As we celebrate Black History month, it’s an opportunity to reflect upon the last 12 months, on how Thoughtworks North America has been able to reflect upon and respond to the events of last year, and on my personal learnings and areas for growth.
Personally, I am a white male, and a relatively recent arrival to the US. I was born and grew up in Australia, and I have spent the majority of my adult life in Europe, mostly in the UK. Professionally, I am the CEO of Thoughtworks in North America. I’d been present in the US for less than 2 years when Black Lives Matter and other civil rights protests reached their crescendo in May and June of 2020, fueled by many centuries of systemic and entrenched injustice, and ignited by the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Brown communities.
As the leader of our North American business, Thoughtworkers here have looked to me for leadership during the protests and afterwards, both personal and organizational. I’ll admit, I found that both uncomfortable and challenging. While I strive to be an effective ally and advocate (something that I passionately believe that those of us in positions of privilege are obligated to do), the systemic oppression and injustice faced by my Black and Brown colleagues was not my personal lived experience. While I was looking to my colleagues for guidance, I was also accurately aware that those very same colleagues were also working through processing their own disbelief, grief, and/or anger in response to the crisis.
As the awareness of the protests grew, it became clear that there was a need to speak up publically about the injustice and systemic racism. Thoughtworks had a history of mostly eschewing public statements outside of tech, in favor of intentional and demonstrated action, and the lengthiness of our internal discussions on the nature of any global public statements did not meet the expectations of the modern social media cycle. Nonetheless, it’s often said that those that seek to go far go together, and I am proud of the public response that we ultimately arrived at, an international statement of solidarity personally signed by thousands of Thoughtworkers that still sits proudly on our website notwithstanding that the media attention has since moved on.
We also knew that we in TW North America needed to find tangible, inclusive and sustainable ways to use the moment to build upon our existing efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. We brought hundreds of Thoughtworkers together across North America to have honest, uncomfortable, but genuine conversations acknowledging the injustices and the unique ways we each may support these systems, using our own ‘theory of sustainable change’. In these sessions we identified over 100 ideas that were distilled into new initiatives to put additional scrutiny and intention into our inclusion practices.
Since then, we have started the process of implementing many of those ideas, building upon the DEI infrastructure that we already proudly had in place as an organization. These included making diversity metrics core to additional regional and global business functions, increasing the intersectional diversity of our leadership development programs, and piloting new POC talent acquisition and retention strategies such our first Black and Indigenous POC internships. We also established a Racial Justice employee resource group (ERG), who has prepared various resources to guide individuals on how to support local anti-racism organizations and movements, and strengthened our various partnerships with organizations, like our work with the Invisible Institute, working towards racial justice.
2020 was a year which ignited a renewed urgency and focus on corporate diversity, equity and inclusion practices, including those within Thoughtworks North America. We’re aware that progress will only come with ongoing commitment, focus and resource, and that we need to continue to be transparent in our commitment, our challenges, and our progress.
During Black History Month, we’re using the opportunity to proudly restate our commitment to this, and towards fostering a vibrant community of diverse and passionate technologists, and towards a more equitable future for all.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.