My awareness of my unconscious bias started in May and it was two instances that happened the year before that made me sick when I noticed.
Each year we take Fair Trade Partners who earn a trip to visit our Artisan Partners around the world. In September we went to Ecuador. When we walked into their workshop and I saw the women’s faces again, I immediately had a lump in my throat. Then, they started talking about their families and poof – tears streaming down my face. I felt awkward, but couldn’t stop. I looked around at the other Fair Trade Partners in the room and was relieved, if not delighted, to see them crying too: 1) I wasn’t the only fool crying and 2) they were also touched by the women which means they were inspired and would keep building their Threads’ businesses!
(so much meaning I assigned to their tears :))
Thennnn, in January we had our annual conference and we Skyped with our partners in Guatemala and the same freaking thing happened! The Internet finally connected, we said hi to the women sitting in an office in Guatemala, and most of the women in our room, including myself, got teary. The women in Guatemala were confused by our emotion.
Talking about it around the office, I began to wonder why I was getting so choked up? If we hired a woman to do graphic design for us from New York and we finally met in person, would I cry? No! That would be so weird! I would be excited; I would not cry.
The reason this is even more gut-wrenching to me is because I tout ‘equal partnership’. One of our Family Value is even Equal Partnership which says this: We each play a vital and equal role. Our value is immeasurable and infinite.
At Threads, we never say ‘help’ or ‘hand-up’, but we cloak it in different words like ‘we empower women’. Which we do! We empower women in the United States to ask for things they wouldn’t have before, we empower women in Guatemala to ask for things they wouldn’t have before. Still though, it has this ring of ‘look at us, over here in the US sooo empowered that we’re now going to bestow our empowerment on you’. I don’t know – it sounds harsh and my mom quickly came to my defense, but I’m seeing it everywhere now and am working to remove it from our marketing and the way we speak about what we do and with whom we do it.
Here’s what I know: Our partners are badasses. They overcome challenges to fulfill their dreams that we could never imagine living in the United States. Who are we to project our sadness, our guilt, or, even – our pride – on them? The language to ‘support’ or even to ‘empower’ is inconsistent with who we are as a company and how we relate to the talents of the women we work with.
We have taken a hard look at how we speak about our business and about our partners:
We are in the business of building alliances alongside women around the world who are on the front lines transforming their families and their communities. We each have our roles, and each is vital, necessary, and valuable.
To be continued.