Are We Closer To The Truth?

Neon sign at the Instrument office that reads "Are we closer to the truth?"

Written by JD Hooge, Co-founder and CCO

Someone once told me, “If you’re not embarrassed by who you were a year ago, you haven’t learned enough.” As we stand at a historic social reckoning and growing movement for Black lives, it is a moment that demands self-reflection, a willingness to admit faults and a commitment to taking action.

From its infancy, Instrument was a highly improvised outfit. Self described as “not afraid of change”, each year we’ve shape-shifted in pursuit of a better version of ourselves. Change has always been championed; heroed; aspired to. In many ways, this aspirational self-concept has suited our company quite well, but our penchant for looking to the future has also made reconciliation with the past more difficult.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, when it took our leadership five days to say a word about it; and some of our BIPOC employees made their voices heard; a spotlight was cast on our silence. They felt alone. Unacknowledged. Unseen. Our silence was a painful reminder that good intentions are not only not enough, they can be actively destructive when based in the comfort our privilege affords us.

The following week, we hosted a town hall Zoom meeting where BIPOC employees shared personal perspectives and stories. Our goal was simply to listen and validate. Throughout the next several weeks, the gap between our intentions and our actions came into focus. Our organizational efforts over the last several years to become diverse, inclusive, and equitable came too late and left us far from supporting and reflecting our BIPOC employees’ best interests.

Graphic that reads "intention action"

This powerful moment, and the conversations that followed, propelled an energetic shift. A massive growth opportunity was laid bare and our leadership team was faced with a paradoxical tension. Our instinct to immediately transition this energy into new practices, policies and procedures was in direct conflict with the need for deeper understanding and the time required for thoughtfully planned, long-term change.

Over the last few months, as we’ve taken an honest look inward, that sense of urgency we, and so many others felt, has been widely circulated as a common characteristic of white dominant culture. As many of us have begun to understand (or accept) the depth and extent of the work to be done to become actively anti-racist, we’ve grappled with the tension between urgency and intentionality.

It’s annoying seeing how everyone is desperate to flip a switch and fix it overnight; as if it’s that simple.

Angela BrownAllyship & Action Roundtable

Each of us arrived at this moment with varying levels of awareness and understanding. If I’m completely honest, I’ve gone through most of my life and career with only a shallow grasp of how racism functions and why it persists. In contrast, my BIPOC peers have long held a much more sophisticated understanding of its impacts, as a matter of necessity.

At Instrument, the process of reconciling these knowledge gaps and language barriers amidst heightened emotions (and against the backdrop of the pandemic) has not been easy or clean or pretty — to say the least. We’ve lost highly respected BIPOC employees, we’ve made forward progress, and we’ve fallen on our faces more than once.

But opportunity is not created from comfort. True progress requires us to put aside all of our righteousness, our defensiveness and embrace the discomfort. As Creative Director, Nishat Akhtar, said in Instrument’s first OnAir episode, “One of the things that's gotten us into this mess is the unwillingness to sort of wade into the messiness and to start to detangle it.”

Graphic that reads "Opportunity is not created from comfort"

There’s a neon sign in the lobby of our headquarters in Portland that reads, “Are we closer to the truth?”, prompting us all to consider the impact of the work we accomplish each day. Did we go below the surface to uncover something deeper? This is an apt prompt for today. Are we closer to the truth because we’ve started this untangling? Sure we are, but the truth is that we’ll never be done. Only if we all commit to this work as an ongoing practice will we have a chance to fulfill our promise of shaping a future we believe in.

The Opportunity Ahead

Einstein said “You can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Going beyond the status quo means doubling down on awareness, education, training and tools. We’ve called on outside experts in order to make this effort last, identifying and engaging a coaching and development partner who has begun working top-down with executive leaders in individual and group discussions and exercises. With the guidance of this partner and our newly-appointed Education and Development Manager, Kary Youman, a new and ongoing training program will launch for all employees this fall.

We know that we need to have vision from many different angles. In an effort to provide safe spaces and more opportunities for diverse voices to be heard — to speak their minds and bring new ideas to the table — we’ve expanded our internal network of advisory councils and launched an affinity group program that will help guide equitable and inclusive practices around subjects like education, cultural awareness, community engagement, career development and reducing bias in recruiting and client work.

After running this business for over a decade, we know that what we pay attention to grows. Although we’ve been tracking diversity and equity for years, in order to really leverage this data in a way that actually accelerates change, we need better tools to assess barriers for underrepresented groups. With this in mind, we’ve developed a representation roadmap with a three year outlook and will launch a new career progression framework before the end of the year. We’re committed to sharing this data and embracing accountability for outcomes.

Lastly, we have an incredible opportunity (and responsibility) to use our scale and our voice to support underrepresented communities in more impactful ways. Through social advocacy, volunteering, pro bono partnerships and employee donation matching, we’ve committed to providing material support for the causes and communities we believe in.

As we continue this journey — aiming for progression, not perfection — we feel it's important to be open with the process, not only reporting progress but also sharing what we’ve learned along the way. We do this to hold ourselves accountable, and as a resource for others in our community.

Follow along to hear details of actions we’re taking to elevate education and training, amplify internal voices, provide transparency, offer material support for BIPOC communities and hold ourselves accountable as we work towards a more equitable, diverse and inclusive organization.

Related Reading