One of the greatest pleasures of owning your own business is deciding what impact your venture will make, and what mark you will leave.
I started out pouring time and energy into the daily operations of building a digital marketing agency: serving clients, building relationships and learning to be a topnotch boss. But as my agency stabilized and grew, I realized how essential it was to our success to be intentional about our culture and core values.
Beyond values that improve our own lives and build fulfilling client relationships, at J.Scott Marketing one of our core values is being an antiracist digital marketing agency. By naming this value and working to contribute in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), we hope to bring more attention and awareness to small business teams and owners who are curious about undertaking this work.
My sister, who describes herself as an “antiracist midwife,” introduced me to deeper ideas around DEI in 2020, also around the time that the #BlackLivesMatter movement was increasing media coverage of systemic racism. And I was learning about ways that local businesses were making antiracism a focus of their work through Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.
Reading and learning about the antiracism movement showed me ways I’ve benefited from white privilege. I became unable to unsee the ways that convenient miseducation about our history sustains a culture of white supremacy, and how others have been denied and excluded from reaching their potential—personally, professionally, and economically. Systemic racism gatekeeps opportunities, imprisons one out of three Black men at some point in their lifetime, exacerbates mental health issues, and overall, devastates the potential for people of color (POC) to accumulate wealth.
Antiracism as a core value of a small business
I took financial prosperity, homeownership, and my ability to create the company of my dreams for granted. But rather than just focusing on what I could do for myself and my team, I saw our potential to make an impact beyond our own lives.
The more I learned about white privilege and the “invisible knapsack” of tools I was given, the more I realized how uncomfortable and unnatural it felt to separate my personal values from my work life. I brought the possibility of DEI work to my team and was met with enthusiasm and support. We began to talk about tangible ways that our small business could make an impact. I was eager to get started and welcomed our responsibility to do the work.
Four ways we put antiracism into action at a digital marketing agency
In some ways, the “easy” part was deciding to make antiracism a core value. More challenging? Figuring out what that looked like on the ground.
Through strategy sessions, earnest conversations, research, welcoming all ideas, and a willingness to put our money where our mouths are, here are four ways that put our value of antiracism into action.
1. Paid team DEI training.
Believing that it’s important to continue educating ourselves, we hold monthly DEI training. Each team member is paid to spend 15-30 minutes to digest background information on the month’s topic, and then we devote time during a team meeting to ask questions, talk about how we were impacted, and discuss what we want to do with the information. We’ve studied how systemic racism has impacted voting, housing, and education, as well as topics surrounding equity and inclusivity related to disabilities, ageism, and more.
2. Pro bono work.
We offered a marketing contract worth $12,000 to Global Village Foods, a family-owned, Black-owned Vermont small business. We had such a fulfilling partnership helping them market a new line of business and supporting them as they expanded current business opportunities.
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3. Paid marketing traineeship.
Through our team DEI trainings, it became clear that discrimination plays a big role in hiring. We saw many promising candidates, often trying to transition from service jobs to marketing, who lacked the year of digital marketing experience required for the role. But many internships and entry-level positions are very low paying (or even unpaid), limiting access to candidates who have broad financial support outside of work—and the people who need them most cannot afford to take them.
We saw an opportunity to create a paid, part-time traineeship for a candidate to join our team to learn the ins and outs of digital marketing and get their feet wet across a number of projects. In total, the program cost roughly $4,700 for just over 200 hours of work from the trainee and our supporting team members over six months. Our first “graduate” was able to complete the traineeship while working in her current field, and through our connections and with a well-earned letter of recommendation, we hope she will have a leg up on the competition to land a full-time marketing position this fall.
4. Speaking up.
“White people talking to other white people about racism is progress,” my sister once said to me. If white people created systems embedded with racism, it is our work to change them. In practice? That means that when a client or networking partner makes a comment that feels uncomfortable, we talk about it.
We don’t always bring it up in the moment. We’ve found that one-to-one conversations open the door to productive connection. We open with a neutral, curious question, along the lines of: “You said something in our meeting that made me uncomfortable. I heard you say XYZ. Can you help me understand what you meant?”
Was I nervous about asking these questions of the very people who pay us? You bet. But do you know what happened? Our ability to have these so-called hard conversations has created deeper understanding and trust. Not only are we sharing what we’ve learned about DEI, we are creating stronger client relationships. We can’t think of a bigger win-win.
What have we learned about antiracism in small business?
We know antiracism is a journey. We have much more to learn and we are committed to increasing our impact on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We’ve learned that people are really interested in the DEI and antiracism work we are undertaking. And that when we talk about it, we attract clients, organizations, and job candidates who are either already doing the work, or interested in pursuing it. This has been hugely gratifying and validating.
And we’ve learned that living out our antiracism value dovetails with our other values—including “relationships.” So far, after every call I’ve made, I have left the call feeling more deeply connected to our clients, and I think they feel more connected to our partnership, too. When we can calmly and respectfully have these conversations, our clients feel what it means to prioritize relationships above and beyond our bottom line.
Where are we going next?
The DEI and antiracism work we’ve done so far has whetted our appetite for more. Here are a few ways we hope to continue our work and deepen our impact.
- We are including more specific training on “what to do” within our team DEI training, so that as our awareness grows, so does our ability to take action at work and beyond.
- We are sharing on our social media channels the DEI resources we’ve benefitted from to generate discussion and awareness.
- We hope to offer another pro bono marketing contract to a BIPOC-owned business.
- We are revising and improving our traineeship program and hope to welcome another paid marketing trainee in fall 2022.
One conversation at a time, we hope that we can inspire other leaders and small business owners to take chances and find ways, however small they feel at the start, to take action on doing this important work.
For more information about how you can get started, read our blog post on five tangible ways to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in your small business.
May your small business be empowered to make a big impact!