The civic unrest in 2020 brought to light a global discourse on the brutalization of Black people and Communities of Color in the U.S. These issues are buried much deeper than any hour-long, workplace DEI curriculum could hope to impact. As such, industry leaders and their agencies must dedicate themselves to the long-term study of systematic oppressions, class, power and privilege in the U.S..
So, as a majority white company founded by two cishetero white men, how do we reframe how we, as an agency, think, act, speak and react to issues of racism and equality, as well as other causes that matter to us? How do we build a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program that is current and relevant? And, what does Accountability really look like for a corporation?
Our approach: We created OBERCHANGE, an employee-led DEI program fully funded by the agency and designed to educate employees, create greater awareness, and drive action in an effort to create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive agency environment. We center initiatives around the voices and experiences of Black folx. We emphasize political education. We pay activists working on the ground for their hard fought wisdom. We listen to Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous People of Color (QTBIPOC) and honor them for their labor- we do not take anyone for granted.
We are lucky that OBERLAND is a small agency of twenty-six, purpose minded creatives. We are lucky because our team is big enough to hold a multiplicity of experiences, intersecting across geographies and languages, class, gender and power. Yet, we are small enough that we can actually know each other in meaningful ways.
You see, DEI work is incredibly personal and, I would argue, it is essential not just to surviving as a company, but also to the survival of real human lives. It is the minimum that corporations can do to show up for their workers, consumers, and the communities who make the things that we use in our daily lives. Our work is both individual and collective, our fates interwoven, even when our shackles are very different.
OBERCHANGE is not a program created for optics. We are being intentional about how we share our process. We are not here to virtue signal and we are sharing with you here mostly for accountability purposes. Our team is planning our program curriculum for 2021 and we are excited to deepen our connection and accountability to this work.
If you want to learn more about this work, who we are working with and how we are doing it, please reach out to us!
The 2021 program leads are Coco Brown (Operations), Davianne Harris (Strategy), Deb Wolf (Account) and Emily Templeton (HR).
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. [...] And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained.” -Audre Lorde, On the Uses of Anger (1981)