Black Lives Matter

Kate Mueller | July 13, 2020


In the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths we watched company after company issuing emails and statements about Black Lives Matter. Leadership changed hands; companies committed to filling certain percentages of their positions with people of color, or donated money to organizations fighting for racial equity. This post is long overdue, but we hope you accept the underlying sentiment if not the timing.

Who we are

KnowledgeOwl is a small company; we currently have a team of nine. Roughly half of our team lives in the United States; the other half is spread among three other countries. KO was born in the U.S., and our founders both live here. For all of us, the issues raised by BLM have prompted a lot of discussion. How could--or should--we respond?

When the first rumblings of protests began to appear, we took notice. We immediately began asking: what do we need to learn, and what useful work can we do?

Talking about racism is difficult, but necessary. We might not get it right, but we're going to do everything we can to show up for such an important topic.

From overwhelm to plan

Our CEO and I had a lot of conversations in late May and early June around how we could or should respond. We saw the statements other organizations and companies were making, and the justified frustration and outrage from the general population, and tried to figure out where we fit in all of that. Hiring programs, massive donations to organizations, pledges to change supply chains...many of these options weren't on the table for us.

Ultimately, one of the things that helped us was a concept I learned in a previous job: a Venn diagram of all the world's problems in one circle, what you're good at in the other, and the tiny sliver where those things overlap. (Credit goes to Herb Caudill, founder and CEO of DevResults, who gave a brilliant talk about this in relation to international development at MERL Tech 2015; the diagram I'm thinking of is around the 5:30 mark.)

With this diagram in mind, we considered what we're good at. And there's really two things:

  1. We make easy-to-use knowledge management software that can be used for organizing and sharing information. We're committed to making our software available to people showing up for racial justice (see below for more details).
  2. We triage and fix problems. And when we do, it usually goes something like this:
    1. Initial identification of the problem
    2. Acknowledge and/or apologize
    3. Whenever possible, figure out an immediate band-aid or workaround
    4. Capture the more ideal long-term solution
    5. Slowly rebuild things in a better way

Could we apply this same approach to becoming better allies, to improve racial equity at KnowledgeOwl?

Five stages to engaging with racial equity at KnowledgeOwl

Looking at the five steps above, we are currently in the first three.

Understanding the problem

This is ongoing work. As a start, we have raised internal discussions and awareness around racial equity. We began a #blacklivesmatter channel in Slack, open to KnowledgeOwl employees, contractors, and freelancers. In this channel, we have discussion threads for a handful of antiracist books, lectures, and videos.

So far, this channel has prompted a lot of exploration of being not racist vs. being antiracist, of institutions and issues that might not seem informed by racism but are, on whiteness, and what we can do to be antiracist more often.

Acknowledge

Previously, major events like this have not been something we explicitly discussed at work. We'd like to change this. Current recent events like this year's fires in Australia, coronavirus, and Black Lives Matter have prompted us to think about what place those events have in our work environment.

We want to learn more and share resources about these issues. Our humanity does not end when we begin work. As a tight-knit company, we have an opportunity to support and educate each other (which is particularly important in these days of shifting lockdowns and restrictions). 

While some of these issues are a result of current events, others are the result of centuries of systemic racism. These require a different response and a different level of thoughtfulness and personal education. We can't solve the world's problems, but we can help keep each other better informed and educated, and that's a concrete way to support and initiate change.

Figure out an immediate band-aid or workaround

Here are the things we felt we could do immediately and have already been doing since early June:

  • Making our software available to non-profits, individuals, and companies working for racial equity. We've always offered a 25% non-profit institution discount. But if you are working in this space, please contact us for additional pricing options. If our software can help you change the world, we'd like to help you as much as we can.
  • Earlier this year, we began laying the groundwork to pursue B corporation certification. That process has given us a better framework to create and evaluate our policies and procedures and their impact on our communities, our customers, the environment, and the countries we live in. Antiracism has become part of what we're talking about as we do this work, and it will remain so. We're leveraging Certified B corporation's Anti-Racism Resources to facilitate these conversations.
  • We have documented our Ethical Code of Conduct, which clearly defines what we expect of our staff and contractors/freelancers. It details a framework for thinking about social issues around diversity, inclusion, equity, and allyship and provides appropriate remediation steps for concerns around violations of this code of conduct. These issues can be challenging to talk about; by defining some standard expectations and protocols, we hope to make it easier to facilitate open conversations.

Next steps

I'm sorry it's taken us so long to get a statement up about this. I will admit I've been worried that it will be deeply imperfect. Now, as the news cycle seems to be dampening stories and some of the mainstream momentum has died away, we feel it's even more important to step up and keep doing this work, imperfect as those attempts may be.

As we work our way through books and discussion, we are determining what more ideal long-term solutions can look like. And how we might implement them.

We'll update you on our progress in about three months.

In the meantime, we’d like to know: what would you like to see from us in the future? Are there ways that other companies or vendors are responding that you think would be good options for us?

This is the beginning.


About the author
Kate Mueller
Kate Mueller

is our Head Product & Documentation Owl, and Resident Cheese Monger. She has led a checkered past, including teaching college-level English and being the head of product for another small software company, which was a lot like herding cats. She solves problems. She runs prioritization meetings. She eats cheese. And in 2018 she hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, (which inspired her to eat more cheese). She writes our release notes and help documentation, advises on writing and documentation architecture best practices, and tries to think of creative ways to solve customer problems. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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