How to begin

Ann Bordetsky
4 min readJun 6, 2020

We watched. We listened. We started the conversation. Now what…

I cannot even begin to summarize this moment. My heart is breaking and my rage is brewing for the violent, dehumanizing, and deeply unfair reality that black Americans face. BLACK LIVES MATTER. Period.

I know many of you are reflecting and strategizing, figuring out what “being part of the solution” means. As a Tech community, I want us to still be working the problem after the adrenaline rush fades. That’s when the real work begins, that’s where the impact happens. It’s on each of us individually to NOT be neutral and to use our positions of privilege to foster equality + justice.

As one of my favorite people — the badass Bozoma St. John — says:

“Why do I, as a black woman, have to fix it all? There’s way more of you than there are of me. We need some help out here.”

Truth be told, I suspect many of you might be confused about where to start.

As you are thinking about how to translate intent into action, here’s a framework for how I think about it. You might find this a helpful exercise.

Everyone starts from a different place but we each have resources and abilities at our disposal to be part of the solution.

(By the way, this is the same framework I used 5 years ago to define my role in fighting for gender equity in Tech. Looking back, the impact is there because I was deliberate in commitment and sustained it over time).

What is your sphere of influence?

For example:

  • Work (company, business, team, product)
  • Community (city, neighborhood, school)
  • Social circle (family, friends, peers, alumni groups)
  • Professional circle (startups, founders, VCs, execs, industry peers, etc)

From where you stand today, what are the spheres of interaction and influence that are available to you?

List them out. You likely have more reach and access than you realize.

What can you give and contribute?

  • Voice (give platform to others, hopefully not just through social media)
  • Money (donate to advocacy groups, local nonprofits, programs building diversity onramps into tech, ideally a recurring donation vs. one time)
  • Time (volunteering, mentoring, problem solving at your company, etc)
  • Talents (mentoring a young engineer, coaching minority founders, helping a nonprofit build their website, etc, give your skills)
  • Power (especially for people in leadership & public roles, using your power & influence to affect change)
  • Access (seat at the table, introductions, insider tips, open the door)
  • VOTE (this should be a given but obliged to list it here as a reminder)

What is the scale at which you want to generate impact?

Will you pick 1 person in your sphere of influence that you can empower, sponsor, support directly OR will you take an indirect action to support 100s?

There is no one right way to engage. Action is required at ALL levels and sometimes just making a difference in one person’s life is a game changer.

Since the goal is to commit to an action you can sustain, it’s good to gut check yourself on what motives you personally.

What is the NOW action vs. the ONGOING commitment? Define both.

  • Now actions: things you will do today and tomorrow to amplify, accelerate and support the movement as it is happening.
  • For example: 1) text / call your black friends to extend support and let them know you’re with them, 2) amplify black voices using your platform, 3) speak up to your sphere of influence (e.g. shine light on issues in your workplace), 4) show up at a rally, 5) donate. Etc.
  • Ongoing actions: things you will be doing a week, month, quarter, year from now that fit within your sphere of influence. THIS is really important. You have to get uncomfortable and step up, but pick a strategy you can sustain and participate in longer-term (and it’s ok to adjust over time).
  • For example: 1) Mentor in under-represented communities, 2) Bring more diversity into your boardroom, 3) Volunteer at advocacy nonprofit. Etc. You can frame this as a commitment to an action or an outcome.

I bet your next thought is… well that’s a nice framework but tell me specifically WHAT I should do. Give me the steps to take, organizations to back, D&I programs to implement. Where is the CHECKLIST?

To that I say, NO. I am not going to make it that easy for you. And here’s why. Do the work, do the research, educate yourself and engage with the issues enough that YOU yourself, without the help of internet listicles, can describe what you are doing to be part of the solution and why.

You have the time. You have the resources. You are accountable.

None of us can do everything. But each of us can do something.

Now get to work! :)