As a white person, I’m not an expert on equity and inclusivity. No matter how much I learn from POCs, I can only talk about diversity, equity, and inclusive from my personal experience trying to run a more inclusive and equitable business.
Right now, I’m dealing with the impact that my own whiteness has on my business, brand, and ability to diversify my client base. Here’s what I’ve learned.
My Introduction To Equity And Inclusion
A few years ago I was at a networking event where the facilitator paired us up with strangers. We were asked to stare into the eyes of this person for 1 minute without speaking. One man was paired with a young woman he didn’t know and in the debrief afterwards, he launched into a speech about how beautiful she was. It was demeaning, uncomfortable, and completely inappropriate.
After he was asked to leave and not come back, this woman spoke to me and said this happens all the time. She can’t go to networking events without concern of someone speaking to or about her inappropriately.
The idea that something as innocuous as a networking event could feel unsafe for someone had never crossed my mind. It made me realize my own privilege.
A while later, we started a monthly Kite + Dart event series called Now & Center. One of our facilitators kicked off every event by saying that this was a safe space and anyone looking for a date should leave now.
By circumstance, we held that event at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library in Five Points, a historically black neighborhood of Denver. This meant that, once a month, we’d walk a bunch of white people into a primarily black neighborhood and a library resurrected in honor of African American culture. We’d made our events safe for one oppressed group (non-males), but were completely ignoring another: people of color.
I wasn’t ok with this. I was committed to making our work available for everyone.
What White Business Owners Can Do
The first step to becoming more equitable and inclusive is realizing where things aren’t fair and seeing what you can do to correct that. Our journey started off being about making a safe space for women/LGBTQ+/trans entrepreneurs to connect, then became about making a safe space for entrepreneurs of color as well. It led us to change our programs to include coaches of color and rethink our events to be more inclusive. It led us to ask POC what worked and what didn’t.
It then led us to hire an inclusivity coach through Building Bridges’ Shift program. Building Bridges offers youth programs, community, and training to support minority populations in Denver and expand inclusivity in business. My coach, Jenny Medrano, provides a different lens and widens my perspective. She makes me aware of ways I’m perpetuating systemic racism and inequality so I can correct my behavior.
We remain in constant inquiry about how we can make Kite + Dart a safe space for people of color. We know we have work left to do.
How To Become An Accomplice In The Fight To Dismantle White Supremacy
In an Entrepreneurs of Color event a few months back, a panelist named Makisha Boothe gave a poignant response when asked how white business owners could support entrepreneurs of color: “Graduate from ally to accomplice.”
In order to be an accomplice in the fight against white supremacy, you have to do 3 things.
1. Get responsible for your whiteness.
If you’re a white person like me, the color of your skin has helped you in your life and in your business. You are currently benefiting from a system of white supremacy.
Ask yourself how you’ve benefited from the system and how your experience might have differed if you were a person of color. Get educated on how you’ve internalized white supremacy. Ask yourself how you may have perpetuated it.
Nobody likes to do this work—I get it. It means admitting that we live in a racist culture. That’s why this part is so crucial. Because sometimes it’s hard to tell where white supremacy ends and good business practices begin.
But what’s beautiful is this: once we as white folx realize the degree to which we’re complicit in the oppression of others, we can get responsible for it. And then we can begin to see how we are being oppressed by the systems in place.
2. Realize your own oppression.
As a white man, I’ll never understand the oppression people of color or women or gender non-conforming people feel. I’ll never have that experience. But there are other systems oppressing me in different ways. By unpacking my own oppression, I can get access to how others might be feeling and gain more empathy and understanding.
3. Put people of color in positions of power and listen.
Use your privilege to build a platform, then invite POC to stand on it.
Hire an inclusivity expert. In business, we outsource things to other professionals all the time: marketing, analytics, copywriting, etc. Do the same thing for diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are a ton of training and consulting programs available.
Put POCs in leadership positions and listen to what they have to say. Most POC have been disadvantaged in the job market their entire lives. Giving them priority over a white person is a grain of sand to start tipping the scales towards equality.
If you do hire a white person, hire someone who is invested in equity and inclusion and is willing to learn with and from you.
Why To Run An Equitable & Inclusive Business (Besides The Fact That It’s The Right Thing To Do)
First, the obvious point: running an equitable and inclusive business is the right thing to do.
If you’re afraid of making waves, we get it—and you have to do the work anyway. If you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, guess what? At some point, you probably will. But the next time you’ll have learned from your mistake and be able to take the conversation further.
When I present myself as an ally—or accomplice—to minority populations, I’ve found that people respond with incredible generosity. So few white people are even trying to do this work that when one of us does, people of color feel supported and reciprocate.
If you need more reason to make your business equitable and inclusive, know that it expands the potential of your success. A white business saying white things to white people whittles their audience down to half of the population. By being exclusive, you’re stunting the potential of your business.
Plus, the biggest predictor of conversion in business is shared values. When we present ourselves as a business that’s committed to inclusivity and equity, we gain a competitive advantage. Our ideal client is someone who shares our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. When they see that we do, too, they’re attracted to us and are more likely to buy.
So white people, what I’m telling you is this: when you get responsible for your privilege, get educated about how you’ve internalized white supremacy, and turn your business into a tool to dismantle that system, you get access to a huge new client base. You become more attractive to clients and business partners who share those values.
Don’t listen to what white people have to say about white supremacy, listen to what POC have to say about white supremacy. Pay them to tell you.
Remember that it is our job as white people to further the conversation. We can’t keep asking POC how we can contribute. They’ve told us over and over again. Now it’s time for us to do the work.
Written in partnership with Ali Weeks of Moxie Writing Co.