Recap and Celebration of our 1st Allyship, Advocacy & Taking Action Event
“The hope needs you.”
Those are the moving words that helped bring to conclusion the first in ARA’s five-part Allyship, Advocacy & Taking Action series produced in partnership with Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE), Chicago Tech Academy and i.c.stars. Shared by our moderator and President of i.c.stars—the brilliant, untiring Sandee Kastrul—these words were once written and sent to Sandee by the child of one of her i.c.stars mentees.
“The hope needs you.”
From the mouth of babes, this astonishing wisp of wisdom explains exactly why the Allyship, Advocacy and Taking Action learning and listening series is so important. All people need hope, and then there are the people that “the hope needs.” It needs people like Sandee and the three panelists who joined her on August 19 for this ARA series to share how today’s social justice reckoning can and should reshape our communities and workplaces into fairer, better, brighter places for all. They are people who through their work, intelligence, energy, experience, generosity and leadership give fuel to hope. They are:
- Sandee Kastrul, President and Co-Founder, i.c.stars
- Colleen D. Egan, President & CEO, Illinois Science & Technology Coalition & Institute
- Corey Flournoy, Global Head of Inclusion & Diversity, Groupon
- Jasmine Shells, Co-Founder & CEO, Five to Nine
Each one of these remarkable professionals shared their perspective on the state of the social justice movement right now and how we can create a roadmap for enduring allyship, advocacy and action. The summary below highlights several of the powerful messages and lessons they shared as well as a list of actions we can take in order to make a true difference.
“Change Happens When We All Care.” – Sandee
In welcoming the more than 200 attendees who joined from across the U.S., Sandee began by thanking everyone for joining and being okay with getting uncomfortable: “Change is uncomfortable and that is how we know it’s working.”
She reminded the audience that attending and learning was part of allyship. “Standing up for others who have a different set of experiences that is leadership or, in the ARA vernacular, that is allyship,” explained Sandee. “Change happens when we all care, and I believe you are here because you care—because you are standing at the intersection of allyship and recognizing the power you have to stand up and stand with marginalized communities.”
It was the perfect reminder of why the series was created and what we hope to accomplish. With that intention setting the stage, Sandee asked each panelist to summarize what they have seen change in their work and communities in terms of social and racial justice over the last three months.
“They’re asking the question. They are trying to be better.” – Colleen
Colleen Egan shared her both astonishment and appreciation that so many people were coming to her with questions about where they could learn more and do more to support marginalized communities. “The good thing is they are asking the question. They are trying to be better,” said Colleen. “And what amazes me too is that I can ask them, ‘You have no black friends you can go to? Are you banking at black owned banks? Is your doctor black?’ It’s amazing how many people when they look at the circles, they have no people of color in their networks.”
As she discussed people opening their eyes to the limits of their networks and knowledge, Colleen also shared her encouragement that this is a historic time of change with sustained momentum: “I have never seen this. I think this is a true watershed moment in our history.”
“Things have been admirable as well as telling.” – Corey
Corey Flournoy began his assessment of the recent months explaining how he has seen things that have been admirable and positive, such as people galvanized to want to see change, to speak out, to help things turn around, but it has also been a telling time. “This is truly the first time for some people to really realize that racism really truly is something that still impacts black and brown people in society, and it’s much more than police brutality. It’s education. It’s jobs—better paying jobs. It’s housing,” said Corey. “It’s interesting to people engaging in conversations for the first time in the workplace and in their communities about things that have been going on for years, decades and centuries.”
He spoke of how this June corporations began taking big, sweeping actions, from recognizing Juneteenth as an official, paid holiday (even though most people didn’t know what it was before this year) to Band-Aid brands making bandages in darker shades to businesses looking to hire D&I experts to address absences of people of color in leadership. “If February is Black History Month, then June definitely has to be Black Progress Month,” said Corey as he explained the hard work that is happening across Groupon to expand understanding and make change, from companywide forums on race in June to newly established employee action groups focused on supporting Black-owned businesses.
“We talk a lot about the Diversity Tax.” – Jasmine
Jasmine Shells’ company, Five to Nine, has been recently asked to do more work specifically with ERGs (employee resource groups) and evaluating and measuring their effectiveness. She shared how in that work, especially at this difficult time, they have seen firsthand the challenge of the Diversity Tax—the added burden placed on Black and brown employees to support and educate their organizations when it comes to diversity and inclusion. “Black employees were feeling overwhelmed,” explained Jasmine. “Not only were they being pulled in the direction of supporting their families as COVID-19 disproportionally impacts black communities, in addition to everything that happened with George Floyd, they were being asked to try to educate well-meaning people who reached out and they were also trying to protect their own spaces.”
Passionate about helping businesses find ways to eliminate the Diversity Tax and find ways to provide more support to Black employees in general, Jasmine shared how she has seen a growing number of companies focused on meeting this need: “A lot of companies are trying to answer this question and want to provide more support. They are just trying to figure out how, and it’s been great working with customers in that respect,” said Jasmine.
“What happens when we set the narrative?” – Sandee
As Jasmine shared a beautiful story of her amazing South Shore community in Chicago pulling together to clean up, to support one and another and to provide needed supplies after looting hit the area, Sandee underscored the importance of setting the narrative. “I think the narrative we kept hearing was the South Side or the West Side is on fire,” said Sandee. “I think what is so important about what you said was that it speaks to what happens when we set the narrative. It’s so critical that we tell these stories of what happened the morning after…when everybody in the community got together and helped business owners clean up their shops.”
“Strategy went from cultural transformation to business transformation” – Corey
Corey explained that for a while now Groupon has been working on moving their Inclusion and Diversity team out of HR and into Branding and Marketing. “We pivoted from looking at employee challenges to how D&I could actually help the business to do better,” said Corey. “Our strategy went from cultural transformation to business transformation.”
The result has been Groupon’s branding and marketing teams really listening to black-owned businesses and focusing on how to help black and brown-owned businesses survive and thrive at this time, in addition to helping internal employees. “As a company, we’re continuing to utilize our strategy to figure out how we can truly make an impact and not just say the words “Black Lives Matter,” explained Corey.
“The hard part is feeling that you are over-mentored and underfunded.” – Jasmine
Jasmine shared some powerful data and personal insights on the reality of being a black, women entrepreneur in enterprise technology. “I think what is interesting just as being a black, women-founded company in technology…the hard part is feeling that you are over-mentored and underfunded.”
To underscore the underfunded part of that statement, Jasmine explained that black women only receive .006% of all VC-backed dollars despite creating businesses at the fastest rate of any other group. She shared a realization she had during the process of taking her company through its first round of pitching for VC-funding and encountering an investor who explained that he wasn’t used to getting pitches from women, let alone black women: “I realized that a part of the reason that funding gap exists is because of representation. The only thing he could frame up what was successful was these white men who have been pitching him,” said Jasmine. “So when people ask me what can I do to make a difference? You know dollars speak. Dollars are really what’s going to move the needle. It’s thinking about how you can recommend a black-owned business? How can you become a customer? How can you do a paid pilot?”
“I don’t think being an ally is a risk…it’s just what we should do.” – Colleen
As President & CEO, Illinois Science & Technology Coalition & Institute, Colleen is not now and never has been a person to back down from risk-taking in her career. When asked how ARA members can be bold allies who take risks to support people of color at work or in daily life, she reminded everyone of the simple importance of doing what is right. “I don’t think being an ally is a risk for me personally, it’s just what we should do,” she said.
“The hope really does need all of us…it needs all of us.” – Sandee
As the panel discussion began to wind down, each speaker discussed the things that are keeping their chins and hopes up in this difficult year. They shared how they are seeing colleagues engage in really tough conversations, willing to discuss racism in blunt new ways. They talked of groups coming together to support each other and build coalitions dedicated to equity. And Sandee spoke of that hope—the hope she gets directly from “the kiddos” in her work and the hope that needs us all: “The hope really does need us. It needs all of us. It needs all of us to do our part. It needs all of us to say, ‘there is a time for fighting for someone else. There is a time for loving someone else,’” said Sandee.
To begin and to end with hope is the mark of a good journey, and it was also the mark of this excellent discussion, driven by an inspiring panel of leaders who are doing so much good and driving so much change.
We want to thank our generous sponsors for making this event happen and for all they are doing to promote greater understanding and connection in the world today. They are:
Actions We Can Take
In addition to all the messages our panelists and sponsors shared, they also gave us ideas for moving forward as allies, advocates and action takers. Here they are:
- Dollars Speak. Broaden your network and leverage your influence by investing in and supporting businesses that are owned by people of color.
- Ask for Transparency. Ask about the inclusion and diversity of vendors and partners: How many people of color are in leaders? Management? On Boards?
- Speak Up! Be an ally in the workplace and point out when minority voices are not being heard or are overlooked.
- Support Colleagues of Color: Be aware of the Diversity Tax and how to make sure organizations are not making it the unpaid job of minority employees to manage and own inclusion and diversity for the business.
- Shape the Narrative: Tell and share the stories of togetherness and hope rather than letting the sensationalism of the media define communities of color.
If you didn’t have a chance to tune into to the discussion, you can view the replay here. And, feel free to share on social media with the hashtag ARAallies and tag @ARAmentors.