5 Commitments to an Equitable Future: Mission-Critical Dismantling of White Supremacy & Patriarchy at CTC

Taylor Holiday

by Taylor Holiday

Jan. 14 2021

Common Thread Collective exists to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. That’s been our mission since day one — our stated mission.

2020 revealed a disease threatening our ability to carry it out. Not COVID-19, but a different pandemic that represents the greatest risk to our future.

Systemic racism, white supremacy, and unchecked bias have homogenized our organization’s makeup, talent, and skills. Unresolved, this disease will leave us unable to address an increasingly diverse and competitive market.

Innovation and infrastructure are tearing down the gates of access to ecommerce entrepreneurship. This movement will fuel an unprecedented number of dreams for millions of humans across the earth.

We want CTC to be at the center of that movement. We want to continue guiding entrepreneurs through the journey that has transformed the lives of so many around us.

To do this, we must attract a diverse group of employees and clients. We must empathize and serve the unique needs of all entrepreneurs as well as their customers.

Five commitments mark our path forward.

Declarations that to become who we want to be, we must be different than who we are. At their core, lies my own culpability for the ways in which our current system has failed.

The future will be shaped by founders of every race, status, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Change is both a moral and business imperative.

To hold us accountable to these commitments, follow along on our journey as we provide quarterly updates. And, if you want to be a part of developing this better future, please, come join us.

Commitment 1: Equity

Starting today we are creating an Employee Stock Option Program (ESOP) that will culminate in 80% of CTC being owned by its employees. We believe we can no longer have an equity structure that misrepresents our stakeholders.

I’ll never forget the partner meeting at the end of 2018. We had just finished our end-of-year employee interviews and sat together to reflect.

CTC had become bigger than its founders. Empowering people to dream, we’d created a network effect that was growing the vision beyond any single person. We dedicated ourselves as owners to live in service of our people’s dreams. The company would become whatever the people dreamt.

We failed to turn that theoretical devotion into practical and legal action.

Over the next three years, we will finally make good on our name: a true “collective.”

We will be working with Ambrose Advisors to complete the ESOP process transferring 20% in 2021, 20% in 2022, and 40% in 2023. Once completed, CTC will be 80% employee-owned.

This will immediately give us the most diverse cap table in the industry — adding racial, gender, and sexual orientation diversity to our ownership structure.

The central reason we’re spreading this process out over three years is because our present employees still lack our desired diversity makeup. 

Redistribution alone would further reinforce broken power structures unless paired with commitment number two.

Commitment 2: Diversity

Here are our current diversity stats to reflect the work we have ahead of us:

Employee Breakdown by Gender

Employee Breakdown by Ethnicity

To ensure our employee cap table reflects the diversity we desire, that diversity must evolve. Through thoughtful conversations and research, we believe the best way to ensure this happens is through an equitable hiring process.

From “If There’s Only One Woman in Your Candidate Pool, There’s Statistically No Chance She’ll Be Hired” (Harvard Business Review):

“The odds of hiring a woman were 79.14 times greater if there were at least two women in the finalist pool.

“The odds of hiring a minority were 193 times greater if there were at least two minority candidates in the finalist pool.”

The Relationship Between Finalist Pools & Hiring Decisions

For every white male interviewed at CTC, we will also interview a non-white-male candidate.

To accomplish that, here are steps we’re taking moving forward:

(1) Sourcing Requirements

We believe that the oft-referenced “pipeline problem” is a myth. It is our job (we’re marketers after all) to become an organization appealing enough to diverse candidates that we are able to attract the countless talented individuals from diverse backgrounds in the marketplace. 

As we pursue this ourselves we have ensured that every job listing is now posted on an ever-growing collection of diverse job boards and are holding our recruiting partners to the same sourcing standards that we have for ourselves.

(2) Unbiased Interview Standards

Our natural preference toward people like ourselves perpetuates sameness. 

To overcome “cloning through hiring,” we have developed an unbiased rubric for every role that will be filled out by a diverse team of people during every interview. You can see an example of the scorecard here

(3) ADmission Scholarship Program

One of the barriers easiest to accept is the present demographic makeup of your industry. Hiring based on “experience” only intensifies the problem.

To combat this, our ADmission Scholarship Program will be run three times a year — opening up 30 days of free training and development to anyone interested in learning digital marketing skills.

For every white male, each class will also have one participant from a group marginalized by racist and oppressive systems. At the conclusion of each round, we will make at least one full-time hire.

Commitment 3: Inclusion

Solving CTC’s numbers problem does not ensure that our workplace welcomes, celebrates, and gives voice to all backgrounds and perspectives.

To prioritize both diversity and inclusion, we are extending our contractual relationship with the incredible team at Culture Shift and its principle consultant, Katrina Frye:

Katrina Frye

“Diversity is a measure of demographic data, but inclusion is a measure of the experience of the people inside of your organization.”

For the past seven months, this work has included and will continue to include:

  • Bi-monthly company-wide webinars
  • Executive training sessions
  • One-on-one executive coaching
  • Affinity spaces and employee resource groups including but not limited to BIPOC, parents, women-only, and LGBTQIA
  • Support and oversight of our hiring practices

We have built bias training into both our rookie-onboarding and our management-development program and are holding executives to standards of inclusion-experience scores on our monthly employee pulse.

As a workplace that calls itself a “dream factory” for entrepreneurs, our employees raised the question: Whose dreams do we serve?

We began to understand that true diversity and inclusion means that — in addition to diversifying our staff make-up — we must also amplify those whose identities intersect with oppressive systems … through the clients we serve.

In our effort to evolve, a number of employees — led by Arshiya Kherani — are coordinating interviews with 50+ underrepresented founders over the next two quarters.

In Arshi’s words:

Arshiya Kherani

“It is my hope that by providing my peers the space and structure to engage with underrepresented founders, our organization can collectively and organically start to empathize with their unique challenges. 

“I believe that these conversations will empower each of us to align our personal values and the way we do business with the causes of minority founders and their growth.

“Mutual success across minority-owned businesses and CTC will diversify who creates wealth and which communities benefit from it.

“Historically, CTC has been a profit-oriented business. Now, we are intentionally positioning ourselves to marry purpose with profit in order to create a double-bottom-line organization.

“If you are a minority founder and want to share your story, please reach out to me here.”

These interviews are the means not the end. The end is for our marketing department and larger organization to understand, attract, and serve all entrepreneurs.

The steps in this commitment came as the direct result of working hand-in-hand with our team members.

Commitment 4: Power 

Upon completing the first step of the ESOP process, CTC will create a formal Board of Directors that will have governance control over the CEO position at CTC for the very first time.

That board will be comprised of the following people:

  • Two Dream Labs Representatives: Elected by the shareholders of Dream Labs (the current ownership group) but not to be held by CEO of CTC
  • Two Employee Representatives: Elected by the employees and rotating annually
  • One Outside Representative: Selected by the CEO and serving a one-year term

Common Thread Collective’s Board of Directors

To maintain diversity, there will never be more than two white males on the board at any given moment and there must always be at least two females and two people of color.

This board will have decision making authority over executive compensation, executive hiring/firing, CEO bonus and KPIs, budget approval, and accountability for diversity metrics/timelines. 

We will hold quarterly board meetings where I will report on the status of KPI’s and progress against the mission.

Commitment 5: Amplify

We have watched industry leaders, like Shopify, announce a collaboration with Operation HOPE to create one million new Black-owned businesses in the US by 2030. Shopify intends to provide up to $130 million towards Operation HOPE’s efforts to reduce systemic barriers to entry to entrepreneurship historically faced by the Black community.

Operation HOPE

With Web’s call and Shopify’s example in mind, we are excited to announce a $50k investment in AMP — a company whose mission is to ensure economic equity in black communities by creating a path for black amplifiers to build sustainable ideas.

AMP Homepage

AMP is a tech-enabled “solutions first” platform that pairs resources and connections to help solve business challenges for amplifiers. 

In addition to the monetary investment, all members of AMP will receive free access to ADmission and our Growth Data Tool. This partnership will allow us to support an incredible founder, Daniel Taylor, in bringing his vision to life.

We can’t wait to see what they accomplish and are eager to continue to deepen the relationship around a shared vision.

Whose Dreams Do We Serve?

Common Thread Collective’s pursuit of a more diverse future is both an ethical and business imperative.

As the US Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship reports: “Over the last 10 years, minority business enterprises accounted for more than 50 percent of the two million new businesses.”

Global ecommerce growth rates are an even more powerful impetus.

Retail Ecommerce Sales Growth Worldwide and Top 10 Countries
Data via eMarketer (2020)

Our present disease has a cure, but not an easy one.

Ongoing education and confrontation will be required. We know this work is deep and the fruits may not be immediately realized. Still, we must plant seeds, even if we never sit under the trees.

We intend to become a place that allows entrepreneurs of every conceivable background to pursue their dreams in the safety and community of their peers, co-journeying towards the future realities we desire to create.

Resources and references

Taylor Holiday is the CEO of Common Thread Collective. A former professional baseball player who lucked into entrepreneurship over a decade ago, Taylor lives in Southern California with his amazing wife and three kids — “who are my world.” He’d love to connect with you on Twitter or LinkedIn.