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Black Lives Matter

Square Roots | 06.05.20

Square Roots, Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter. http://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co is a helpful resource on education, donating, and petitions where you can add your voice.

Black Lives Matter. This is a conversation I’ve been having with many people across our company—on slack, on zoom, in groups, individually—for most of this week.

Which in many ways further exposes the problem.

This shouldn’t be a new conversation. Systemic racial injustice has long been a brutal reality for Black people in America. We see the effect on the agriculture industry, with over 95% of American farmers being white.

Our mission at Square Roots is to bring local, real food to people in cities by empowering the next generation of leaders in urban farming. We’ve always put an emphasis on creating pathways for more young people to enter the industry. But in reflecting this month, it’s obvious we need to relook at how we deliver on that mission, through the lens of anti-racism, to ensure that the pathways we create are absolutely accessible to, and successful for, young people of color, particularly young Black people.

With that understanding, this week I’ve also had to confront the uncomfortable truth that I am part of the problem. And I have an urgent obligation to make sure the company I lead as CEO does better.

So let’s state this upfront: what we're doing now—putting in the work to ensure we become an anti-racist company—is too late. Nevertheless, here is what we are doing:

This week:

We’ve taken immediate first steps. These included sharing educational resources across our team, building anti-racism training into our onboarding process for new teammates, and doubling down on our efforts to recruit diverse candidates for all current open roles. We are reimbursing team members who buy books to get educated on racism/anti-racism (for starters, we’re recommending So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeomo Oluo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi, and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander). I also personally ran a dollar-for-dollar donation matching program, with funds going to The Bail Project. We’ve used our social media channels to provide awareness to organizations to follow, donate, and support. And as this is a heavy time emotionally for many on our team, we’ve encouraged people to take time out to talk with each other, or simply take time off if they need it. Perhaps most importantly, we are listening. We are listening really hard.

This month:

We have established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Team, who are tasked with publishing our anti-racism plan by the end of June. I know that sounds like “a plan to make a plan”, but this team will do a root and branch review of our business, our hiring and retention policies, our vendors, and more, to understand where we are falling short through the lens of racial equity. This exercise needs to be done thoroughly, which means it will take some time, but it will be done. We want to make sure that we are upholding our mission of empowering the next generation of leaders by creating an inclusive work environment that allows us to celebrate and learn from diverse experiences and ideas. We announced the formation of the DEI Team during our All Hands meeting this past week, and talked as a whole company about our commitment to making anti-racism integral to our culture. The DEI team, and their initial review, will no doubt find things that make us deeply uncomfortable. But this will help us to identify real changes we need to make.

This year, and beyond:

Flowing from the DEI Team’s initial review will be a clear action plan with associated Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The DEI Team will report progress on their OKRs at our weekly leadership meetings, at our monthly company All Hands meetings, and at quarterly Board meetings. We think this structure and rigor is important. The team will exist and operate—and be held accountable—with the same management mechanisms as all other functions in the company (e.g. Technology Team, Farming Team, etc). This is how anti-racism becomes an integral part of our ongoing operating DNA (not a sideshow or “this month’s special project”). DEI Team members will view their efforts as a priority, but also as a continuous and measurable initiative—additionally benefiting from regular reflection and improvement in line with our broader company Values, MO, and Mission.

Square Roots Values and MO

Square Roots Values and MO. What is missing from the perspective of racial equity? Please let me know your thoughts by emailing [email protected]

One of my co-workers posted on Slack this week: “This is a tough moment (and likely one of many tough moments for some). So it’s really special to see teams coming together to support each other.”

I’ve seen that too. Without a doubt, this has been a grim week—but I’m very proud of the team we have at Square Roots, how much we listen to each other, to external voices, and how comfortable we are knowing that we still have a lot more to learn.

Especially when I talk with younger co-workers around the organization, I see the next generation of leaders—deeply principled leaders—developing and emerging and asking the right questions. That gives me hope that we will get this right at Square Roots. And I’m also encouraged because I don’t think this next generation of leaders is going to accept the same BS that many in my generation, and those before us, have chosen to ignore.

It is not enough to be non-racist. We must put in the work to become anti-racist. That is our commitment.

Tobias Peggs

Square Roots CEO

This thread from former Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson was helpful to me when asking the question “what do we need to do?”. Meanwhile, this thread from USV was instructive when it comes to simply owning the issue.

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