A Long-Term Plan for Anti-Racism at Skillcrush

By: Adda Birnir

Category: Skillcrush News

This is a working document. Last updated: March 16, 2021

On this page:

 

9 Months Of (More Active) Anti-Racism

Public statement March 2021

It’s been a little over nine months since the brutal murder of George Floyd, and the ensuing protests and great American reckoning on race relations.

We here at Skillcrush, like so many, took the events of the summer as a call to examine our own racism and commit more deeply to actually practicing anti-racism. In other words, we decided to take what had been—honestly—an afterthought and make it a central part of what we do as we run our company and serve the needs of our students.

Afterall, our motto for a long time has been “tech is for everyone” and we needed to better live up to those words.

For that reason, we’ve elevated our commitment to anti-racism to the highest levels within our company operations: it’s now one of three company goals (the other two being to maintain a sustainable business and get more students making more money), and we’ve amended our company mission for the first time since our founding to include anti-racist language.

Now, nine months later (and six months after we’d promised to post another update), I wanted to take a moment to report on what we’ve done and what we’ve learned along the way.

Below you will find the original plans we published on June 30, 2020 with notes on which aspects of our plans we’ve completed, as well as which ones we have not, and any notes that we thought were relevant to understanding what’s been going on and what we’ve learned. We’ve also included some new planned actions that emerged as we went along.

But before I get into all those details, I wanted to share the single most important thing that has come out of the hundreds of discussions we’ve had about how to enact anti-racism in the context of a mission driven, for-profit, online education company:

What we’re learning in real time is that anti-racism is complicated and multi-pronged—we are at once confronting biases within ourselves, our communities, our industry, and YES our company. And it often feels hard to gauge our progress: what data should we be looking at? What is measurable? What is not? What exactly does “success” look like?

These are just some of the questions we are trying to answer as part of our anti-racism work, and a big part of the work is accepting how complicated it is to try and make change within a system that has been at least 400 years in the making, and recognizing that anti-racism is something that we are committing to for the rest of our lives.

That all said, I am deeply proud of the team for showing up on a daily / weekly / monthly basis and continuing to ask the hard questions and have the hard conversations. Anti-racism is a muscle and it’s a muscle we hadn’t been exercising, so, exercising it is, unsurprisingly, uncomfortable and we’re forced to face how weak our anti-racism muscle feels.

Thank you for reading, and as always, I welcome your feedback and thoughts: you can email me at adda@skillcrush.com.

With love, and in solidarity.
Adda Birnir
Founder & CEO

(back to top)

Skillcrush Long-Term Anti-Racist Plan

Updated March 12, 2021

Our ultimate outcome is to become an actively anti-racist organization that works against racism in all facets, internal AND external to our company.

The following is our first pass at a series of specific outcomes that we believe will build towards our ultimate goal, and the actions we plan to take to achieve them. As we know better, we will do better, and plan to treat this as a living document that we will update quarterly if not more often.

Outcome

Build consciousness about diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism within every aspect of the company.

Actions

All March 2021 updates are in italics.

Introspection, internal reflection and education, including but not limited to:

  • Solicit anonymous feedback from the team as to our strengths & weaknesses as a company in the form of a diversity and inclusion survey.
    • We solicited anonymous feedback from our team as to our strengths and weaknesses as a company with regards to diversity and inclusion and got some very interesting responses. View survey report here (PDF). (3/2021)
  • Ask about the racist / anti-racist implications of every major business decision.
    • We’re now doing this. (3/2021)

Enable our staff to self-organize around learning more about anti-racism, for example supporting them in reading anti-racist texts and giving them time to discuss with their colleagues during work hours.

Hire a facilitator to host a company-wide anti-racism workshop (currently sourcing educators).

  • We hosted our first all-company diversity and inclusion workshop on January 28, 2021. This was a bit later than we had hoped, but we found it really challenging to book a workshop simply because every DEI organization we reached out to has been SLAMMMED.

    That said, we ended up hiring the absolutely amazing team at ReadySet, a DEI consulting company founded & run by Y-Vonne Hutchinson.

    The workshop they hosted examined the topic of allyship in the workplace and was phenomenal (says me, Adda). (3/2021)

Add anti-racist language to our mission and company values.

  • Our original mission read: To improve women’s quality of life through digital empowerment and skills to enter high-earning & flexible careers.What we’ve realized is that “women” isn’t the all-inclusive word that we’d believed it to be. For that reason, in order to make sure our commitment to serving ALL people including those who don’t identify as women, we’ve amended our mission to read:To improve the quality of life of all women—with a particular focus on BIPOC women, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming individuals—through digital empowerment and skills to build higher earning & more flexible careers.

    I’ll be totally honest here and say that this is STILL language that is very much in progress. For example, recently we’ve been discussing that BIPOC is actually a quite confusing term, so more to come! (3/2021)

Share everything with the team and publish everything we’re doing publicly to be held internally and publicly accountable.

  • This was accomplished by writing this plan back in June, and now, this public update (in addition to weekly updates during team reviews and monthly updates during our company all-team). Moving forward we plan to update this plan more frequently. (3/2021)

Outcome

Increase diversity on the management team (currently 3 white women, 2 straight, 1 lgbtq).

Actions

Work to hire a BIPOC to work on the management team.

  • Unfortunately, we’ve made no progress here simply because we haven’t had a position to hire onto the management team. (3/2021)

Identify ways in which we need to restructure and rework the way we work together as a management organization in order to ensure that a BIPOC will feel like a valued and respected member of the team.

  • See above (3/2021)

Outcome

Create an actively anti-racist culture at Skillcrush where BIPOC staffers thrive

Actions

Track promotion rates to ensure that BIPOC team members are promoted at the same rates as white team members and recognize that they may require a different kind of support and mentorship than their white colleagues in order to be successful. Within three months.

  • After much analysis and discussion we’ve determined that although we can’t definitively say that promotion rates are equitable across all staff, other issues (such as general lack of diversity of staff) are higher priority. (3/2021)

Track tenure by demographic to ensure that BIPOC are not leaving at higher rates than their colleagues and aid us in identifying problems with inclusion so that we can immediately address them.

  • In the last half of 2020, we hired 2 new team members, and 5 team members left voluntarily.
    • In Q3/2020:
      • Turnover was 0% (0 of 4) for BIPOC team members.
      • Turnover was 13% (3 of 23) for white team members
    • In Q4/2020:
      • Turnover was 25% (1 of 4) for BIPOC team members.
      • Turnover was 5% (1 of 21) for white team members.
  • We’re planning to do research into inclusion issues so we can then make plans to identify any we have and eliminate them. (3/2021)

Continue to ensure that BIPOC team members are paid in line with our transparent salary tiers and that these don’t create pay disparity between BIPOC and white team members.

  • We did analyze this and determined that BIPOC employees are paid equitably compared to their non-BIPOC counterparts. In addition, we overhauled our whole salary / pay structure system in the second half of 2020 and increased employee salaries accordingly. (3/2021)

Identify resources & training for white managers to better prepare them to support BIPOC team members.

  • We’re looking for resources and training for white managers to become better at supporting BIPOC team members. (3/2021)

Outcome

Steward our business resources towards companies whose anti-racist values align with ours.

Actions

Develop a set of criteria by which to assess a company’s anti-racism. Within the next month.

Divest all advertising dollars from Facebook and Instagram. Immediately.

  • Done! (3/2021)

Explore opportunities to support Black-owned businesses or individuals as an ongoing part of our business (via advertising spend, or other business needs). Immediate and ongoing.

  • Doing it! (3/2021)

Outcome

Continue to deepen our understanding of media representations of BIPOC, and the ways in which we must actively dismantle racism in all aspects of our product design, curriculum, and marketing.

Actions

Put together a workshop for our internal design and marketing teams on media representations of Black people throughout American history. Within the next month.

  • We hosted a workshop titled “Media Representations of Black Women,” where we examined common tropes in media representations of Black women and discussed how we can be conscious to avoid those stereotypes in our marketing content.  (3/2021)

Internal marketing team will educate themselves on how to achieve inclusive and anti-racist writing, editing, positioning, messaging, and representation.

  • The sales & marketing team now participates in a weekly discussion of a reading, podcast, or other educational material. (3/2021)

Product & design team will work to educate themselves on the intersections of race, racism, and design in tech. Beginning within the next month and ongoing.

  • Product & design team has been educating themselves on anti-racism and meeting weekly to discuss their learnings. (3/2021)

Curriculum team will represent the experiences of BIPOC in our classes through diverse on-screen representation, visual depictions of learners, and highlighting of exemplars and subject matter experts.

Represent the experiences of people of color, and Black people in particular, on our blog and across all marketing distribution channels — by covering topics relevant to people of color in tech specifically, and hiring writers of color to contribute to our blog.

  • Our blog has not been publishing regularly this year, but we have still made changes. We published several articles on the experiences of women BIPOC in tech, hired one woman of color to contribute to our blog monthly, and kicked off a partnership with a career platform for women of color in the tech industry. We also updated our brand voice guidelines in mid-2020 to account for our readers’ broad range of experiences, and to make space for BIPOC in particular — and continue to make regular updates. (3/2021)

(back to top)

Skillcrush Staff Demographic Information

All of the following are self-reported and shared in the spirit of transparency. All data is current as of June 2020.

Race & Ethnicity

  • 21 White (84%)
  • 3 African-American or Black (8%)
  • 1 White & Latinx (4%)

Gender

  • 21 Female (84%)
  • 4 Male (16%)
  • 25 Cisgender (100%)

Sexual orientation

  • 2 Bisexual (8%)
  • 3 Gay or Lesbian (12%)
  • 20 Straight/Heterosexual (80%)

Disability

  • 22 Team members report no disability (80%)
  • 3 Team members report an invisible disability (12%)
  • 0 team members report a visible disability (0%)

Leadership

  • 3 White (100%)
  • 3 Female & Cisgendered (100%)
  • 1 LGBTQ (33%)

(back to top)

Skillcrush Student Demographic Information

All of the following are self-reported and shared in the spirit of transparency. All data is current as of January 2021.

Race & Ethnicity

October 2020

January 2021

US
Demographics

White

281 (67%)

690 (55%)

60.1%

African-American or Black

72 (17%)

202 (16%)

13.4%

Latinx

39 (9%)

118 (9%)

18.5%

Asian or Pacific Islander

41 (10%)

136 (11%)

6.1%

Native American

10 (2%)

1 (<1%)

1.3%

Two or more

103 (8%)
Total

1250

Gender

October 2020 January 2021 US Demographics
Female 371 (87%) 1082 (78%)
Male 49 (12%) 267 (19%)
Non Binary 3 (1%) 17 (1%)
Prefer not to say 3 (1%) 17 (1%)
Total 1388

Do you identify as transgender?

January 2021 US Demographics
No 1329 (97%)
Yes 16 (1%) 0.6%
Prefer not to say 27 (2%)
Total 1372

 

Sexual Orientation

January 2021
Heterosexual 940 (69%)
Bisexual 79 (6%)
Pansexual 33 (2%)
Asexual 49 (4%)
Queer 43 (3%)
Lesbian 24 (2%)
Gay 14 (1%)
I prefer not to answer 164 (12%)
Total 1367

(back to top)

===============================================================================

Skillcrush Long-Term Anti-Racist Plan

Originally Published June 2020

Our ultimate outcome is to become an actively anti-racist online tech education company that works against racism in all facets, internal AND external to our organization.

The following are our first pass at a series of specific outcomes that we believe will build towards our ultimate goal, and the actions we plan to take to achieve them. As we know better, we will do better, and plan to treat this as a living document that we will update quarterly if not more often.

Outcome

Build consciousness about diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism within every aspect of the company.

Actions

  • Introspection, internal reflection and education, including but not limited to:
    • Solicit anonymous feedback from the team as to our strengths & weaknesses as a company in the form of a diversity and inclusion survey. Already completed.
    • Ask about the racist / anti-racist implications of every major business decision. Immediate and ongoing.
    • Enable our staff to self-organize around learning more about anti-racism, for example supporting them in reading anti-racist texts and giving them time to discuss with their colleagues during work hours. Ongoing.
    • Hire a facilitator to host a company-wide anti-racism workshop (currently sourcing educators). Within the next three months.
  • Add anti-racist language to our mission and company values. Within the next three months.
  • Share everything with the team and publish everything we’re doing publicly to be held internally and publicly accountable. Begun upon the publishing of this plan.

 

Outcome

Increase diversity on the management team (currently 3 white women, 2 straight, 1 LGBTQ).

Actions

  • Work to hire a BIPOC to work on the management team. By the end of 2020.
  • Identify ways in which we need to restructure and rework the way we work together as a management organization in order to ensure that a BIPOC will feel like a valued and respected member of the team. Immediately and ongoing.

 

Outcome

Increase diversity across all the teams with a particular focus on the representation of Black and Latinx staff, with the goal of having 50% of our staff self-identify as BIPOC.

Actions

  • Fill our pipeline with 50% BIPOC for all open positions by identifying avenues for recruiting that go beyond sharing roles with job boards aimed at underrepresented groups in tech and halting hiring processes when we fail to reach this benchmark. Immediate and ongoing.

 

Outcome

Create an actively anti-racist culture at Skillcrush where BIPOC staffers thrive.

Actions

  • Track promotion rates to ensure that BIPOC team members are promoted at the same rates as white team members and recognize that they may require a different kind of support and mentorship than their white colleagues in order to be successful. Within three months.
  • Continue to ensure that BIPOC team members are paid in line with our transparent salary tiers and that these don’t create pay disparity between BIPOC and white team members. Immediate and ongoing.
  • Track tenure by demographic to ensure that BIPOC are not leaving at higher rates than their colleagues and aid us in identifying problems with inclusion so that we can immediately address them. Within three months.
  • Identify resources & training for white managers to better prepare them to support BIPOC team members. Within three months.

 

Outcome

Improve the experience & outcomes of our BIPOC students.

Actions

  • Speak to BIPOC students about their learning experience at Skillcrush, and experiences applying for jobs in tech in order to identify material ways we can improve their experiences and outcomes. Within the next three months.
  • Host dedicated town halls for BIPOC students to speak about their experiences as students at Skillcrush and as adults trying to break into tech. Within the next month.
  • Ensure that BIPOC students are at least proportionally represented in all discovery user interviews. Immediate and ongoing.
  • Explore ways to make our courses more accessible to Black women through scholarships and/or partnerships with other organizations. Within the next six months.
  • Identify resources & training for white and non-Black instructors & TAs to better prepare them to support BIPOC students. Within three months.

 

Outcome

Steward our business resources towards companies whose anti-racist values align with ours.

Actions

  • Develop a set of criteria by which to assess a company’s anti-racism. Within the next month.
  • Divest all advertising dollars from Facebook and Instagram. Immediately.
  • Explore opportunities to support Black-owned businesses or individuals as an ongoing part of our business (via advertising spend, or other business needs). Immediate and ongoing.

 

Outcome

Continue to deepen our understanding of media representations of BIPOC, and the ways in which we must actively dismantle racism in all aspects of our product design, curriculum, and marketing.

Actions

  • Put together a workshop for our internal design and marketing teams on media representations of Black people throughout American history. Within the next month.
  • Internal marketing team will educate themselves on how to achieve inclusive and anti-racist writing, editing, positioning, messaging, and representation. Beginning within the next month and ongoing.
  • Product & design team will work to educate themselves on the intersections of race, racism, and design in tech. Beginning within the next month and ongoing.
  • Curriculum team will represent the experiences of BIPOC in our classes through diverse on-screen representation, visual depictions of learners, and highlighting of exemplars and subject matter experts. Immediate and ongoing.
  • Represent the experiences of people of color, and Black people in particular, on our blog and across all marketing distribution channels — by covering topics relevant to people of color in tech specifically, and hiring writers of color to contribute to our blog. Ongoing and publicly reported quarterly.

(back to top)

Skillcrush Staff Demographic Information

All of the following are self-reported and shared in the spirit of transparency. All data is current as of June 2020.

Race & Ethnicity

  • 21 White (84%)
  • 3 African-American or Black (8%)
  • 1 White & Latinx (4%)

Gender

  • 21 Female (84%)
  • 4 Male (16%)
  • 25 Cisgender (100%)

Sexual orientation

  • 2 Bisexual (8%)
  • 3 Gay or Lesbian (12%)
  • 20 Straight/Heterosexual (80%)

Disability 

  • 22 Team members report no disability (80%)
  • 3 Team members report an invisible disability (12%)
  • 0 team members report a visible disability (0%)

Leadership

  • 3 White (100%)
  • 3 Female & Cisgendered (100%)
  • 1 LGBTQ (33%)

(back to top)

Skillcrush Student Demographic Information

All of the following are self-reported and shared in the spirit of transparency. All data is current as of October 2019 and the data set includes 429 students.

Race & Ethnicity

  • 281 White (67%)
  • 72 African-American or Black (17%)
  • 39 Latinx (9%)
  • 41 Asian or Pacific Islander (10%)
  • 10 Native American (2%)

Gender

  • 371 Female (87%)
  • 49 Male (12%)
  • 3 Non Binary (1%)
  • 3 Prefer not to say (1%)

(back to top)

A Reflection on Past Failures, Lessons Learned & Future Anti-Racist Plans

The events of the last few weeks have caused a powerful shift in consciousness, for the country, for white people, for me personally, and also, for the leadership and staff of Skillcrush.

The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Tony McDade, Rem’mie Fells, Riah Milton, David McAtee, and so many many more, along with the ensuing protests against police brutality, have led us to reckon with the pervasive racism, racial violence, and white supremacy in our country. We’ve taken concrete action in the short-term (read how here), but we’re simultaneously beginning the long-term internal and personal work necessary for any action to have structural staying power. In other words, we donated, we spoke out, and now we are committing ourselves to the critically important work of continuing to bring about systemic change in tech and beyond. Tech isn’t a safe and supportive space for all — especially not for people of color, and Black people in particular.

It’s a lot, and this process can’t happen quickly—this onion is layered, and we are just beginning to peel it.

Over the past eight years, we’ve taken many steps with the goal of building an anti-racist company, but by many objective measures we have much work yet to do. This moment is a profound opportunity to try to understand and take responsibility for why we’re still so far from having achieved it. And we believe that in order to be actively anti-racist in the tech community, we first need to be actively anti-racist in our own organization.

How can we build a truly anti-racist company? And what has prevented us from doing so?

These are two questions that we will wrestle with for a long time, but the best answer I have at this moment is this: my modus operandi has been to focus #1 on gender and to find ways to combat and work around gender discrimination in tech and the working world at large. Our mission as a company is to “improve women’s quality of life through digital empowerment and skills to enter high-earning and flexible careers.” What I realize in this moment, however, is that my white/heterosexist/abelist/cis-gendered privilege has allowed me to believe that focusing on women was all-inclusive. I acted on the assumption that we didn’t need to always and continuously reinforce our commitment to fighting for women of color, LGBTQ women, non-binary folks, disabled women, and older women, because “women” was an umbrella term that captured them all.

But by NOT continuously asking ourselves what the impact of a business decision, or product change, or design update, or student support change was on all women, and Black women in particular, we’ve allowed cis-gendered white women and their needs to stand in for all women simply because in our culture there is no neutral—neutral is racist. And “women,” on its own, we considered to be neutral and was thereby a racist lens with which to review our decisions. This behavior is textbook non-intersectional white feminism, and even though I knew that and could identify it in other people, I haven’t always been able to see when it has come up in myself and my own organization.

As I renew our organizational commitment to anti-racism, I have to acknowledge that the answers we have today are incomplete and we don’t fully know what we don’t know—we don’t know yet what our other blindspots are or how big they are. The best we know how to do, at this moment, is to put forward a list of outcomes that we believe are the hallmarks of an anti-racist organization and our first pass at the actions we plan to take in order to realize those outcomes.

We expect that, in the process, we will uncover things about ourselves, our organization, and our world that are deeply uncomfortable. I know we’ll also have to consider the inherent contradictions and challenges of being anti-racist, feminist, and capitalist at the same time. And all of that together will powerfully shape how we proceed, what outcomes we are able to achieve, and whether our initial methods prove to be the right ones.

We don’t know what will be the best thing we can do to work towards Black liberation, but we’re committed to figuring it out. We write this statement in an effort to be transparent about our thinking and to make it possible for you to hold us accountable.

We welcome any and all your feedback via email at hello@skillcrush.com.

With love, and in solidarity.

Adda Birnir
Founder & CEO

Adda Birnir

Adda is the CEO and founder of Skillcrush. She lives in Queens, NY with her husband and young son.

Want more articles like this?

Sign up to get the most recent tech news, tips and career advice.