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Can we talk about this at work?

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Tough conversations propel DEI at Netrush

The horrifying killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd flooded our news feeds leaving many of us speechless and heartbroken. Two more on top of the countless Black Americans killed by police. Each death was a harsh reminder of what bias can create. Nobody knew what to say, but silence was not an option. One conversation could be a catalyst for change.

“We started talking about the murders in a company chat,” recounted Shon-Lueiss Harris, a copywriter and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) organizer at Netrush. “Bringing it up felt uncomfortable. Everyone was shocked. We needed to unpack what we all just saw. What we kept seeing. Before we got too far, someone cut in saying, ‘This isn’t a topic for work.'”

Despite the resistance from some, the conversation didn’t stop there. Instead, a diverse group of employees were inspired to challenge Netrush to engage with racial justice directly.

What started as a small group chat grew into a company-wide education. “I’m brown wherever I go. I won’t pretend the hurt stops when office hours begin,” said Harris. “We needed to change the norm. Not just touch these topics, but dive into them. We decided to start with microaggressions because they affect so many people.”

Netrush employees received a curated series of videos, podcasts, and articles produced by communities often unheard. Each piece explored microaggressions and bias as experienced by a different marginalized group — Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), the LGBTQ+ community, women.

After a month of educating ourselves independently, we gathered together for a virtual discussion on what we learned and how to turn these lessons into future action.

We caught back up with four participants — one being our very own CEO Brian Gonsalves — to publicly share their personal experience in the microaggressions training.

 

Carlos Martinez Calvo, Retail Analyst

What made you join the conversation?

I joined the conversation to provide a voice that I felt wasn’t being represented. At Netrush, diversity exists, but it is not prominent. As one of the only people with Spanish/Hispanic roots, I wanted to speak up during Hispanic Heritage month, as I felt it was not being talked about when there are clear issues surrounding this community.

Where were you before the microaggression learnings? Where are you now?

I was in a place of understanding. I have had previous education about microaggressions, and I have experienced them as well. Even though I knew about their existence and the general topics they are about, it is always good to revisit and expand your knowledge.

What’s one takeaway you think everyone should hear?

To eliminate microaggressions, the first step is to learn about them, what are their origins? How do they propagate? Learning about them is the easy part. The hard part that everyone should do is understand. Learning and understanding are different. Learning is more theoretical, while understanding requires people to put themselves in the shoes of others, to feel the way others felt when experiencing microaggressions. It is when people begin to understand that change is possible.

Where do you want to see Netrush go next?

Number one, keep the fire going, keep educating our employees and our community about microaggressions and help them understand. This can be achieved through open debates, educational resources, and 1:1 conversations to deeply understand each other. Number two, hire [for] diversity! Netrush is no longer limited by its location in Vancouver, WA. Virtual workstations mean Netrush can hire talented individuals from anywhere.

 

Hannah Amundson, Graphic Designer

What made you join the conversation?

I wanted to join the conversation because I think it’s essential to be involved in order to further educate myself, check myself, and make sure that I am listening to others — especially coworkers with different experiences than myself. In my whole entire career, past jobs and all, these conversations were never initiated from the companies I worked for (rather — neglected when someone brought it up, if I’m quite honest). I think it’s incredibly important to make an effort to learn and be a part of discussions that undo my privileged thinking and broaden my perspective.

Where were you before the microaggression learnings? Where are you now?

It definitely broadened my scope on microaggressions and made me aware of some that I was previously unaware of. Where I’m at now…personally, it’s hard to navigate that for me, but I think I’m continuously in a state of learning and questioning. I’d say I’m headed towards a long, never-ending road of greater understanding and empathy.

What’s one takeaway you think everyone should hear?

One takeaway from the learnings is (and has been said many times before) “there’s nothing micro about microaggressions.” Understanding the impact is important — it’s a heavy burden that not all of us are forced to carry. It’s so lazy to be complacent. Challenge yourself to listen and be mindful of the impact of your words and actions that hurt other folks. Especially those with more power and authority.

Where do you want to see Netrush go next?

I want to see Netrush continue to push themselves to be an inclusive company and listen to their BIPOC and LGBTQ+ employees. I want them to keep the momentum. It seems like Netrush has only just started. Keep investing in the DEIAC and keep going. This isn’t a trend. This isn’t going to end after election season. We have to be in it for the long haul. Honestly, I would love to see every Netrush employee get involved with these learnings and push themselves to be a part of these conversations.

 

Pamela Fiehn, Creative Director

What made you join the conversation?

Inclusion isn’t something that happens because a company sets a policy and tells people to “be inclusive.” It happens when we create a culture and community that values inclusion and acts thoughtfully to be inclusive. This conversation was one small step toward building this kind of community at Netrush, and that’s important to me.

Where were you before the microaggression learnings? Where are you now?

I’ve facilitated workshops on how to create inclusive team cultures, where microaggressions were a part of the discussion. But I still consider myself a learner. Sometimes it’s learning by listening, and sometimes it’s learning through taking action.

What’s one takeaway you think everyone should hear?

Some of us shared stories of being the target of a microaggression. Some of us shared stories of being a witness. All of those stories were painful.

Where do you want to see Netrush go next?

I’d like to see KPIs around DEI. We need to integrate our values into our measures of success. You measure the things that matter to you.

 

Brian Gonsalves, CEO

Where were you before the microaggression learnings? Where are you now?

I’ve always felt that I have a good understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong. I felt well-educated. But then I was educated even further. I heard from individuals with different experiences. We might all be part of the same organization, but everyone has taken different paths to get here.

It showed me that there’s still so much to learn. I need to accept that I won’t always know the answer, and that it’s okay to ask. This experience inspired me to take a pause, reflect on what I’ve done, and how I should behave going forward.

What’s one takeaway you think everyone should hear?

Sharing can be embarrassing. Some things seem obvious and embarrassing to say, but you have to say them to reinforce what you’ve learned and to teach others. It’s difficult, but it’s important.

I grew up in a fortunate situation. I had two parents and people that loved me. I wasn’t given everything, and I still had tough times. There’s always someone that had it harder and had to overcome much more.

My job is to do my best to remove obstacles so everyone has the same opportunity to do the work and get to where they want to be.

Where do you want to see Netrush go next?

I want pure inclusion. Honestly, I see inclusion as a natural part of an organization. This isn’t an “add-on” or “also” situation. It’s already part of the fabric of being in any entrepreneurial environment — having all of us being here, working our tails off to be where we want to be in life.

Everyone is equal in that environment, regardless of job title. Entrepreneurial environments provide the absolute ability to work together. In that way, inclusion is integrated into our company.

Now we have to communicate that inclusion in a better way, which is one of the main things I learned from these trainings. I have these moments where I feel, “yeah of course,” but it isn’t that easy. It hasn’t been as straightforward. So I want to make it more of an “of course” situation

 

Looking ahead to the future of DEI in Netrush

Netrush has taken an early step in a long journey. Encouraging our employees to listen, consider, and discuss bias openly was just a start — a signal that we’re serious about cultivating a space for everyone to thrive. But it’s clear, there’s still more to do.

“I was caught by the number of individuals that witnessed, or were on the receiving end, of a microaggression and didn’t act,” rehashed Janay Cooper, content specialist and DEI content organizer with Netrush. “It wasn’t that people didn’t want to. The reality is people didn’t have the tools on how to dismantle these situations.”

Our next step is to turn education into action: to provide the tools our employees need, and explore ways to have a positive impact in our community.