We recommend you start with this episode. In this preface to the second season, MassTLC CEO Tom Hopcroft tells the story of how we arrived at this season’s overarching themes, and our guests define some key terms that inform the entire season.
In our first season, we heard conversations between leaders in Boston’s tech community, as they maneuvered through the complex realities of the COVID pandemic. But one conversation, between Anthony Williams of Akamai and Susan Hunt Stevens of WeSpire, left us questioning the very notion of Boston’s place as an incubator of talent and social change. Is Boston truly America’s most racist city? Is this just a brand problem, tied up in the city’s unwelcoming reputation, or is it true that Boston is systemically unwelcoming to people of color? And, acknowledging it as a problem, how are we, as a community, working to fight both the realities and the reputation? In season 2, On the Tech Trail, we spoke to 22 leaders in our community to directly address issues of equity, access the so-called Boston Brand Problem.
Here are some episode highlights:
So, follow us on our journey this season as we investigate Boston’s challenges as a microcosm for bigger issues of equity and access. Through topics like access to technology, healthcare innovations, the future of education, and forward-thinking DE&I strategies, we take Boston’s Brand Problem out of the shadows, and onto the Tech Trail.
My family and I have been in Boston for just over five years, and we were in for a pretty significant surprise when our friends really tried to encourage us not to move here. Boston isn't actually as welcoming, especially for people of color.
Welcome to season two of On the Tech Trail. I'm Mass TLC CEO, Tom Hopcroft. And that clip you just heard was Anthony Williams, executive vice president, and chief human resources officer at Akamai Technologies, speaking in season one with WeSpire CEO, Susan Hunt Stevens.
When we first heard those words, we did what many Bostonians would do. We chalked it up to a legacy of racism that has colored Boston's history. But who are we if we stand by and accept our history as static and changeable?
This past year has shown us that we, as a community, have the will to shape who we are and what we do to address systemic issues, especially ones that have traditionally lived in the shadows.
So for season two of On the Tech Trail, we decided to face our sordid history, look at the Boston brand problem directly, and to dig deeper into the burning questions that came out of our first season. Can Boston truly be an incubator of leadership and innovation if people of color perceive it as an unwelcoming place? And what steps are leaders taking to remain accountable for fixing this persistent problem, as we re-imagine the city as a world class technology hub.
We investigate these questions and more focusing on a key issue that sits at the core of Boston's brand problem, equity. To help start this important conversation, Emerson president, and next CEO of the Boston Foundation, Lee Pelton, defines this key concept and explains the often overlooked distinction between equity and equality.
First of all, I think there is a clear understanding about the difference between equality and equity. They are related, but they're not the same thing. An often used image to show the difference between equality and equity is three young people peering over a fence, trying to watch a baseball game. One is very tall, one is sort of middle height, and one is shorter.
To remediate that so they can all see, they can all have the same opportunity, would be to give them boxes of equal height to stand on. That's equality. The tall kid will be able to see, the middle kid, maybe will strain to see over, but the very shortest person will still not be able to see the baseball game.
And so what you witness between the tall person and the shortest person is not achievement, but it's opportunity. It's not about ability, it's about having the opportunity to perform at the highest level. The only way to rectify that is to give the shortest kid a taller box to stand on, that's equity. So equality equals inputs. Equity is equal to outputs.
I came to Boston in 1974, and I remember telling my father, that I was headed off to Harvard to study poetry and Boston. And he was shocked, both by where I was going and what I was going to study, because certainly then Boston had the reputation as being an Eastern urban environment that was not at all friendly to black Americans. That was its reputation.
Boston has changed in many substantial and important ways, but the triple pandemic of COVID-19 and the economic devastation and the very public exposure of what we call the systemic racial disparities that have long plagued our country, calls on all of us to once again seize the moment and help write a new chapter for the City of Boston.
Equity as the output of efforts to eliminate opportunity gaps is not a new found issue in our nation, broadly or here in the City of Boston. But this past year, these multiple pandemics Lee spoke of, it became impossible to ignore because of their impact on building a better, more inclusive and innovative world.
As CEO of the Partnership, our next guest Pratt Wiley explains that this moment wasn't just an unfortunate reminder of systemic inequality. It was an opportunity for Boston as a city to become a leader in these diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and breaking out of its unwelcoming reputation to set an example for the rest of the country.
The Partnership has actually been influenced by each of those pandemics. Earlier in 2020, we convened the diversity and inclusion and HR professionals who are responsible for implementing the DNI strategies within their companies.
And we convene every other week and we started to talk about the challenges that people of color in particular were facing. We were more likely to be exposed. We were more likely to have family members who were exposed. We were more likely to have family members who were struggling financially or had already lost their job. And that the difference between the folks on the top floor of a company and on the bottom floor of the company were radically different, oftentimes expressed in race.
And we actually, as a group prepared a pandemic resource guide for how companies can think about culture because ultimately diversity and inclusion is about culture, it's about corporate culture, and how we can think about culture in the face of a pandemic.
Fostering a culture of inclusion can be complicated here in Boston. That's because Boston has another reputation which might be called its overarching local culture that isn't very inclusive and it's tightly intertwined with its brand problem.
I'm a Masshole and I wear it with pride, and when I'm behind the wheel, people know regardless of where I am in the country, that I'm a Masshole. But that culture, which is in many ways, something that helps bind us also can divide us. We are a community that is not very friendly.
Let me tell you a story about that. Even for white people, Boston is clique-ish. That's one of the other pieces that exacerbates belonging is because it is so clique-ish.
That was Stephanie Browne, vice president of talent acquisition and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
So I feel like that clique-ish piece could actually probably be some of the hardest part to break through because I think some of those other things you can solve through community, but the clique-ish piece is hard. And so when you think about that on top of being a person of color, it can be daunting.
This theme of Boston culture and how people of color navigate their way through it, it seemed to touch on everything that mattered to the future of leadership in Boston and beyond.
I think there are two enduring changes that 2020 will have on individuals, business leaders, educators, and policy makers. Number one is creating a more connected society, and number two, the need to drive positive change for social justice.
We learned that our educational needs as a nation are changing and that bridging the digital divide is more important than ever.
That as technology companies, that we are building the engineers of the future. I also think we have a responsibility as well, to help those that may not have access to technology or have the same benefits as others.
Internet is really critical. I feel so bad for students, for example, who just don't have the access, or they have one computer between four children and parents, and everybody is trying to do some work or school and everyone's struggling.
And the struggle for access isn't limited just to education. Even one of the most innovative cities for new developments in healthcare, Boston sometimes struggles.
One of the interesting questions has been, where are the frontiers in health and what can we do to make the world a better place through health?
What in our policies is keeping us from being equitable and having conversations across difference so that people can get a better understanding of my lived experiences versus your lived experiences, and where should we bring them closer together.
The urge to push forward as a community sat at the core of nearly every story we've heard this season. In these times of crisis, leaders in our Boston community saw an opportunity to acknowledge the realities of inequity and are rising to the challenge of repairing our broken reputation.
The reason it makes us more important now is it appears that more people have been woke. More people have become aware. They can't ignore that we are becoming a multicultural region, a multicultural company.
Resiliency is one of our core cultural values, but I think that's become even more important for us, and it's something that we're really looking for.
Now, we have this rare opportunity to really re-imagine, re-meet, re-build with everyone in mind and optimize and make better use of all the talent we have in our city right now, and also be smarter and more strategic about attracting the people that we want.
And that resilience, that drive to break down the walls of our brand problem came full circle to Anthony Williams' experience.
We viewed the lack of encouragement to move here from our close circle as actually encouragement and more of a challenge. We felt like if the city isn't as diverse, that posed an opportunity for us and that we would come here and try to influence, making a difference in what we feel like is a really amazing city.
Follow us on our journey this season, as we investigate Boston's challenges as a microcosm for bigger issues of equity and access through topics like access to technology, healthcare innovations, the future of education and forward-thinking diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. We take Boston's brand problem out of the shadows and onto the tech trail.
On the Tech Trail is a joint effort by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council and Matter, a Brand Elevation Agency, and is made in partnership with Invest Northern Ireland.
Our host is Tom Hopcroft. Special thanks to Kristen Keene and Mackenzie LeBert from MassTLC for booking our incredible guests. Our producers are Gabe Gerzon, David Riemer, and me, Beth York. Without our editors, David and Mandy Lawson, each episode would have been 3 hours long, at least!
Our graphic designer, Tanner Bjorlie makes us look good, and writer Shaw Flick makes sense of it all. Our executive producer is Tim Bradley, who works inside a closet. Our theme music is by Mikey Geiger.
Thanks to everyone involved for contributing, collaborating and bringing season 2 to life. If you loved it too, keep the conversation going by sharing on social or by leaving us a rating or review in your podcast app – it makes a huge difference!
And if you’ve got an idea for a pod, let us know at [email protected] and maybe I’ll be reading your name in the credits one of these days. Until then, see you next time... on the tech trail.