Black Tech (has always) Mattered*

I wasn’t originally planning to write about this because I didn’t feel qualified, and I was apprehensive about saying something wrong, or inadvertently offending.

However, after doing a lot of listening & reading over the past few days — in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd and countless others — I’ve realised that we mustn’t let this fear of “getting it wrong” stop us from having the conversation, because it’s the absence of a society-wide conversation that’s such a huge part of the problem. In that same way that “you cannot be, what you cannot see”, it’s very hard to fix what you’re afraid to discuss.

OLIO is now a global community of over 2 million people, and “inclusive” is our number 1 value (the others are resourceful, caring & ambitious). With this comes great opportunity — to build a brilliantly diverse, and strong, business — but also, an equally great responsibility to make sure that we’re really walking the talk.

As a team, we’ve been doing some soul searching over the past few days, and here’s where we’ve identified we can do better:

  • We don’t have enough ethnic diversity in our team. It seems we’re not alone in this — a 2019 study by the Evening Standard found that only 3% of the technology industry’s employees in London are black, whilst black people make up 13% of the population in the city. And a 2018 study found that “environment professionals” are the second least ethnically diverse profession in the UK. To harness the full potential of tech, and to solve the climate crisis we need to solve the racism crisis, period. (ACTION: reach out to under-represented communities when recruiting, rather than just recruiting from the people who apply to us)
  • We suspect (but don’t know for sure) that we don’t have enough socio-economic diversity in our team either. We also don’t have team members with physical disabilities (ACTION: measure socio-economic diversity; do outbound recruitment to under-represented communities)
  • We don’t have any quantitative data on the diversity of our community, as the sources we use only provide gender & age (ACTION: measure multiple diversity metrics amongst our community and volunteer base; adjust our marketing outreach on the basis of what we discover)
  • We don’t have a framework for assessing our comms to ensure that diversity is properly represented. Plus we need to do more to ensure that voices of colour, in particular, are showcased (ACTION: come up with a framework to ensure that diversity really is in the DNA of our comms; do more showcasing pieces like this)
  • We don’t do a good enough job of using our platform to explain why the climate crisis, the racism crisis and the poverty crisis are all interlinked. A big reason why there’s been so little climate action, is because the impact of the climate crisis is felt most by people of colour, and people living in poverty. For these communities the climate crisis isn’t an abstract thing in the distant future, as so many privileged whites tend to believe — it’s wreaking havoc to lives and livelihoods right here, right now. (ACTION: highlight the intersectionality of racism and the climate crisis in our newsletters & on social media)
  • As a guiding principle in all we do, we need to move beyond our current position which is that “we’re not racist” to the more proactive position of being “anti-racist”. (ACTION: circulate anti-racist reading materials to the team; ensure we have regular conversations so that it stays top of mind; ensure we embed diversity training as we scale; create a culture where we all continue to listen, explore and learn what being “anti-racist” means in practice.)

If you’ve got this far, you might also be interested in some of the things that we do do well, that we want to continue to build on:

  • Our team: we have incredible gender diversity, age diversity, diversity of sexual orientation, neurodiversity and diversity of nationalities (18 nationalities in a team of 27!). I believe that our remote-first operating model has been critical to enabling us to achieve this.
  • Our community: we’re constantly amazed at the breadth of diversity in our community. OLIOers really do come from all walks of life, and that’s part of its magic. An OLIOer called Suzanne shared this in the Forum which sums it up beautifully:
  • Our product/platform — We have a zero-tolerance approach to racist behaviour on the app, and any time we’ve experienced it — so far as I’m aware — we’ve banned users from the platform. We’ve also been very intentional about how we approach personal identification on the app (e.g. we don’t insist upon personal profile photos) as we’ve learned a lot from Airbnb’s experience of conscious/unconscious racism slipping in.
  • Our comms — From the very first animation that we created about OLIO, to our recent celebration of hitting the 2 million users milestone, we’ve tried to ensure we have racial diversity in our comms.
  • Our time — My Co-founder Saasha and I always prioritise giving time to mentoring diverse founders, as their success will be society’s success. We also have a company policy of limitless paid holiday and so actively encourage team members to participate in activism on the streets whenever they can.

If there’s more you think we should do, please do pop it in the comments below…


PS Thank you to my great friend Buki for this brilliant headline

PS Here’s some further reading:




Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.

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Tessa Clarke

Tessa Clarke

Co-Founder & CEO of OLIO, the food sharing app. Getting my head around the climate crisis. Passionate about sustainability, startups & diversity.

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