Twenty-five years ago my son came home from middle school with a question. “What can we do to stop racism, dad?”
We talked about what a difficult problem it was, but rather than deciding it was too big to tackle, we came up with an idea. We bought a supply of red rubber erasers, printed “Eracism” on them and he gave them out to people at school.
It was a small step, but it was meaningful to him to raise his voice and stand up for what’s right.
Earlier this year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, our CEO, Ivan Stegic, asked a similar question at a staff meeting, “What can we do to repair this?” We had a long discussion about structural racism and the forces at play that are perpetuating inequality.
We eventually settled on one step that we could take: Eliminating the use of racist language in the work that we do. There are so many words (master, slave, blacklist, whitelist, etc.) that have racist roots and are now commonly used in the development world. We decided to take a stand against this practice, and Ivan wrote about that decision in an earlier blog post.
When we made this decision, my heart exploded. I’ve always been motivated by social issues, fighting inequity, and adhering to the conviction that we are all created equal. It’s heartening to know the company you work for not only shares those values, but is willing to stand up for it in a very public way.
From the beginning TEN7 was founded on the idea of equality, open source and democratization of technology. One of our guiding principles is to “make the world a better place.” So it was not surprising, but it was still gratifying, to see us put this stake in the ground.
Our developers made quick and steady progress eliminating the use of racist terms in our own work. Our CEO took the effort one step farther. He started speaking out on this issue with the partners we work with and with other influencers in the technology arena. There’s a big difference between changing your own behavior and putting yourself out as an ambassador for change.
We knew our efforts would be met with eye rolls by some who believe changing words won’t make a real difference. Still, we’ve been gratified that some of those we’ve reached out to have agreed and are starting to make changes of their own. I’m hopeful our efforts to shine a light on this issue will make inroads into other industries - accounting, advertising, medicine - there are so many places where change is far overdue.
It makes me proud as an employee to see TEN7 lead by example. I know we’re still taking small steps, but just like my son 25 years ago, if we can reach out with our message today, who knows where it can lead in the future.