“And it’s also one of these put up or shut up moments where you like ‘care so much about this’ but here we are in this situation where the company you’re at right now isn’t doing enough, isn’t aligning with your values. And we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig and make it look like we’re so generous.”
Shannon Byrne is a software engineer based out of Oakland, CA. She’s currently searching for her next position.
I just received a DM from someone asking to have the email they used to register for the “Introduction To Being An Antiracist” event updated because they were fired for questioning their organization’s D&I efforts #corporateblackface— Kim Crayton [She/Her] 🏢 💻🎙#causeascene (@KimCrayton1) July 15, 2020
Being antiracist ain’t for the weak pic.twitter.com/grLhym6zzw
Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone. And welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene podcast. I have a special guest with me today. As many of you know, I had decided to take the month off, but you know, when I’m ready to cause a scene and somebody else is willing to cause a scene, I bring them on. I would like to introduce Shannon. Shannon, could you please introduce yourself to the audience?
Shannon Byrne: Yeah. Hi. My name’s Shannon. I am a software engineer. I live in Oakland, California. I’ve been in the industry for about seven years now, and I kind of—I still struggle with my relationship with the tech industry. I find myself still having, like, so much optimism when I walk into a new job of like, “Oh, we are building something here. We are trying to make a difference.” And then I find myself kind of disillusioned [laughs] over and over, but I still want to move forward, and I… yeah, that’s the situation I’m in now. [Laughs]
Kim: All right. And this is something I forgot to ask you, which I have started asking my guests; if you would please share your pronouns.
Shannon: Oh, she / her.
Kim: All right. So, as I always start every show… again, my brain is on vacation, so that’s why I forgot to ask your pronouns—Shannon’s pronouns—beforehand. We always start to show the same way. So can you answer two questions? Why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causing a scene?
Shannon: OK. So why it’s important to cause a scene is that nothing changes if we just let it stay the same, right? Like if we are all OK with the way that people are getting treated, you know, from my perspective in the tech industry specifically, but also in the world at large right now, if we don’t do anything, then nothing changes. And so what it takes is for people in their environments to make changes and speak up when they see something that is wrong. And that is the perspective that I’ve had.
And I also find myself to be in a very lucky position, a very privileged position, as a white female developer in the Bay Area. There are tons and tons of positions out there, tons of places that need developers who do good work. And I am a developer that does good work. And if I am in a place where I see that I’m not being treated right or that other people aren’t being treated right, I’m going to speak out against that.
And I’m going to do it in a way that is as considerate as possible, that is trying to lead us to the company making the changes that need to be made, but that is firm and continuous until I feel that people are being treated with justice, and that we’re in an inclusive environment. And if that doesn’t happen, then people get, like, more and more frustrated with me, in jobs, right?
And so, I think that I’m just trying to do little things in the environment in which I’m—and also at my community at large—but like, tech is one of the communities that I’m in, and so I need to try and make it a better place for myself, for my peers, and for everybody else.
Kim: OK, so let’s go ahead and start this. So how did I come off vacations? [Laughs] I received a DM, and then I received—I tweeted something—I said, “I just received a DM from someone asking to have their email—the email they used to register for the Introduction to being an Antiracist event—updated, because they were fired for questioning their organization’s D&I efforts.” And I said, “#corporateblackface,” and then I put, “Being antiracist ain’t for the weak.”
So, I’m gonna let you drive this conversation. And you can share as much as you want, and we will just have a conversation. And I really want to speak specifically; the reason—OK, so when Shannon sent me the message, I was like, “Ok, fine.” So I sent it over to Tito, who built the platform and said, “Hey, can you change this email?” Well, the Tito individual said, “Hey, did you see the company that she was fired from?” And he sent me the link, and so we’re just gonna—you know what? I’m just gonna start off, and you know me, I’m just gonna start shit. I mean, this is just what it is. It is a company called Matter. And can you tell us what Matter does?
Shannon: Matter is a company for amazing feedback. It’s supposed to be a feedback tool in which you can request or give feedback to anyone on your team, other people outside of your team, anybody that you may work with in a work environment or even your personal life.
Kim: So, this is why I, when I found that out, I went back to my DMs and said, “Hey, Shannon, did you sign anything?” [Laughs] “Because I want to have this conversation because I find it—I’m shocked that I found it surprising—that a platform built for feedback fired someone for giving feedback.” So, I’m gonna be quiet, and I’m gonna let you tell your story.
Shannon: Yes. So, it’s really interesting that you bring that up because that has been my major struggle at this organization since I’ve been there. I am someone who… I read this, one of my friends sent me a post this morning on Instagram, and it was like, “My love language is when people’s actions match their words.” And that’s something that I’ve actually been talking about, you know, I’ve been doing intro calls with different companies this week, and something that I’ve really been very frank about is cognitive dissonance between what leadership says and what leadership does is something that’s really going to bother me, because what I’m realizing is I need to be putting boundaries up for what I’m going to tolerate before I get to the company so that no one is shocked, everybody knows Shannon is coming in, she’s candid, and I—you’ll never meet somebody who wants these companies to succeed as much as I do when I sign on.
So that is the reason that I went to Matter in the first place, is I was honestly, as I will say again, a little naive because I was thinking, “Oh, that’s the problem. This has always been the problem. If only there was a tool where at the right time, at any time, I could give feedback, get feedback, people could tell me how I could be more effective in the way that I communicate. Or I can give a little bit of feedback to somebody else, and we’re all listening, and we’re all learning. Whoa! This would be something that really changes the industry.” Oh, so naive.
And then I get to the company, and it was a hard time. I started working there in February. And then of course, the company by mid May, we are shut down and we’re working from home. And it had been a very work-in-the-office culture. We’re all there every day. We always have an in-person stand up every day at 10:15. And so it really threw a wrench in things when we started working from home.
And, the CEO immediately took steps—I know that he was really worried about making sure that the company could stay solvent during this time. Because it really, all of a sudden, maybe all the disposable incomes, or the disposable budgets that different companies may have to purchase this product? They don’t have it anymore.
And so he was taking these proactive steps to, I think, protect all of us. And—or that’s at least how I felt at the time—and they laid off the Director of Talent and the recruiter who was the only woman in leadership at the company. And so at the time, I had been thinking throughout a lot of this, maybe that’s the issue. Because a lot of this was coming back to general lack of empathy and leadership. And I was thinking, “Oh, maybe that was…” I’ve always been looking for like, what’s the root cause of this?
So let me skip ahead to the most interesting part, is when things really started to go downhill. Even previous to our company starting to discuss diversity and inclusion efforts, obviously as a result of George Floyd’s murder and then the ongoing protests and BLM movement that everyone’s responding to, I had been fairly forceful with my boss, the CTO, in giving feedback that I really would like to see more empathy from leadership in terms of deadlines, and how we were planning out projects, especially during this pandemic.
Because everyone on my team, or at least four of the five people on my team, were expressing in different ways how stressed out they were, that they were approaching burnout. I had one male coworker that I was talking to one time who was getting really emotional about like, he’s in the middle of this big move across the country and he doesn’t feel like he’s able to really—he didn’t take any time off. He wasn’t able to take any time off and had just gotten some really negative feedback from the CEO that had nothing constructive in it, saying, “You need to get your work done on time when you say that you’re gonna have it done, or something like that.
So this is coming from everyone, and I’m expressing to the CTO, “Hey, can you be an advocate for us? Can you go to Brett?” I’m not asking for us to work less, I’m not asking for us to not do anything or get extra days off or anything like that—but it would be so helpful for Brett to just say something, just start out some meetings and say, “Hey, if anybody needs anything, I’m here. If you need extra time on your project, come to me. If you’re hearing things from people about, ‘I need more—oh, I wasn’t able to get this done today,'” Bret would be like—someone would say in a meeting, “I’m not able to get this done yesterday, it was, you know, blah, blah, blah,”—and Brett would be like, “OK, well, I’m ready for it on QA whenever you’re ready.”
And so it was just sort of like brushing over, not hearing anybody trying to put these limits on there, and then when I came in and I would say, “No,” directly, like, “This isn’t appropriate,” they got really upset. So leading up to our diversity and inclusion conversation that we had, I had had a previous conversation with my boss and the CEO about a project that I was working on where they had told me, “Oh, just come to us. Tell us how long you need to do this project.” And the CTO is telling me, “Keep adding all of these things; the CEO wants you to keep adding all of these things into your project.” And then the CEO was telling me, “Oh, this is way too long,” whatever.
So in that particular meeting, I did get quite firm, and I said, “If you have a timeline for when you would like this project done, I wish you would tell me up front, because then I could plan the project within your timeline, and then I won’t feel like I’m wasting time trying to do all of these general updates to the app that my CTO is telling me is also important, when clearly your timeline is not part of that.”
And it was a conversation that I came out of feeling really proud, because I’d set boundaries for myself. And I did not believe that I had crossed any sort of line. I did not believe that I was purposefully making anyone feel uncomfortable. I didn’t yell or talk in any tone that’s more intense than how I’m speaking now. And I felt good about it because now the project was going to be done on terms that both myself and the CEO seemed to be comfortable with. So that sets the stage, because it’s in conjunction with this next conversation that I think everything seemed to spiral out of control. [Exasperated sigh]
So here’s the interesting part. The weekend after the protests began, I was getting text messages from tons of friends having all these conversations about how their companies were responding. And some of them were like, “Can you believe he said this? Can you believe this is what we’re doing?” Others being like, “Wow, I cannot believe that this is how we’re reacting. This is great. I’ve never seen this before!” And here I am, joining in and applauding when something’s great and hopping on, and—piling on—when I don’t think it’s enough, and all that kind of stuff. And then I sit there thinking, “I haven’t heard anything from my company about how we’re handling this. I wonder how this is going to go.” But for sure I felt like, “OK, maybe this is actually a result of them wanting to have some work/life balance,” and we’re gonna jump in Monday morning, and then this is gonna be something that we talk about.
So again, I just want to reiterate to you, Kim, that—I think you can tell—that I am trying to do what they tell you to do in tech, which is assume good intentions. I had the best intentions heading into this conversation that we were going to do something, and that we wanted to do the most impactful thing that we could do as a company, and that it was gonna be really important, because I think it’s clear that a feedback tool is going to have implications on how different groups feel they can work well within this industry.
So anyway, get to work Monday morning—and by that I mean hop on my computer—and immediately, I’m just like, “Oh, I don’t know about this,” because everyone keeps posting on Slack like, “Hope your family stayed safe this week.” And I’m like, “OK.” That’s not bad in itself, but it also—there was no one mentioning directly anything that was going on in the world. It was sort of…
Kim: So why would your family be in danger? [Laughs]
Shannon: Yes, exactly. Yeah, stuff like… And then we start this—every week on Monday, we have sort of a retrospective of the last week, reviewing the past week and moving into this week. And I had noticed that we had not only not responded to what was going on, but we also hadn’t paused any of our social media yet. So when I had checked to see, because I was like, “Maybe he did say something. And I just missed it because I’m not on the marketing team, I’m not in the communications team.” And, I got online, and the last thing that we had tweeted on Friday was a poll of what’s your favorite Pixar movie, and that made me feel very… I mean, it was just very… its tone… I can’t even put my finger on… It’s just like when you’re in communications, you have to be—we have to be thoughtful about the content that we’re putting out there. And the world was going crazy that week.
Kim: The world was on fire.
Shannon: The world was on fire, right? And like I said before, I live in Oakland. So the world was—like, here—the tensions were so high; the pain, you could feel it. I could feel it in my neighbors, I could feel it when I was outside, you could hear it in the helicopters flying over, in the news, being updated with videos, being out at protests; you could feel that pain. And so to come in and have people just say, “Hope your family’s safe,” and that I was like, “OK, we’re not really seeing the point, but that’s OK.” And then Brett continued by saying, “Oh, and in case anybody’s worried, there was a protest that went by our office last week, but we didn’t get graffitied or hit or anything. So the office is fine.”
Kim: So his attention was on his property, or the property of the building.
Shannon: Right. And what I have such difficulty with in that moment is that I know that there are people out there that are approaching this in that way of like, “Property is most important.” And some are doing it exactly because they know what they’re saying and they know the impact that it’s going to have. But then there are also people who I believe, like Brett, just don’t know the impact. That is his—that is just where his mind is.
And so again, I’m trying to assume good intentions, but understanding the impact of that statement is so, so harmful. And we do not have any Black people that worked at—there were no Black folx that worked at Matter. However, there had been a Black woman who worked at Matter, but her tenure was only one week. [Kim laughs]
Kim: Oh fuuuuuck! Mmm.
Shannon: And I did not—and Kim, I did not know the details of her experience at the time. I only vaguely knew that there was a Glassdoor review, because after I had had the conversation with… after I had had that conversation… conversations previously with Matthew and I didn’t feel like I was—the CTO—I didn’t feel like I was getting a lot of support, and I went to Glassdoor and I saw this review that said, was recounting something, and it was, you know, there was a lot of frustration in the message, and it noted that it had kept getting taken down for whatever reason, and then in the final line it said, “What can we improve on?” And it said something like, “Treat people with respect, regardless of what they look like.” So that was really all anybody at the company had to work on in terms of even knowing that this person existed. I didn’t know. I was just like, “Something needs to happen here.”
Kim: How many people are in this company?
Shannon: Only 13.
Kim: OK, alright.
Shannon: So it’s a very tight knit thing, and that’s what I’m saying; the CEO, and the way the CEO is leading, and the way the CEO is talking, is directly impactful on all of us, because in a way, even though I reported to the CTO, I was more beholden to Brett in terms of reporting timelines and everything like that.
So OK, so we’re in this meeting and that’s sort of how it goes. Then we do, “What went well last week?” “What didn’t go so well last week?” So when we get to what didn’t go so well last week, I start and I say—or, I let everybody finish saying what they’re saying—and right before the end, before we move on to planning for the week, I said, “Actually, I just want to stave off something that might become a thing that we didn’t do so well next week.”
And I said, “I really think that,” and I’m treading lightly here because I already know that I’m being seen as sort of very assertive at this company, and everyone is so gentle in their communication style that I’m like, OK, I don’t want to feel like I’m attacking people. So I just say, “I think that we should think about our company’s social media presence during this time. Because I’m noticing that a lot of other companies out there are putting out solidarity posts, really thinking through what their response is going to be, or at least pausing what we post until we figure out how we’re going to respond.”
And it was interesting because then one of the marketing people said, “Oh, yeah, I was planning on talking to my boss about that today,” which is great, right? Like, OK, they thought about it, I guess. And then we had a conversation where the marketing director said that, “Oh, in places I worked before, we had a policy of not making statements on political matters. We’ll, maybe retweet what the CEO says, but we’re not—we usually didn’t make statements on our own.”
Kim: And so I’ma stop you… OK, I just want to stop you right there, because I just—I took some notes, and I’m gonna to do that after you finish—but I want to make this very clear, and I don’t want this to pass: Black lives mattering is not a political statement.
Shannon: Yes, and that was exactly the response that I had and other people—there were other people at the company had as well—that it wasn’t a political statement. And so that… but as that conversation continued, the marketing director said, “OK, if I hear what Shannon’s really saying, you don’t expect us to make a statement. You’re OK as long as we just pause what we’re saying.” And I was kind of like… [sighs] I had already gotten some feedback from my boss that I kind of push too hard on things, and so I was just feeling like, “OK, I don’t want to risk not being effective later because of this.” So I left that conversation feeling like nothing… like the company was not going to do anything, that our response is just a pause. Yes.
Kim: And I’ma stop you again; I wanna to stop you again because I wanna—but keep where we are—because what I wrote down here is, what you just experienced, as you just explained, is what every Black person feels in a company. It’s the, how do I say what I need to say without somebody taking it this way, that way—which they’re going to do anyway—do I say this thing and it ruin my fucking career? Do I not say this thing and it comes back to bite me in tha ass?
It is a variable minefield of what ifs just to show up and be authentic. Just to have—I mean, you were just tryna have a conversation. And this is how we feel every day, all day long at work.
Kim: And so that’s why I wanted to stop, because how you talked about it, and it’s coming from a white woman, it’s the same thing. And I just wanted people to—because people think that Black women, Black men, Latina folx, are exaggerating—so I wanted to stop, because a white woman was having a similar experience.
Kim: So go ahead. [Laughs]
Shannon: All I can say is that as this experience was unfolding, I found myself just being like, “If I’m this stressed out”—and I started going haywire. I during this time, started seeing a therapist due to this whole experience, right?
Shannon: And I was just like, “I could not do this. I’m not strong enough.” I just keep coming back to that of my relative privilege in this world has allowed me to not really have to live with this every single day, you know? And I can’t even… I cannot comprehend, I cannot comprehend—but I can. But I’m trying to, but I can.
Kim: And that’s what I tell people, that pain—any pain and discomfort that white people feelin’ is nothing compared to what we feel, and yet you wanna say, you wanna talk about Black on Black crime, you wanna talk about how COVID is killing us because of our ill health. All of this shit is stress. It is stress. It is from the time you’re born to the time you die, in these communities, this is tha shit we’re dealing with all the time.
Shannon: And it’s like, you know what I’m feeling right now? I feel like I could go out and do something that I could never expect myself to do after all this, and then… Yeah, but let me explain to you how it actually gets to that point, because right now it’s like, “OK, this is a little frustrating.” [Laughs] However…
Kim: Exactly. Exactly. Mhm. Yeah. [In falsetto] “This is a little… I’m not… what the hell is this? This feels a little weird.” [Laughs]
Shannon: Yeah, and at that point, I’m just like, “Mmm, thats… It’s really disappointing that we don’t, that we’re not completely bought into this idea of things.” And then, so another thing that I said—I can’t remember whether I said it in Monday’s meeting or in the followup on Tuesday—was, bringing up the point of—because I’m not sure whether… the marketing director, either in that meeting or the meeting the day after, said something about how, “Well, blah, blah, blah. This doesn’t really impact our industry.” [Kim laughs derisively] And first of all, the structures that we’re living in, white supremacy, affect every single thing in every single way all the time. And unless you’re actively working against that, it’s going to seep in. And then secondly…
Kim: Yeah, ’cause I’m just—so I’m gonna let you finish—but I just wanna to pop in to remind people that Matter is building—has built—a feedback [app].
Kim: So companies are using this product as a way to give and receive feedback. And the bias that is inherent in this platform is ridiculous.
Shannon: Yes, Kim, that was going to be my secondly, is that we’re a feedback app. And that as a company that is in this feedback industry…
Kim: Yeah, so how tha fuck can you say it’s not gonna, it’s not—even if it doesn’t affect the industry, it directly affects the company.
Shannon: Yeah, mhm.
Kim: No, it directly affects Matter. Fuck the industry; as a company, it directly affects you.
Kim: Fuck the industry; as a company, it directly affects you.
Shannon: Yes, and I said, “OK, there are ways that we can integrate into our product, there are things we need to be thinking about making our product inclusive.” And I directly mentioned some of the content that we had out there and that it would be really great to get like a consultant, a diversity and inclusion consultant or an expert, to come in and look at this content, because we’re putting this out there—not only is it a feedback tool, but they’re also moving into content about how to get that feedback and then turn it into making you this ideal employee. And so a lot of that content is really uncomfortable because of course it’s telling you—you know, I keep coming back to assume good intentions. That’s one of our huge pushes on content.
Kim: Yep. And this empathy thing—and these are two things that I have talked extensively about—you were expecting someone to give you empathy that had not developed it. This is the problem. Empathy is a skill. Why should I have to wait for you to develop a skill so you can stop harming me? And assume positive intent, or good intent —as you’ve just illustrated—it’s not extended to everybody.
Shannon: Yeah, yeah. And OK, so this is not even where it started. So I’m gonna have to like…
Kim: No, take ya time. Take ya time, ’cause I want—because the reason I’m sayin’ take your time is because we are calling out a company, and we are callin’ out a company because you chose not to sign a severance so that you could speak. And I really want people to understand, ’cause I hate those fuckin’ anti—those NDAs—that are all about non-defamation. A company—many companies won’t have shit in place about anything, but they will have legal about that. They will make sure they have that in place.
So I wanted to, as a white woman, commend you for not taking that money, because you’re in a pandemic like everybody else. It’s easy to take money. It’s easy right now to take money. It’s easy to let fear take your money, and for you to take a step and say, “No, I really want to tell this story. You’re not—I’m not gonna allow you to shut me up.” I really… we need to tease this out, so take your time.
Shannon: OK. OK… [sighs] so that’s Monday. And then—so, trying to set this up again with just a little bit of where my brain is at moving into Tuesday—again, I live in Oakland, California, and there was a great protest on Monday night put on by students of Oakland Technical High School. It was huge. I think it was like 15,000 people or something like that. And we all wore masks, and it went well, except that—we all get there, everyone’s gathering—and at 4:30 PM, we all get a push notification to our phone that a curfew’s going into effect at 8:00.
And as this protest is going on, we can tell that it’s gonna be impossible for a lot of people to get home by 8:00, whatever. And push comes to shove; I ended up leaving and renting some bikes so I could get back to my car around 7:15, with some friends. But while I was driving home, I passed on the highway the police changing into riot gear, and slapping each other high fives, and I can see under the overpass, hundreds of protesters just streaming home.
And then I get home and it’s a couple minutes before 8:00 and I can hear poom, poom, poom, poom-poom-poom-poom-poom, downtown. And then I get a video from some friends who live in the area, and they’ve tear-gassed this entire crowd that I know—I’ve just been there 30 minutes before—had been completely peaceful; the organizers had been saying, “We want to keep this peaceful. Report people that aren’t peaceful.” Changed the location of the protest. It was devastating. I was really devastated because I was like, “Here we are in this world, trying to do what we—the only way we can come out and say this isn’t right.” And one of those constitutional ways is protesting. [Laughs]
Kim: OK! Gonna stop ya! Gonna stop ya again. Gonna stop ya again, white girl. Because damn! How many Black people say, “We have done everything you’ve asked us to do and it’s still not enough. You still keep movin’ tha line. You still put us in danger.” It’s always—and you see the narrative now. If it weren’t for how us being in tha pandemic, shut down, no sports, no distractions, George Floyd’s death woulda just have been another Black death. This forced people to pay attention, and even in that, even in this country is built on… I mean, and weeks before, there were very violent—I’m not, I’m gonna say, they weren’t violent—they were very aggressive protests, just over shuttin’ the country down, just that: economics. It was not about people’s physical life, right?
And so this is how—I wanna tease this out—because this happens in every organization—well, most organizations. You bring marginalized and vulnerable people into your communities. You say, “This is what we expect.” It changes. And so you’re forever playing Guess What. When you get to work or whatever, it’s always something different. And no matter what you do, no matter how close you get to the bar, it changes. It reminds me so much of Serena Williams. Every time she gets to that place where she is—first of all, she’s outpacing every other person in tha competition—but then they move the line. They say, “No, that… No no no. That doesn’t make… nope nope nope nope. Now you gotta do this thing ta get there.” So go ahead.
Shannon: Yeah. I… what was I saying? OK, so that was my head state going in….
Kim: So that was your Monday night. [Laughs]
Shannon: That was my Monday night. And then not only that… I mean, we had helicopters flying over, then East Oakland, there’s these tons of fireworks or tear gas or whatever’s going off—you don’t know, right? Just a really depressing and painful… I really woke up on Tuesday feeling like I can’t—I don’t know how to navigate this day.
And I really feel like what would have been best for me on that day was probably to have just said, “I can’t be here.” But again, even though “Health first” is one of the values of this company and we’re supposed to be valuing mental health in that, I did not feel like I was—I did not feel like it would have been viewed well for me to wake up in the morning and say, “I’m just not feeling well today, I just can’t do it.” I felt like I was going to be judged by that, because there had been another person who had had to take some time off for her—something that had happened with her family, and the CEO, when she was out, was like, “Do you think she’s gonna be able to finish her work when she gets back in just the three days that she’s here?”
So I knew if I took that day off, it wasn’t gonna be looked at well, and not only that, but I was gonna have less time to do the same amount of work that I needed to do. So I was like, “OK, I’m gonna kind of push through this.” And I sat down and I wrote out my thoughts, because remember the previous day on Monday, we had left that conversation thinking that our response was gonna be to say nothing. So I wrote up this statement that I was thinking about sharing if we didn’t end up deciding that we were going to do something, and it included reasons that we needed to make changes to our product in order to make it more inclusive and minimize the damage that it could do, as well as examples—I wrote out some example tweets that I thought that we could respond with, whatever. But I was like, “We have to do something.”
But on Tuesday morning, we started out the conversation and to my pleasant surprise, Brett said—Brett’s the CEO—said, “OK, I’m gonna introduce the communications director and he’s gonna tell you what they’ve been working on in the past day.” So he passes it over to him and this guy tells us, “OK, so we’ve been working on this three part tweet series, and we’re going to announce our solidarity and then we are also going to announce three organizations that we are donating money to, and we’re going to be donating $1000 on behalf of the company, and we’re going to be donating—and Brett is also going to match up to $1000 in donations.”
And another guy on the team said, “Oh wow, $1000 per person?” And he responded, “No, $1000 in total. So it’s going to be up to a generous $3000.” [Kim laughs] Yes, thank you. Like that—the addition of the word “generous” is really what sort of set me off, because it’s this doublespeak of wrapping your mind around, “Yeah, we’re doing enough as long as we say we’re doing enough,” right? And another…. so, there had been the one guy who said the thing about what the donation is. He also mentioned like, “How is this matching program going to work? How are we going to…” sort of getting at like, OK, there’s so many organizations that can be donated to…
Kim: What’s the strategy?
Shannon: Yes! What’s the strategy? And they were just like, “Oh, well we haven’t really figured that out yet.” Which is fine; they’re tryna do all of this in one day, whatever. But it’s like, “We’ll probably just do first come, first served or blah, blah, blah,” and, you know, OK. But the idea of labeling this total of $3000—that guy also pointed out, too, you know, “Oh, I think it’s really weird that we’re going to announce the company… the internal people’s contributions, the employees’ contributions, as part of the contribution that we’re donating in our tweet.” And then the communications person said, Oh, no, we’re not actually going to mention how much we’re donating at all. So all I know of this tweet—because we’re not read the contents of the tweet—all I know of this tweet is that it’s going to be a three part tweet series announcing that we’re donating generously to three different organizations. What impression is that going to give?
Kim: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s that sneaky shit. [Laughs]
Shannon: Um-hm, um-hm. And again, I’m trying to assume these good intentions of we don’t want this to be performative, because the marketing team—both people on the marketing team—were saying, “We want to make sure this is not performative. We want to make sure it’s not about Matter, that it’s about our solidarity,” and this and that, and I’m like, “Great.” So then I point out, I’m like, “I think that we should say how much we’re donating. I think we either need to say how much we’re donating or we need to just donate it and not say anything.”
Kim: Anything. Yes, yeah, ’cause now they’re gettin’ into the corporate blackface territory.
Shannon: Yes. And when you think about the amount of money that’s actually coming from the company and would be going to those three organizations, it would be $333 each.
Kim: Oh, whoa! Wait a minute. Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.
Shannon: And that is like… and I said…
Kim: So it wasn’t $1000 per organization?
Shannon: No. So yeah, the way that this was gonna be structured was that there was a $1000 company donation split between three organizations that we were choosing.
Shannon: Which also were not told to us on that day.
Shannon: Then, the CEO was also willing to match a total of $1000 in donations that employees made to any other organizations that we wanted to donate. So for the company donation, it was $1000 split between these three organizations. But we weren’t going to say that that was how much we were donating. And so I said, “You know, we’re donating $330 split three ways. It’s really not that significant of a donation.” And the marketing person said…
Kim: Generous. Because it was generous. This is generous. This so generous. Go ‘head.
Shannon: The marketing person responded and said, “Well, I…”—and he does. He’s someone who cares about these issues, or works at a not for profit to sort of increase diversity within companies and gives internships to…
Kim: OK. OK, I’ma stop you there. I’m gonna stop you there, because behavior… I don’t care. You telling me that he does? I don’t believe that he does. So go ‘head. I just wanted to make that… just because someone works at these things, that does not mean that the reason… So I’m challenging, based on what you’ve said, that just because someone works at one of those things, that doesn’t mean there are lines that… Yeah, I’m not…
Shannon: Yeah, to me, it feels more like, how is he… how can… if that is something that he’s passionate about—and I again wanna assume the best intentions that he is—how can he then call me out…
Kim: Yes, and I guess that’s where you and I are different, ’cause I’m not assuming, I don’t assume that, because I look at if this is how you’re—as a marketing director—are engaging in this at work, I’m not believing why—then I need to go into some other questions of “Why is this different? What are you actually doing at these other things outside?” before I can say that this is something you feel passionate about. And this again is why I did a video recently about people’s passions. Yes. So I’m just gonna challenge—because nothing you’ve said so far tells me that this is something he’s passionate about.
So, I’m—and he may be, and this is may have been the fluke—but I don’t assume positive intent, and I could give a fuck about empathy. I care about demonstrated behavior, and demonstrated behavior says that those two things don’t align. So maybe whatever he’s doing in his nonprofit world is something he’s really compassionate about; but it’s not Black Lives Matter. So let’s not—carin’ about dogs in a dog shelter or whatever is not the same thing is caring about Black people.
Shannon: Mm-hm. Mm-hm. And it’s also one of these pull up or shut up moments where you care so much about this, but here we are in this situation where the company you’re at right now isn’t doing enough, isn’t aligning with your values, and we’re trying to put lipstick on a pig and make it seem like what we’re doing is so generous. This was…
Kim: And so I’m going back to—I would go back to I would not trust this individual to be doing anything in a nonprofit way related to inclusion and diversity. So I would even, based on what you said and the role of leadership he has at this company, I challenge that his nonprofit work is not only effective, but I am gonna assume that it causes harm.
Kim: So let’s go from there. That’s just me talking. But go ‘head.
Shannon: So he was like, “At our nonprofit, we give scholarships, and we thought about not giving scholarships because they’re not big enough. But what we’ve learned is that people would prefer $300 over nothing.” And then the other marketing person said, “Well, I talked to my people of color friends and they said, saying anything is better than saying nothing.” And I’m like, “No one is saying, ‘say nothing.’ I didn’t wanna agree to saying nothing yesterday.”
Kim: That’s the binary. That’s the binary of whiteness: it’s either a… yeah, so there’s a whole bunch of gray in there that they could have danced around besides either “say nothing” or “say some bullshit.” There was a whole system that they could have… Yeah, it’s not “say nothing” or “say anything.” It’s say something that means something if you’re gonna be—and that’s what I said. I said at that time, “I don’t want to hear from white folx. White people need to be quiet unless you have something substantive to say.” If you have nothing of value to say, this is not the time to be hearing from you.
Shannon: I agree. And the… so I—of course, Kim, I’m hearing these things—so I’m reiterating again my point like, “OK, but,” because I’m trying to explain, and I always feel this way of like, maybe if I just say it this other way, of course it’s gonna click because what I’m saying is…
Kim: Is common sense. This makes sense. The words—do you not understand the words, or is it the order of the words that I am saying? OK, so let me change the order up; maybe you… [laughs]
Shannon: Right, yes! And so I’m telling—then, finally, Brett finally pops in, after I’m like, “OK, I’m not saying—I’m just saying let’s donate it. I mean, sure, right. It’s a generous donation. But let’s just not say it, we don’t have to say it.” And trying to make this dichotomy of like we can give—we can either say we’re going to give generously and actually give generously, but I understand if we can’t do that because we don’t really have that much money. It’s a pre-revenue startup, right?
Kim: Just give it. So just give it.
Shannon: Yeah, so just give it. And I actually told—’cause Brett popped in and he said—I said, “I don’t think we have to even mention, you know, if we’re not donating to these organizations, we could just put out one tweet. That’s fine, too.” And Brett said, “Well, I think it’s useful for us to post the other organizations, ’cause that could prompt other people to donate.” And I was like…
Kim: Especially when you’re saying generous. Yeah.
Shannon: And I was like… this is what I did with my hands; kind of just sat up straighter and shook my hands a little, because I was so frustrated to hear that because to me, it was very white savior-y…
Shannon: …of like, “Well, no one’s gonna give if we don’t say.” I’m like, “This movement is happening with or without you. What is being given to you is an opportunity to say where you stand and then be held to it later. You’re putting out a statement of what people are gonna expect from you. And then whatever you’re saying here is how you’re going to be expected to act. And you’re missing that point completely.”
Kim: Yep. It’s gonna—people can hold you accountable for. Yeah. Yeah. Mm-hm.
Shannon: And again, I tried to approach this in a different way, where I said, “Brett, I don’t think that—I’m not asking us to give more. I understand that we are a pre-revenue startup, that we may not have the budget, but if we’re…”
Kim: And we’re in a fuckin’ pandemic. I get it. [Laughs]
Shannon: And yes. And we had to have COVID-19 layoffs, right? Like I told you before. So if we’re donating $1000 why can’t we just say, “As a pre-revenue startup whose blah blah blah, we’re donating $1000 and we hope to do more later.” Then my CTO pops in, and I guess he got all worked up because I was making it seem like we didn’t have money, and he’s like, “Well, it’s not like we don’t have money. We have a $10 million dollar investment.
Kim: So why the fuck are you just givin’ $300 per…
Kim: So you just put your foot in your mouth. [Laughs]
Shannon: So basically after that, the conversation ends. This whole…
Kim: So you’re giving the bare minimum and calling it generous so that you can have the optics of being a savior. Again, this is an organization—remember, spot the pattern, people: hero or victim, never the villain.
Shannon: Yes. [Sighs] And the other thing was that Brett explicitly said, “Well, we don’t want to open ourselves up to criticism by being perceived as not doing enough.” And to me—this was like shattering to me in terms of the concept of the company, because the whole idea is about transparency and being authentic and opening yourself up to that criticism to be able to learn. And so I would have much preferred for us to put out something like, “We’re giving $1000, blah, blah, blah.” And then have real, authentic conversations with our users if they came back and held us to the fire and said that that wasn’t enough. There were ways for us to deal with this if that wanted to be our approach.
Kim: Because Matter is a feedback app. Go ‘head. Go ‘head, yup.
Shannon: So, that meeting ends, and it was pretty upsetting, like obviously upsetting. This is tacked onto our daily stand up, which are supposed to be about 15 minutes long. This conversation, I believe, was less than 30 minutes—probably about 20-25 minutes, I think—so not very long; also far less amount of time than any of the other small companies my friends had worked at were having these long meetings and putting something specific on the calendar, or starting Slack rooms so that everyone could be involved. And here it was like, this is all going on behind the scenes, whatever.
So this meeting ends and I’m like, I don’t even really know what’s going out. But I was kind of worked up again in that mental headspace from the previous night, from everything that’s been going on, from life, whatever. And 20 minutes after that call, my—we hang up on that call—my boss, the CTO, Slacks me and says, “Oh, I’m just checking in with everybody after that conversation. Do you want to talk on the phone?”
And so he calls me over Zoom, and he starts out with, “Shannon, it seems like you’ve been really agitated lately.” And I said, “I have been agitated. Are we living in the same world?” And he says, “If you speak like that in meetings with the CEO, you’ll get fired from this job and every other job you ever have.”
Kim: Mm. OK. Alright.
Shannon: Yes. But then he tries to relate to me on it; he says, “I am outspoken, too. And I’ve been fired from jobs as well. So I can just tell you that you are acting threatening and that that’s going to become a problem. So how are we gonna fix it?” And I started to get upset because I felt like I was actually being threatened here, like my job was being threatened. And it felt outsized for the actions that I just taken, because again, I came out of that meeting feeling like I made my points known, but like they wanted me to, I was assuming the best intentions and not attacking people personally, right?
I was just saying I don’t think this is enough. I don’t think this is right. And I think that there’s a way that we can do it the right way, because this is a company that I care about at this time. And he tells me, “How are we gonna fix this?” He tells me, “Can you fly home to your parents in Houston?” I’m like, “No. Oh, I want to be here. Oakland is my home.” “Can you go on vacation to Sonoma for the weekend?” Yeah, let me just drop $1000 on a vacation so I can physically remove myself from my home. Again. And just run away…
Kim: In a pandemic.
Shannon: Yeah, in a pandemic. And then also just run away when things are kind of hard. I’m like, “No, I don’t think you’re hearing me. I want to be here, but it’s painful, and I’m trying to navigate it. And what’s happening here is actually more important to me than work right now. There’s going to be things that are more important to me than work right now.” I told him about the helicopters and the noise, and I swear to god, he says, “I’m gonna send you some earplugs in the mail.” I’m like, “Oh. I don’t think you’re…”—’cause I—”Oh, I don’t think you’re understanding; it’s not the actual noise.” “Oh, no. Oh, these are great earplugs. These earplugs will block out every noise. You’ll get a great night’s sleep.” And I’m like, “Um… OK.” You know, I’m trying to just be like, “OK, just send them to me.” [Kim laughs]
That happened. Then he said, “What else are we gonna do? What else are we gonna do?” And at this point, I am crying, because I am also quarantined alone. I hadn’t had a hug in four months and I was just like breaking down that morning. And so I started crying, I was upset, because my job is being threatened, I feel like the world is kind of ending, whatever. And he says, “You know, I understand it’s a hard time,” he’s sayin’ to me, “I understand it’s a hard time. I mean, I just had to tell my sons we may not even have a free election in November. We are coming up—we may have an authoritarian dictator who won’t turn over power—but that’s no reason to be agitated with your coworkers.” And I just realized, I was like, for him there is no reason, because even if that were to happen, like what really changes in his world?
Kim: For him. In his… exactly. Yup, yup. Welcome to our world. Yeah, yeah. And when you—the first time when you realize the disconnect that people in your lives have—all these good whites, progressives, and liberals who are totally disconnected to the impact of their actions, or their lack of actions, have on people they say they care about. That is fuckin’ heartbreaking. That is that moment where your heart just breaks, because it’s like, “I’m not safe aaanywhere.”
Shannon: I know. And then, the company putting out content. The whole content strategy, putting out all this stuff. “Here’s 10 ways you can assume the best intentions of people.” How harmful is that to bring a Black person, any other person of color, any underrepresented group into your organization, who—you can tell I’m hanging on a thread trying to do it, because that’s what’s expected of me—but you are obviously like, “No, we’re not assuming best intentions, we are looking at the impact,” which is what is more important.
And people should be able to come out and navigate within organisations, setting boundaries for themselves, saying, “You cannot say this to me. This is not gonna work,” especially—and here’s how I look at it—especially… I create real value for these companies as a developer. Even though I was only in this position for six months, I have job opportunities galore—and hopefully still after I come on this podcast—job opportunities, like people are knocking down my wall trying to get me on calls, and they don’t care that I was only there for six months. Obviously, I’m not broadcasting to them like, “I got fired for mouthing off,” or whatever they said that I did. But I didn’t even mouth off. You know what I mean? I was just direct and standing up for people.
Kim: It’s a fuckin’ feedback company. You were giving feedback. This is why I want to have this conversation, because this is a unique experience. If you was a health care company, people could trot around this. If it was a language, you’re talking about, you know, a open source community, language, you… people would be like, “Well, we don’t talk about that here.” This is a feedback company that is making money on a product that should be as close to—it’s striving to minimize harm as much as possible and to mitigate bias.
Shannon: And that’s… you know, it was I think after this conversation that I actually—because obviously my reaction to my boss telling me this was really chaotic. I was in tears, I mean I was just at wit’s end. And he was like, “I just want you to take some—I just want you to take a day off at least this week. Just take a day off.” And it felt more like a punishment then giving…
Kim: “I care about you, go take a…” Yeah. [Laughs]
Shannon: …a shit about my mental health. And then when I finally took that Friday off, he was like, “Well, where’re you going? Are you gonna get out of town and go to Sonoma? Are you blah blah blah?”
Kim: None of ya damn business!
Shannon: Yeah, he kept… I was like, “No.” He’s like, “Oh, are you just gonna stay home and watch TV, or blah blah blah?” So I was like, “No.” He’s like—and I wanted to tell him it wasn’t his business, but he kept pressing me, and I think I knew why—and I was like, “No, I’m taking Friday off to go to a protest. To do what I have told you that I am doing. I’m doing what I think is right in different places of my life. I’m not just trying to make your life hard—harder—by making you go back to the drawing board.”
And what was hilarious, he’s telling me, “You offended people,” this and that, like, “You were targeting people personally. You just wanted to make them feel bad.” I’m like, “People’s ideas also are not them. I can have a lot of respect for the person and try and get through to them. And maybe that’s why I’m pushing back on their idea, ’cause I’m saying, ‘No, no, marketing director. I think you’re better than that. Maybe you haven’t thought of this this way.'”
So I actually, I thought—I knew—that I hadn’t said anything to Brett that was so inappropriate or personal. So I actually thought that Matthew was talking about how I talked to the marketing communicator when I was like, “Well, this isn’t the same situation with the scholarships,” or whatever, or my reaction to the… just sort of like my facial expressions, whatever. So I reached out to the marketing communicator later that day and apologized and said, “Hey. I’ve been in a crazy head state, and I think that some of the way I reacted may have blah blah blah,” this and that. But I didn’t really think I had pressed too hard, but I did want to let this person know that I was sorry for making them feel how I had made them feel.
Shannon: …but I did want to let this person know that I was sorry for making them feel how I had made feel.
Kim: People need ta be responsible for their own fuckin’ feelings. I’m not responsible for your feelings. My truth… if… yeah, yeah, we have to really get… y’all people gotta learn how to manage your feelings. Go to therapy or whatever. But my truth, I’m no longer—we’re no longer, as a community—gonna be held to our truth being dictated by your feelings. It’s not.
Shannon: And comfort, right? But this guy also was like, “Oh, I didn’t mean… I mean, I get it.” He’s like, “I get it. This is important stuff.” Anyways, Wednesday morning, we come back, the tweet is updated. They’ve put in, “As a pre-revenue startup, we’re donating $2000 to these three organizations.” And then they’d also talked about how they’d revised this tweet and worked really hard on it all night under the advisement…
Kim: It’s 240 characters. What the fuck could they be doin’ all night? But go ‘head, go ‘head. 280. Sorry, I missed 40 [characters].
Shannon: Kim, it was a three tweet series. So I don’t think it… [laughs]
Kim: That’s what I’m sayin’, I don’t know—and the fact that they call a thread a series? It’s funny to me.
Shannon: I really am with you. I’m trying—I’ve always tried to see things from their point of view, and it feels really good to communicate with somebody who doesn’t think I’m crazy about this. And so…
Kim: One thing I do want to just remind you of: be mindful of the word “crazy.”
Shannon: OK. Thank you. OK.
Kim: Go ‘head.
Shannon: What should I say instead?
Kim: Instead of “crazy,” which is ableist, I say “it was a wild time.” “It was unusual.” “It was unexpected.” “It was off the charts,” you know? Yeah. Yeah.
Shannon: Yes. And thank you for doing that, because I think it can be really difficult, especially when you’re in a conversation and worked up, to remember all the…
Kim: That’s what I was… [chuckles] Oh, yeah. I get my pronouns and stuff mixed up all the time. Yes, yes, I say—that’s why I focus on “folx,” cause I’ll say “guys,” cause I’m from the South and that’s something we always say. But go ‘head.
Shannon: I’m from the Northeast, and that is something that I’ll reiterate about Matter, is that they always are really into saying like, “Hey, team.” And I’m always the one putting my foot in it because I’m from New Jersey, so “hey guys,” is just genderless, everybody’s saying it. “Youse guys,” whatever. And so there is sort of this—people think that they are thinking about it, but I think what happens is that then in execution, something gets lost and you sort of… [sighs]
Kim: Well, it’s the binary thinking. Just because you are doing well with pronouns and such, that does not mean that you’re doin’ well over here. And that’s the thing that people—again, that either/or, that off and on—and this is why “allies” pissed me off: just because you are doing something positive, and another community said that you were helpful, that does not translate to a whole another community. Your effort there may be harmful and they’re telling you to stop.
Shannon: Yeah. Yeah.
Kim: So just because I can say… just like I had a conversation last week about pronouns—and I really want to dig into it—because pronouns are not an issue for me. So I want to make sure that even in that conversation, there is opportunity to fuck it up. And we’re trying to create a world that was never meant to exist. We’re gonna screw this up. So, yeah, so just because you’re—and that’s the thing—just because this company were good on this pronoun thing, you suck at the other stuff!
But pronouns are—and this is where I get—I do understand people when they say pronouns can be very performative, because it is. It’s like you, “Oh, I got my pronouns. Lemme me check that box off.” No, it’s about demonstrated behavior. Pronouns is like the bare fuckin’ minimum that you can do. What I need you to do is when you’re interacting with somebody—let’s say on Twitter—you’ve gone to their thing. Do they have their pronouns there? OK, they do. So then you use those pronouns. That’s how—it’s not just sayin’ it, it’s about using it. It’s about action.
Shannon: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s also like you have to be OK being wrong.
Kim: YES! FEEDBACK! [Both laugh] Shit! It’s feedback! [Laughs]
Shannon: Because the most harm done is after someone who told you that something hurts you or told you the impact that you’re having, and your reaction is to just seize up and double down on that because you don’t want to be perceived as wrong. And so I think that’s a lot of what happens here—and it does hurt, ’cause you don’t wanna be told, “Oh my god, I offended you.” Right? That hurts really—you know, you don’t want to think of yourself that way. But you have to sit in that. Just sit in discomfort. And you—I think on your guidelines for the antiracism course online—talk about something like power versus… or comfort versus—is that you?—comfort versus, like, I’m not gonna protect your power over…
Kim: Mm-mm. Yup.
Shannon: Over other people’s comfort.
Kim: Oh yeah, that’s a part of the code of conduct. Yeah. The impact of your actions are more important than your comfort.
Shannon: Right. OK, so something like that, and I’m kind of—based on you and some other reading that I’ve done—that’s sort of like how I’ve approached stuff at work, is just that when you have this power structure, like why are the CTO and the CEO—their comfort right? We were always expected that their comfort came first. And so if it made them uncomfortable or felt threatened, whatever, then that was more important than making sure that what we were even doing as the company made sense.
Kim: What you were doin’ as a company building a feedback app. But go ahead. I’m just gonna keep throwing that out there. But go ahead.
Shannon: Yes. And so the other thing here is that—OK, so we have that conversation, I get the earplugs in the mail within two days. I mean, he went out and he sent those, ’cause he thought it was really gonna do something.
Kim: That was gonna solve your problem.
Shannon: I literally… I think I had a pull request—which is like a piece of code that you need to get reviewed—I think I had a pull request sitting out, and I have been asking him on the daily, “Can you review this? Can you review this? Can you review this?” In public. I finally had to go to another engineer and be like, “Hey, can you take a look at this?” I think I asked him three days in a row for the review of my work, but I got the earplugs in two business days. You know what I mean? There was definitely this idea of like, this is gonna fix her.
Shannon: Yeah, so after that, it was just like, obviously, how am I—I’m having difficulty navigating in conversations after this, because I’m feeling like I’m having—I already felt before like I had to tiptoe around in order to not offend people here. And then, now my bosses told me straight out, like, “You’re gonna get fired if you talk like this in a meeting.” And it just was so difficult because it comes a little bit, like what you were talking before, is that every conversation becomes, “How am I going to navigate this to make sure that I’m keeping other people comfortable?”
Kim: And it’s exhausting!
Shannon: It’s exhausting.
Kim: Fuckin’ exhausting! It is exhausting. Yes. Yes.
Shannon: Because again, there would be conversations where I’m like, “God, I did what I tried to do there, and I was respectful.” And then I’d still get this feedback of like, “It’s too much.” And, it just—you know, I had previously had a relationship with this boss where he was giving me a lot of positive feedback; he had told me that in meetings I was really—we would have these zoo meetings for lunch, just like kind of casual meetings—and he says, “You always do such a great job of bringing people into the conversation. You’ll see when some people are quiet and ask them for their opinion,” whatever, whatever. And just like, “That’s a really great skill that you have.”
Kim: But all that goes out the window when you’re now makin’ people uncomfortable. All the things that they value about you no longer matter, don’t matter anymore. It’s like they never existed, once they start… yep. Mm-hm.
Shannon: All that goes out the window because in this same meeting about the earplugs, he says, “And you know what, Shannon? You just keep reiterating your opinion over and over, thinking you’re going to change people’s minds or something. And you made that meeting go on for way too long, and I’m gonna tell you too, you have a tendency to talk over even me in meetings, and I’m usually the person who’s talking over everybody else. I’ve never been interrupted by anyone in my career the way you interrupt me.” And I told him, “Matthew, the reason that I interrupt you is because I keep talking after you interrupt me.” Or because he’ll go on forever and ever and ever, and when there’s a natural pause for someone else to join into that conversation, I’ll try and pipe in, and he’ll say, “You’re interrupting.” And he kept coming back to saying, “You and I are so similar. We’re both very like forceful communicators,” this and that.
Kim: That’s how they get you. “We’re on the same team. So you need to change this thing. We’re so similar. It’s just this one thing.” But that one thing is integral to what the problem is. Yeah, yeah.
Shannon: Yes. And so then, that’s the end of that conversation. I’m trying to navigate through this. I have some bumps along the way, but also some quote-unquote “wins,” as they say in tech. And then I end up having another meeting with Matthew. In this meeting, I just tell him, “Me and another developer were in a meeting. We weren’t sure whether this is the right time to get feedback on something, because they seemed a little resistant to it. Or like we were throwing a wrench in their plans by bringing this up when they thought the decision was already made.”
It was very much based on process. And this is something that I keep coming back to, that a lot of my feedback to them was about the business, about the process of how we work, about how we work together. And then every conversation always shifted over to how I personally needed to change or how we all needed to focus on our personal growth, and that’s so dumb!
But in this meeting, my boss goes from this and he says, “You know what, Shannon? I think sometimes the way you say stuff just makes people not want to listen to you.” And I was like, “Oh. I was talking about whether this meeting was timed at the right time for us to be able to give the type of feedback we needed to build the right feature.” He says, “Yeah, I just think you should experiment with being super apologetic.” And I’m going to read out this list of things that he told me in this meeting. I have this list written out of notes because the therapist that he told me I should hire in order to be able to keep this job, of course as soon as I started talking to her, she was like, “Whoa, what is going on at your company?” And she said, “Start taking notes—verbatim notes—of what your boss says, so that we can discuss them and so that you can react in our sessions and not react emotionally at the time.”
So here’s a list of that feedback that I got: experiment with being super apologetic; say your opinions less confidently; you’ll want to be perceived as non-threatening; don’t act emotionally connected to your ideas; you can let people think it’s their idea; sometimes people reject ideas because it seems like the other person wants it so badly; sometimes people ask for opinions because they feel they need to and not because they want them; and you have a strong sense of self and that can be viewed as a threat.
Kim: OK, stop. Don’t say anything else, ’cause I keep coming back to this is a feedback company and they’re creating—so I’m just thinking about all the brown and Black people who are being—this app is being used to give them feedback, and not only because—that’s one part of the app—but the other part of the app is using that feedback to become more professional. So basically it is about assimilation. It is feedback based on this narrow perspective of what “professional” is, and you need to do whatever you can—if you’re not there, it’s your fault—and you need to do anything you can to get to that thing.
Shannon: Yeah. That sums it up better than I’ve been able to sum it up. That is exactly, 100%, the qualms I have with this product.
Kim: And that is white supremacy. That is white supremacy. That is fuckin’ white supremacy. And that’s why I wanna—this has been a long conversation, but I knew we would get here—because the reason I wanted to tease this out is because there are so many people who challenge me, so many people challenge what I say when I talk about this as a business strategist and how these tools that we think we are so fuckin’ creative and special and innovative are creating, are causing harm to other people. And we have no fuckin’ right to do this.
Shannon: I know.
Kim: Everything on that list was something that every, every person in the marginalised community who’s tryin’ to be fuckin’ professional has heard and has been used against them, not only—and you had the ultimate… culminating in being fired. So this is why this pisses me off, because it impacts us economically. These are not just Matthew’s opinions. He based these opinions—and Brett—based these things on the decision to fire you. That has a direct economic impact on your life and those around you.
Shannon: Yeah. And the thing too is once you get this kind of feedback—and I’m hoping you can kind of help me distil this as well—when you’re getting this kind of feedback, it becomes impossible to work effectively in that environment. It almost turns you…
Kim: Oh my god, yes, Yes. You become paranoid. You spend so much time thinking about things. You tryna—any confidence you had, now you need to go and get approval for everything, and then that becomes a problem. Because like, why do I have to approve everything that you do, because I don’t have time for this. But you’re just saying that thing!
Shannon: Yeah, or you end up saying I’m gonna push on what I really care about a little bit more, and that’s a great way to get let go too. There’s no way to win.
Kim: Yeah. No, exactly! It is a trap. And it is a trap of white supremacy. And you got caught in it, because we have seen there is no way to win there. There was no—if they had a conscious decision to fire you at that time, it was setting up that thing—because you were put in a situation that there is no way you could win.
Shannon: Yeah. And after that, I’m trying to have these conversations with people just to get a sense of where they’re at; like, “Here’s this feedback that I’ve been told. Am I making you feel threatened? Am I making you… like, what is your sense of me?”
Kim: Well, you’re just asking… you’re just going… you not taking his word for it was a problem. You asking for confirmation from other people? First of all, it puts them in a situation ‘cause they don’t want to answer honestly, even if they agree or don’t agree, because they don’t know if it’s gonna come back and bite them in tha ass.
Shannon: That’s true.
Kim: But now it’s it’s a thing of, now you’re questioning that feedback, and so now you’re seen as insubordinate, and causin’ a problem.
Shannon: Yup. And the language they used when they fired me was that I bulldoze conversations, that I am divisive, and that I was talking behind people’s backs. But the only people that I was talking about was the impact that Brett and Matthew’s actions were having on me and the other employees.
Kim: And that’s the thing though, once he put that in writing—and the thing is without… well, I’m happy he put it in writing, because without putting that in writing, anything you say, it’s subjective, right? But you reading that list to me? ‘Cause you know I don’t trust white folx, so I’d be like, “Yeah, whatever.” But you reading that list to me is an indication, it’s very clear about this is a harmful situation, and as a white woman, I would hate to see—I can just… I don’t want you to talk about the experience of the one Black person who was there for one fuckin’ week—but if this was your experience as a white woman, I could just imagine what their week was like.
Shannon: I know. Yeah, and I want you—I hope that you get a chance to talk to her, because… ugh. And it’s… like the amount of harm, it’s just so difficult because now when these things happen, you have to take them to your next company. You are carrying these on in your professional life.
Kim: Well, it’s like—it’s a bad relationship. So it’s this thing, it’s an abusive relationship, and it’s—we all know it’s best to heal from one relationship to before you go into another—but it’s hard to do, you know. Particularly if that relationship is about my financial well-being. I don’t have time to do the years of therapy I might need to do to… I mean, I definitely between, “romantic” quote-unquote relationships, even when I have friendship relationships… I take the time. I take years between romantic relationships before I get into another one, because I want to make sure I’m healed. I’ve learned what I need to know. I know what I don’t want any more, so I can focus on what I want before I bring that shit into another relationship.
So, yes. Now you get to take this shit into another relationship. And any time someone tells you that, “Oh, yeah, we trust you,” you’re gonna doubt it. You don’t believe ’em, you like, “Mmm”. And this is why inclusion is about people’s lived experience. You have to do—as the person in power, with power privilege—it is your responsibility to make sure, ensure that that individual’s lived experience at your organization is as impactful and minimizes harm as much as possible, ’cause you don’t know what somebody’s bringin’ into that relationship.
Kim: ‘Cause you’re gun shy now. You’re just like, “Mmm, rrr, OK.”
Shannon: Exactly. But you need a paycheck. So I gotta…
Kim: Exactly! Exactly. So now, without even healing, you have to go into the next thing. Yeah.
Shannon: And you know, if this continues to happen, then it starts to really impact me, because at a certain point, you do end up getting limited, you know, being more limited in your job opportunities that you’re gonna get; at least Silicon Valley—it’s a large place, right? Tons of opportunities. But it puts these labels on me, but…
Kim: Oh yeah. I lean into bein’ a angry Black woman because that’s what you gonna call me anyway, so I’m gonna use it to my advantage. I’m gonna be—#CauseAScene is the angry Black woman. If that’s what you wanna call it, that’s fine, because you gonna give me that label anyway, and it taints eeeeverything. And this is why I refuse to have this industry tell me what my value is. I’m not. You’re not. I’m gonna… and so I commend you, and I don’t give white women credit for shit. I could—y’all know dat. But I commend you for turning down the money so that you can have this conversation, because this conversation is needed.
I need folx to understand, all these people wanna be woke right now—quote “woke”; all these people wanna be “Black lives matter” right now; all these people wanna be antiracist. Being—as I said in this tweet—being antiracist ain’t for the weak. We are pushing against centuries of systems, institutions, and policies, and [inaudible]. It is designed to keep folx like me down and folx like you from challenging—white women are the maintainers of the house of white supremacy. You stepped outside of your damn job. Yo’ job was to maintain the house of white supremacy. When you start questionin’ that, of course they gonna take yo’ ass down.
Kim: And so at this moment, I want to wrap this up. So if there’s something you want to say in your—’cause I see you’re gettin’ emotional—and so I want to end here and just what are the last words you’d like to share with the audience?
Shannon: I just… I know I’m not the only person who goes through this at work. Obviously, I mean, as we’ve been talking about, this happens all the time. And I’m just seeing Twitter threads of other people who have had negative experiences across the spectrum of industries and places and whatever, and when I talk to other women at the company that I’m at, they said, “This has happened to me in the past, too.” And all I have to—all I can say is that I’m lucky to be in the financial position where I was able to turn down that money, ’cause not everybody is. But the only way that things change is by us not allowing them to happen and pushing back when things have been—and not saying like, “Well, I hope for the best,” because when your boss tells you, after they fire you, “We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.” They don’t. They don’t. They are happy to be rid of you and you’re not…”
Kim: And praying that you will never say anything. Praying that you’re too afraid to say anything.
Shannon: Yeah, and there’s just no—honestly, in my career—there’s just no fear here anymore. If I end up determining, you know, if I lose opportunities in this industry…
Kim: They weren’t your opportunities.
Shannon: Yeah. For saying what we’ve talked about in this podcast, I think I’ve attempted to be very fair to all parties here. I haven’t come in, you know, making… whatever. And if I lose opportunities because of that, then it proves to me that this industry…
Kim: Needs a complete fuckin’ overhaul. [Laughs]
Shannon: Right! And you just have to do what you can do. You need to say what you think, and what you know is right, and when people react to you, they’re telling you who they are.
Kim: Thank you! It’s not about you. So that’s where I wanna—because again, I say manage your feelings, and hopefully you’re still going to therapy. And what I would say to you is—and again I don’t say this, and I don’t know you—but I’m proud of you. And thank you for taking that hit ’cause Black and brown people can’t take the hit—we can’t continue to take the hit alone. We need to get there together or we won’t get there at all. Thank you so much, Shannon, for joining us. Have a wonderful day.