to accommodate us to be in positions of ity. So as we think about how we change systems and how we make them better, it’s good for everyone. But I also think that there are certain places where people need to not just talk about it, but actually sustain the effort over the long term. That’s the issue for me.”
Brown: “Good ally-ship starts when you first accept that this is personal for black people. It’s personal. And when you make it personal for you, you are then in a position to be an anti-racist. … I want you to take it as personally as I do.”