Black Lives Matter: Taking Action

BlackLivesMatterBlack lives matter – they are precious. This seems to me an appalling thing to need to affirm. But we must, because if anything has been made brutally clear over the past few weeks (and months and years and decades and centuries), it is that our society has a cancer of racism – a cancer that takes Black lives with impunity.

At Wheelhouse, many of us have an instinct to try to offer balm to the world and to our own aching hearts through our words. But I’m not sure more words from us are important. We’re a small B2B company, not a consumer brand. We don’t have a big following on social media. And I can’t imagine improving on the direct and powerful statement published by Ben and Jerry’s earlier this week.

I think that what is important now is what we will do, what we will commit to – now and for the long-term.

As is abundantly and painfully clear, the societal inequity that brought us to this point is institutional and systemic. Our intention and commitment is that our response also will be institutional and systemic.

Over the past few days, we met twice as a company and our leadership team met twice as well as we considered how best to meaningfully respond and to ensure our response had the greatest positive, long-term impact possible. The plan I’m sharing here is drawn from these discussions and from many of the ideas offered by our team members. Our plan includes four elements:

  • Education (our own)
  • Recruiting and Hiring
  • Engagement and Support
  • Making a Contribution


Becoming Educated

Reading, Listening and Learning

It is painfully clear that we must be better informed. This is true corporately and it is true personally. So, Wheelhouse DMG has created a reading and education program for all employees. More specifically, we will:

  • Establish a borrowing library at Wheelhouse comprised of the titles listed at the end of this post (and additional titles that may be suggested)
  • Pay for employees to purchase personal copies of these books (or Kindle or audiobook versions)
  • Create a companywide venue for discussion and reflection related to these books

Reinvigorating our DEI Training

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has been a focus at Wheelhouse DMG for many years. We’ve invested significant time, capital and energy in making Wheelhouse a more inclusive and welcoming place for every person – but we’re not where we want to be (and likely not where we should be).

When the year began, we had plans for the entire company to participate in a six-part series of intensive DEI training sessions. (We’ve worked through this curriculum as a company before and saw significant personal growth and cultural change as a result.) We tabled these sessions when the COVID outbreak caused us to go remote at the beginning of March, believing that we would shortly be back in the office together and could get underway then. We’re not back and may not be together in person for a long time – and we can’t wait. So, within the month, we’ll start the series. This is a curriculum we’ve followed in years past and it’s been powerful, thought-provoking and intense. The sessions are:

  • Unconscious Bias & Empathy
  • Staying in the Conversation
  • How to be an ally
  • Power & Rank
  • Gender Diversity
  • Aligning Personal & Company Values

In the days before that first session on Unconscious Bias and Empathy, we’ll all participate in the Implicit Associations Test battery developed and offered (for free) by Harvard University (which we’ve also done previously). These tests powerfully highlight the extent to which every one of us has inherent, unconscious bias. We’ve found it to be highly impactful and effective way to challenge preconceived notions and prepare the way for meaningful teaching and discussion on bias and empathy.


Recruiting & Hiring

At Wheelhouse DMG, diversity and inclusion are our fervent intention – and yet our outcome still has fallen short. Our company is markedly more diverse than it once was – but we’re not where we need to be or want to be. So we will act and we will get better.

Review and Improve Our Hiring Practices

The Wheelhouse DEI committee has previously reviewed our hiring practices and provided recommendations. Some, but not all, have been implemented. We have requested that they revisit and refresh this review, drawing upon the work and recommendations of experts in the field and incorporating the best practices, tools and technology available to ensure that:

  • We identify and consistently use venues for job postings that are more likely to attract candidates of color
  • We revisit language used in job descriptions to ensure cultural and racial neutrality
  • We identify and establish long-term relationships with organizations that can offer potential minority candidate pools
  • We ensure our candidate screening process is “blind” (protects against bias)


Engagement and Support

Commitment to Rainier Scholars

Wheelhouse DMG employees have intermittently worked with Rainier Scholars for years. We’re now making a consistent, long-term commitment. Rainier Scholars is an amazing organization that provides “intensive academic preparation, leadership development and personalized support” through a “12-year program that offers a pathway to college graduation for hard-working, low-income students of color.

Rainier Scholars has worked with more than 700 students. Their performance and impact is nothing short of amazing:

  • 99% of Rainier Scholars students are admitted to a four-year college
  • 95% of Rainier Scholars students have multiple, four-year college options

In the past, our involvement has been limited to an occasional presentation or class. We’re now committing to long-term, ongoing involvement and support, which will include:

  • Providing mentorship and tutoring in all things digital marketing for interested Rainier Scholars students
  • Recruiting, welcoming, supporting and paying (we always pay interns) at least one class of interns from Rainier Scholars each year

Generosity Days

Generosity is a core value at Wheelhouse DMG. We put this value into action at the end of each business quarter when every Wheelhouse employee has the opportunity to spend a paid workday volunteering with a community organization of their choosing. We then augment our volunteer work time with a financial contribution to each organization with which we worked that quarter.

Historically, the organizations with which we worked were identified by surveying our employees to learn about the causes, groups and passions they care about most. Our fantastic Generosity Day coordinator then seeks out organizations that match these preferences and works to marry our availability (our Generosity Days usually occur over a single, designated week) with organizational needs. We typically work with 5-7 organizations each quarter and have worked with more than 50 over the life of this tradition.

Our commitment is that, from this point forward, every Generosity Day will include work with an organization that directly supports the Black community.


Making a Contribution

  • Wheelhouse DMG will make a direct contribution of $5,000 to the Seattle Black Lives Matter organization.
  • We will also match any donation by any Wheelhouse DMG employee to an organization supporting or affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement, current protest actions and the people and families impacted by police brutality toward People of Color (up to a maximum of $10,000).


Maintaining Our Commitment

The cancer of racism is systemic and will require a long-term commitment to cure. We’ll be sticking to this plan for years to come and we’ll make ourselves accountable to one another by reporting on our progress during every monthly company meeting.

Wheelhouse may be small, but we’re in it for the long-term.


Aaron Burnett

CEO, Wheelhouse DMG


The Books We’re Reading

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

So You Want to Talk About Race? By Ijeoma Oluo

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

How to Be Less Stupid About Race by Crystal M. Fleming

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffen

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum


Featured image courtesy of 

@sacree_frangine (Instagram)

By Aaron Burnett