With the United States at a turning point and the entire world watching, it's not surprising that current events involving racial injustice and systemic racism have sparked a global outpouring of grief and activism. In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, this desire to comfort and console is hindered by regional lockdowns and work-from-home mandates. It's within this turmoil where the benefits of allyship germinate.
If the term is new to you, that's OK. Allyship is loosely defined as the process of building relationships with marginalized individuals and groups based on trust, consistency, and accountability. In the workplace, allies listen to those around them, adapting their thinking, adjusting behaviors, and helping difficult dialogs take root.
It's not what happens; it's how you respond that matters
As Jeff Lawson, our founder and CEO, stated in a recent post, Twilio condemns all forms of racism, bigotry, hate, and violence. “We believe in equity, inclusivity, and empowering others in our work,” he wrote, “We commit to becoming an anti-racist organization and using our product, people, and resources to create a more just and equitable world.”
It’s true. Twilio has been intentional about prioritizing equality of opportunity in our hiring, promoting, and day-to-day collaboration long before the events of 2020. But enterprise-wide declarations don't always cover all the bases: sometimes these discussions need to develop from the ground up.
Topics like the Black Lives Matter movement tend to get buried in UK conversations. That's what motivated ally Mariam Taraif, a senior design program manager at Twilio UK, to make it personal. "Race relations, workplace diversity, inclusion in employment: these are topics discussed in nearly every management meeting," recalls Mariam.
Having taken part in community discussion groups outside of work, Mariam saw the impact that allyship could have first hand. "The big question was always about how we can help and support Black Twilions through these tough times," she said. "I brought this up at a Twilio London Site Council Meeting, and there was a real interest in the idea."
Tackling tough topics over tea
Empowered to move forward, Mariam teamed with London site leaders Bronwyn Lait and Karima Merchant, and with members of the Black Twilions Employee Resource Group, Nathaniel Okenwa, Frank Yaw-Owusu, and Jade C. Together, they refined the concept to make it a reality. And since informal chats in the UK are held over a cuppa, it was decided to call these gatherings "Tea Time for Inclusion."
Pulling off a discussion group such as this was not without challenges. There were debates about the format, the topics, and the way questions might be posed. According to Jade, the team took a few weeks to brainstorm ideas around issues to discuss and a process to do so.
“As we expanded the scope, we spoke about our personal experiences and how we think this could positively impact others,” she remembers. “One of the key things I felt was important was that sessions would not be recorded so that people felt comfortable and not concerned outside of the safe space.”
In the end, the team landed on a format that has worked. "I think what was beautiful to see was the ability of the EMEA Black Twilion and the London Site Council to come together to drive this initiative,” recalls Frank. “Not just for racial injustice, but rather to unearth, dig, and explore a range of issues that pertain to those who are underrepresented as well as those who are not."
Tea Time for Inclusion: A roundtable on sensitive subjects
"At its core, Tea Time for Inclusion is an open discussion focusing solely on racial injustice," explains Mariam, noting that these sensitive subjects might not be addressed as candidly or honestly in more public settings. "As a safe space forum, we're hoping it will cultivate a more open culture in Twilio's London office."
To eliminate distractions and nurture more intimate conversations, each Tea Time for Inclusion event is limited to 15-20 Twilions. Before the gathering, a moderator and a few volunteer leaders — members of London's Black Twilions Employee Resource Group — propose topics for discussion. Participants are then prompted to rate each or add new ones. Issues receiving the most votes become the focus of the next event. After each gathering, useful and relevant resources are emailed to all participants, and feedback on the session is encouraged.
“Honestly,” said Nathaniel, “one of the pivotal moments I experienced as a member of the roundtable was going through feedback about the event.” One comment, in particular, concerned ensuring that the panel reflected the vast diversity of our societies. “Giving a platform to other underrepresented groups has been one of the things that I think the team has done successfully,” he added.
Reaction and feedback
To date, Mariam and the team spearheading Tea Time for Inclusion have run three roundtable sessions, all at full capacity and with a healthy waitlist. What's been very encouraging is that Twilions from all levels have joined the discussions: individual contributors, managers, and VPs.
"The roundtables enable us to get intimate and create a safe space for people to ask questions, talk about issues, and listen," stressed Frank. "This does not mean as a by-product that change will take place overnight or something immediately actionable will happen." There is, however, power in truth and listening to people's shared experiences. "Participating in Tea Time for Inclusion has made me much more intentional, thoughtful, and empathetic about the colleagues that I work with and the diversity of their experiences & perspectives" he added.
Several Twilions have expressed that participation in the forum was the first time in their lives in which they felt brave enough to speak about topics that concerned them or how personal experiences affected them.
"The Tea Time for Inclusion roundtable has had a very positive effect on me, and it's definitely built a community of support and inclusion among us," said Jade C. "Even after the sessions, people reach out, and sometimes the conversations continue, and we thank each other for being open, vulnerable and honest."
What’s next for Tea Time for Inclusion?
Having received positive feedback from many who’ve joined the conversations, Mariam admits the roundtable discussions have been a real eye-opener and have fostered even more robust and deeper connections amongst the London-based employees. "We want to keep this space for London Twilions to discuss all types of inclusion topics in the future," she noted, "but we also hope to scale it to other Twilio locations."
Karima agreed. “Tea Time for Inclusion has been very empowering and friendships have been built. The conversation has started and has grown beyond these roundtables,” she said. “So much education for everyone, and it’s happening in a safe and supported environment.”
As Tea Time for Inclusion moves globally, expect conversations to expand beyond racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity topics and approach issues like gender balance, LGBTQI+ inclusion, disability confidence, and life stage support. Until then, the next roundtable session for London, scheduled for November 19th.
No one should be treated differently
Current events reinforce our determination to demonstrate that together we can and will make a difference. We have a longstanding commitment to continually improve our corporate diversity and inclusion standards in each of our regions. And we are taking steps to make real changes to our recruitment and development policies to ensure that every member of every community is given the opportunities they deserve.
Racism and discrimination of any kind have no place in society, and certainly not in the global community that is Twilio.
- Read more about our commitment to being an anti-racist organization
- Discover how we aim to create an inclusive environment where all employees feel like they belong
- Interested in becoming a Twilion? see current job openings