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Jan 21 2021

Doing The Work as an Anti-Racist Small Business

Last summer might feel like it happened 100 years ago, but it was a period in history that we won’t soon forget. Systemic racism came to the forefront of so many issues we faced in 2020, and folks all over the U.S. felt moved to do something about it. A lot of people and businesses made some big promises, too. However, others have observed, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes more than just one day of action or one donation: it’s continued effort over time that fuels lasting change.

I’m one of those who felt fired up to make a difference, and together, Team Upswept took the Anti-Racist Small Business Pledge last June. Now that we’re in a new year, it feels like a good time to take a look at how our own efforts towards anti-racism are going so far.

Supporting Black People, Supporting Our Community

We’d already been providing support to our small business friends during COVID with our online learning series, so one of our first moves was to harness that audience by collecting and matching community donations for local, Black-led nonprofits. Since June of 2020, we’ve been able to support a different organization each month, and I’ve loved having the chance to shine a light on some of the amazing work that’s being done in our community.

I also more recently had the pleasure of offering pay-what-you-will scholarships for our new Purpose-Powered Website program to Black and Indigenous small businesses and nonprofits. It feels like a small step, but making education and resources accessible, especially for marginalized populations, is something I feel strongly about. It’s one step of hopefully several to follow.

I also did some digging on the companies we support with our dollars each month for services like website hosting, social media analytics, etc. I found that the companies we’ve come to trust with online support have made clear statements and efforts in the realm of equity and inclusion.

Many of them have a long way to go when it comes to bringing BIPOC folks into their ranks, particularly in leadership roles. That wasn’t exactly surprising, given how the tech industry has historically been, shall we say, less-than-welcoming towards folks who aren’t white and male. However, there was one bright spot: I was delighted to learn that our scheduling app of choice, Calendly, is Black-owned!

Learning, Refining, and Raising Our Voices

Even though we’re a small company, I want to make sure that embracing anti-racism as a business feels like a group effort for our team. Even though Upswept is a woman- and minority-owned business (fun fact: one of my parents is a Taiwanese immigrant), we all recognized that we are a predominantly white crew, and we almost certainly have quite a bit left to learn.

I’m lucky to have a very mindful social media manager, and being able to trust her judgment was a gift during tough times. Anna did an incredible job of being both aware of and sensitive to the maelstrom of current events, and adapting our content to better suit the moment.

Still, we as a team know how massively important content is in creating actually-good, impactful website design and social media, so I chose Alison Tedford’s “Stay Woke Not Broke” summer program as a starting point for our education. The program focused on creating content that better speaks to our values, and it guided us through creating our first honest-to-god DEI Statement

Upswept has never been particularly shy about our politics, but we collectively felt that fully stepping into our values in a public way was the right call. Not only did we strive to do more of that ourselves, we also encouraged other small businesses to do the same. Every small business who stands up for their values creates more space for others to follow!

There’s Always Room to Grow

There were so, so many things I’d hoped to do and give, but I have to admit that anti-racism efforts haven’t always been top-of-mind. After all, I not only had to keep running a small business, I had to do so at a time when many small businesses who might have become our clients were hit hard by a global pandemic. 

I would have loved to add some Black folks to our team, but hiring just wasn’t in the cards in 2020. I definitely wanted to do more learning, both on my own and with my team, but there were a lot of evenings when chowing on cookies and watching the DuckTales reboot was all my brain could hold. The reality is, 2020 gave everyone a LOT of emotional weight to carry, and it’s hard to do the work each day when you can barely muster the energy to get out of bed. 

That’s part of why this needs to be an ongoing effort: change needs to be sustainable if it’s going to be lasting. Burning ourselves out doesn’t help the movement—we need to be doing the work and giving ourselves breaks when we need them. If enough of us are working at making an anti-racist world a reality, we’ll still be collectively moving forward even when some of us need a break.

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