Square Wants to Fight Racism. First, It Should Examine Its Own Business Model

To effect social change, companies need to talk about money — how they make it and how it might reinforce racial disparities.

Chad Dickerson
Marker
Published in
10 min readJun 29, 2020

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Photo: Matt Crossick — PA Images/Getty Images

Suddenly, American business has never been more concerned about racism. While it’s heartening to see proclamations of support for groups and organizations like Black Lives Matter, statements of support are not enough. Businesses are ultimately economic engines, and when you strip away all of the well-meaning words, the language of American business has always been dollars and cents. To effect social change, companies need to talk about money — how they make it and how it might reinforce racial disparities.

As a former CEO [of Etsy], I’ve been thinking a lot about what companies can do to create the conditions for racial justice. In my executive coaching practice, I often work with leaders who are frustrated with an aspect of their company culture and feel powerless to change it. I usually ask a question that my coach and mentor Jerry Colonna taught me: “How am I complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” The goal is to draw out what the CEO might unintentionally be doing to keep practices in place that they claim to want to change. We call the difficult unwinding process “doing the work.”

When it comes to systemic racism, the trickiest aspect of dealing with it is that it is often hiding in plain sight. Systemic racism is designed not to be noticed, which is why the most pernicious forms of racism often go unnoticed by well-meaning but uninformed leaders. To break through the many interlocking systems that reinforce racist ideas, white leaders are going to have to “do the work” and think deeply about how they contribute to the problems they claim they want to solve.

Examining our own business models

In the past few weeks, many companies have been outspoken on racial justice, but it’s unclear how much they are also examining their own role in possibly perpetuating systemic racism or how they may be unintentionally profiting from it. As someone who ran a company that served small businesses, I’ve always admired Square and thought of it as a good company…

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