I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams

I recently bought a shirt, which says “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”. For many of us in the Black community, the perception of this saying is that the life, perspective of freedom, and opportunities from a professional standpoint, that we have are things that would only be a dream from our ancestors – something they had hoped for, and worked so hard for. What made them fight for something that they couldn’t see before their eyes? It was the hope for something better than their state at the time – whatever that would look like. This zeal for a better life for their family, descendants and community, but also for the world, captured their hearts. They knew their value and foresaw the richness that the world needed to experience. And folks, the reality is this, we are carrying on that same mandate in the space of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We all hope that people from around the world can live a life that yields the same commentary for generations to come. However, for that to be a reality, (just as my ancestors did) we must put in the work to make it a reality.

The Impact of Summer 2020

As Katarina mentioned in her last blog post about using your DIBs as Your Superpower, we have an opportunity through the work of racial equity to see Black culture, creatives, and work be amplified in a very intentional way. In 2020 we saw a lot of companies and organisations lean into Black talent development initiatives after the murder of George Floyd, including Spotify. Now, don’t get me wrong, these steps were needed (and for some companies, well overdue), but the intention shouldn’t be as a reaction. The shelf life of many of these racial equity or social justice change initiatives is not limited to a time period. We can not allow the next pressing thing, or global culture crisis, to disrupt our focus on creating a future where Black and Brown kids across the globe can say one day, “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”. To keep moving on your Diversity Inclusion and Belonging journey there are some key priorities you have to lean into, and this is what we’re doing at Spotify. One of those is expanding our focus on racial equity. To see meaningful change, it will require targeted and informative actions to move things forward towards progress. To see racial equity, we need to see changes across the entire talent lifecycle.


The 5 Star Strategy and Racial Equity Coalition

In June 2020, we laid out our commitment to expanding our focus on the Black experience. We did this through a partnership between us (the Spotify HR team) and several other Spotify groups like BLK ERG, Global Affairs, Social Impact and others. The strategy talks through 5 key areas of focus: 

  • People
  • Donations & Fundraising
  • Policy
  • Content
  • Culture

The purpose was clear. By developing this strategy, we wanted to do three things: 

  1. Solidify Spotify’s stance against racial injustices, acts of violence and inequitable structures of the Black community in the US and abroad.
  2. Provide clear deliverables and actions to build on our positioning, both internally and externally that will have broad and lasting implications.
  3. Outline a clear vision to internal stakeholders to ensure accountability.

With establishing this multi-year, racial equity commitment, we’ve made a positive impact in each area mentioned above, with a variety of actions already taken. For example:

  • Our Content team curated a unique amplified experience on-platform spotlighting Black creators and culture through our Black History Is Now hub. They will continue to expand and reimagine the hub with commitment to celebrating Black culture and creators 365 days a year through podcasts, music and other media formats.
  • Our Social Impact team is in the process of distributing a $10 million giving fund for Black organisations and programs.  
  • Our BLK employee resource group has now implemented executive coaching, personal branding academy, and hosted their Workforce Development Conference for the second year in a row. 

When taking a closer look at our partnership with BLK, we realised that there’s been an evolution since it’s launch in 2015, and that we have the opportunity in this next phase to deepen our commitment in a variety of ways. One of those avenues has been through personal and professional development for BLK members. BLK creates a vulnerable place to build community for members. In the video below, our BLK Leaders (Lee Smith, Sennie Clark, Candice Harte and Cherise Bernard) share their thoughts on the impact BLK is focused on creating at Spotify, in addition to outcomes they’ve been able to take since the launch of the 5 Star Strategy. 

What we learned quickly after implementing the 5 Star Strategy was that there were three themes that were core to our success with our goal of having racial equity: (1) The Power of Intentional Action, (2) The Greatness of Community – All Together, and (3) The Value in Belonging.

 

The Power of Intentional Action

At Spotify we’ve been on our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging journey for some time, so we’ve already taken intentional actions to create programs, initiatives, opportunities and content brands – on and off platform. It’s particularly refreshing to see representation in content and hires being made into the company. However, we have not always gotten it 100% right when it comes to Black hiring and inclusion. We had to dig deep back in those early days (and sometimes today as well) to see what behaviors need to shift. That said, there was true commitment and acknowledgement of the gaps that existed. If I think back to our US Black representation when we did our 2017 D&I Strategy, representation was at 3.7% and back then, we set an aspirational target of growing to 7% representation by the end of 2020. At the end of 2020, we actually showed growth to 8.3% – exceeding our target. This is by no means where we want to settle or stop. We need to do more and see more progress. And to be quite frank, we believe we have a responsibility to get this right, otherwise diversity within our company has to be the comparable representation related to how diverse our business is, the value it has in culture, or how expansive of cultures that represent our listeners are. 

What we can conclude is that when we dig deep and make deliberate, accountable and intentional efforts around diversity recruiting, inclusive hiring and dedicated hiring managers/recruiters, we see positive progress made year over year. Harnessing the power of intentionality, making sure that everyone in the hiring process is in lock-step together, and measuring our progress or gaps regularly is instrumental in creating change. 

Another thing to make clear is that this is not an HR initiative, this is a company imperative – for our creators, artists and listeners. For companies and organisations looking to make this a reality for their company, laying out intentional goals and steps can provide a great avenue to reach those goals. There is power in making intentional steps forward and always connecting the dots to a greater purpose, our company north star.

 

The Greatness of Community – All Together 

An article recently published on HR Morning argues that when diversity goes up, inclusion goes down, referencing research from McKinsey and Harvard Business Review that highlights gaps in inclusion and a sense of belonging. This has been a concern for many Diversity and Inclusion professionals for a while. The key is striking a balance between increasing your diversity representation, and ensuring that people from a variety of multicultural identities and a mix of experiences have opportunities to work together, and feel welcomed to stay true to what makes them who they are. For many in the Black community, this is amplified in moments of racial trauma and other similar events. The emotional tax and burden is real, and many times it’s amplified in Black History Month. During this historic month, we revert the hurt, pain, hatred, racism, violence and overall perpetuated unworthiness that stains the clothes of our journey, of our ancestors. So often the narrative of oppression and struggle is more prevalent in headlines than the resilience and joy that exists in Black culture. The implications of this narrative also has an impact on mental health. If all you see and hear, or are expected to talk about is the trauma of the past, it can be challenging.  

Our DIBs effort is how we establish support and community for our Black employees, but also bring others into the fold for cultural awareness and allyship. As I’ve shared before, this work will take all of us together. To fight inequity, racism, xenophobia, hate and/or violence in all forms, we have to do it together. And as we have seen the amplified accounts targeted towards our Asian & Pacific Islander community, it is so imperative that we all drive home the message of standing against inequity and standing for the connection to something bigger than us as an individual. I recently listened to a poem by Amanda Gorman, which sums it up when it comes to the greatness of community today: 

“While we might feel small, separate, and all alone, our people have never been more tightly tethered. The question isn’t if we will weather this unknown, but how we will weather the unknown together.”
– The Miracle of Morning, Amanda Gorman 

The Value in Belonging

The actions and outcomes we’ve taken as a company are important and necessary to make the meaningful changes we are all striving for. However, there is something else that’s key to making all this work: a self-perception for each individual to reflect upon that belonging starts with you, and within you. This became something of a mantra to me a year or two ago when I was struggling with processing some aspects of my mental health journey. What this statement meant for me was that before you expect others to extend belonging or to foster spaces of belonging, first you need to believe it for yourself. You have to ingrain the thinking that you do belong (wherever you go) in your mindset. And many times, those at the forefront of the work for more inclusion and belonging in the workplaces, such as those that volunteer via ERGs and working groups or make it their full-time career, are facing two things: 

  • They are fighting for it, so they can see it realised in their own personal journey. Day in and day out, many are dismantling systemic inequities and how it shows up in their own personal lives that they are fighting to simply believe it for themselves. Which is why they fight to see it realised in places and communities they are a part of.

  • The emotional tax of this work is ever impactful, and so is the burnout and toll it takes. They often feel the guilt and shame that comes with taking a break or needing to rest. 

Shame is a huge threat to belonging. If you never get past your shame, you will never get to the beauty of living in the fullness of feeling like ‘you belong’ and confident in the wholeness of who you are. One of the greatest tools to help overcome these feelings of shame, and to instead find your place of belonging, is community. Having a community around you that can fight for you – just as much as you fight for others. The beauty is finding that community that you too can receive from and that can pour into you. That is the greatness of having a community. 

 

Closing The Gap

The burden is heavy when it comes to the work of racial equity, in your workplace and in the world we live in. By no means have we, at Spotify, arrived or perfected the right approach. However, we desire and are striving for more action that will close the gap of inequity – one step at a time, multiple steps at a time, four leaps at a time – whatever it takes to progress forward. Let me be clear, without wavering, the ask or resolve to work on this is warranted and quite frankly, long overdue. While we’ve started our racial equity with focusing on improvements to our Black community, internal and external, the work extends beyond to other underrepresented ethnic minorities as well. And speaking for myself, as a leader in this organisation and as someone who comes from many identities, complexities and lived experiences that make me who I am, it is my life’s mission to prick the heart of others to create space for equity and opportunity. This too was the hope of our ancestors – in the fullness of their fight, dreams and accomplishments. Now is our time to make that same reality for the next generations to come – for us to enable them to one day say “I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams”. 

Onward & upwards. Together, we go. For a better tomorrow.

With gratitude,

Travis.

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Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging @ Spotify