5th June 2020
We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, with our black colleagues and customers, and with the entire Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community.
Greg Jackson, Founder
The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked some crucial conversations within Octopus Energy about what we can do to affect meaningful change, both within our business and beyond. Some of these conversations should’ve been had a long time ago, and this movement has provided a crucial opportunity to self reflect – something we think is more important and more beneficial than just a simple post of support for the movement on social media.
We strongly encourage other companies to do the same work internally.
Here’s some words from our founder Greg on the steps we’re taking towards meaningful change at Octopus and beyond.
The brutal killing of George Floyd has triggered hurt across the world. The footage was sickening. This act has become a potent symbol of the racism that continues to take a painful toll on the Black community. Although I cannot begin to understand the hurt and anguish many are feeling right now I want to be clear: we stand with the Black community and we stand with our Black colleagues.
This oppression must end.
Our team have told me that they think Octopus should say something (and I could not agree more), but I did not want it to be a token. So many voices speak up at these times, but fade without lasting effect.
We’ve listened really hard - to the comments in our internal #BlackLivesMatter Slack channel but also to many other people who have approached me and many others directly with thoughts. And let’s be clear - it has been hard maintaining my own silence publicly so I could hear what people think, without crowding out views with my own. But I am white and I needed to hear your voices.
As a company, our DNA is that we do things that will actually enable and drive meaningful change. We invest in what we believe in, and where the topic is so critically important, we need to be more confident than ever in sticking to that DNA even when our lack of statement starts to be painful.
So thank you for sharing your views, experience, ideas and priorities. We have listened, and this is what we are going to do.
1. Today, we announce an internal Octopus Energy BLM fund – with over £100,000 initial funding
Rather than donating to any specific Black Lives Matter organisations externally, we’ll be starting an internal fund to support our team and oppose racism, which the £100,000 initial funding will go towards. They will bring their own talent and training to bear in a truly meaningful way, and will also have access to Octopus skills and resources to drive change and share learnings back with Octopus.
Team members can nominate themselves or others to be the secondee(s) or to help oversee the fund.
- As well as the initial funding, any employee can donate or raise money and the company will match every pound raised or donated
- To kickstart the fund, I’ve donated £54,486 (this is all of the interest I received from loans I made to the company in the early days – I’d intended to use this for good, and I can’t think of anything more important). The company is matching that so the fund starts at £108,972
- If all employers did the same - on a pro-rata basis - the UK would generate a fund of around £3bn. We want to lead corporations in not paying lip service to such an endemic issue, but enabling real change.
2. We will work hard to recruit, at all levels, people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds and to ensure we’re the workplace we should be for everyone.
We’ll do this Octopus style - no tokenism or targets but by working relentlessly to do what is right and what is solid.
At a recent “new joiners” training session, two people of colour in the group remarked that this was the first time they’d got a job where they were sure it was because of how great they were – not to tick a box. They were right, and it must always stay that way. So we need to make sure our recruitment reaches into all communities and works for all great candidates.
Our senior operations managers have been leading on ways to deliver this, including unconscious bias training, moving away from CVs and a whole load of other measures. We’ll work fast to expand what works across functions, locations and levels quickly – and to take it beyond recruitment to ensure that as a company we have greater understanding of language and unconscious bias.
We recently started to sponsor Generating Genius to help BAME talent into STEM roles, and had recommendations from the team for other organisations we should look at working with. Anyone reading this – if you’ve had personal experience of any others (or run one yourself!) please contact us.
For perspective, 13% of our middle and senior leaders identify as BAME versus 14% of the population. But our diversity is not evenly distributed across the business and locations and we’ll ensure that we take steps to close gaps.
We pride ourselves on our progressive nature – on building a company that is better for the world, that champions social justice and creates better careers and internal community. But I hugely welcome the voices which tell me where we’ve got things wrong. Thank you to those who’ve shone a light on these things.
I was embarrassed that we inadvertently planned a big party to clash with Ramadan, for example. We can clearly do more to help team members deal with things like customers who use racist language and we’ll fix this. And too many people in the company didn’t know that one of the Senior Leadership Team is a woman who identifies as black.
It’s no coincidence that we chose office locations in Soho, Brighton and Leicester – each of them a watchword for diversity – because we’ve wanted to build a rainbow business (and I’m delighted that Warwick also taps into diverse pools). Our determination that all permanent employees have equity means that we’re already able to share the benefits of ownership with our team. By being based in diverse areas, and investing in growing in those communities, we are putting back where others extract.
Thank you for being an incredible team – those who shared difficult and personal views, who debated when we don’t all agree with each other, who’ve shown kindness and understanding to those who seek to learn more, and for increasingly offering support and recognition.
There’s still so much more to say, and do, but I hope that what we are announcing today will make meaningful change, and is the basis for really positive discussions and actions going forward.
Further reading to educate yourself and your loved ones
This small list is just a starting point of recommendations from our team, born out of this week's internal discussions.
So You Want to Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo
How To Be An Antiracist – Ibra X. Kendi
Conversations in Black – Ed Gordon
Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodman
Natives – Akala
Taking Up Space – Chelsea Kwakye & Ore Ogunbiyi
Why I’m No Longer Speaking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
Don’t Touch My Hair – Emma Dabiri
Me and White Supremacy – Layla F Saad
I Am Not Your Baby Mother – Candice Brathwaite
Black Feminist Thought – Patricia Hill Collins
Ain’t I A Woman – bell hooks
The New Black Vanguard – Antwaun Sargent
Decolonising the Camera – Mark Sealy
Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to Present – Deborah Willis
Robin DiAngelo - White Fragility
Back to Black – Kehinde Andrews
Women, Race, Class – Angela Davis
The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
You can also check out Ibram X. Kendi’s anti-racism reading list from the New York Times.
About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge: A podcast that features key voices from the last few decades of anti-racist activism.
Code Switch: A weekly podcast by journalists of colour who discuss race and all the ways it interacts with society and culture
Witness Black History: The BBC’s podcast interviews key figures from black and civil rights history.
When They See Us
Time: The Kalief Browder story
Other useful starters
From MTV’s Decoded, If Microaggressions Happened to White People
Business Insider’s piece on What is a Microaggression.
Kimberlé Crenshaw’s brilliant TedTalk, The Urgency of Intersectionality
A reflection on the history of racism and black hair.
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