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Update: Square Roots, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

It is not enough to be non-racist. We must put in the work to become an anti-racist company.

Our mission at Square Roots is to bring local, real food to people in cities by empowering the next generation of leaders in urban farming. We’ve always put an emphasis on creating pathways for more young people to enter the industry. But in reflecting last summer, it’s clear we need to relook at how we deliver on that mission, through the lens of anti-racism, to ensure that the pathways we create are absolutely accessible to, and successful for, young people of color.

In early June, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we announced the formation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Team and listed a number of steps we were taking to work towards becoming an anti-racist company. The recent murders targeting Asian women and businesses in Atlanta, the increase in racially motivated attacks on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in recent months in the US, and the systemic oppression and racism faced by this community for generations only reinforce the need to take action to become a truly anti-racist company. And while our work at Square Roots undoubtedly began too late, our team is committed to putting in the time and effort to do the work to fully integrate anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion into our wider company culture and throughout our business operations. We understand that this will take time, and we will keep our community updated on our progress by posting below. Scroll down to read more about our methodology and approach, and about our DEI Team.

What We’re Rolling Out: Updated March 18, 2021


We've performed a comprehensive assessment of our current hiring practices through the lens of racial equity, and identified gaps where we need to be doing more. Based on studies showing that unconscious bias prevents diverse candidates from being hired, we’ve set a target for 66% diverse representation in final round interview stages to offset that bias. This target has already successfully spurred us to increase diverse representation in the beginning stages of recruiting for open roles, with the aim of leading to balanced, unbiased decision-making at the end of the process. And, to make sure our own unconscious bias doesn’t get in the way, we have rolled out interview bias training for team members.

While ramping up our diversity sourcing efforts was a clear place to start, we needed better data to form a comprehensive understanding of how diverse candidates were moving through the hiring process so that we could better prioritize our efforts. To that end, we have started collecting demographic data at the application stage. We replaced standard EEOC questions with more inclusive messaging that was honed with the input of many Square Roots team members representing diverse backgrounds. We are also seeking partnerships with relevant job boards and professional organizations geared towards underrepresented talent, which can serve our unique hiring needs as a technology-enabled company in the indoor agriculture industry. There is so much more we can still do here, but these are the first steps.

Business Operations

To ensure technology equity through the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted a technology audit and made sure that all employees have the right tech to be successful in their roles, plus a stipend to offset the cost of remote connectivity. These stipends are available to all hourly employees and can be used toward cell phone bills or home internet bills to ensure they can reliably work on the farm, on the go, or from home.

Early this summer, we identified the need to bring in perspectives not represented by our team. We also determined that this work would be most successful with the support of an impartial third party with expertise in this field. In early Q1 2021, we began working with the McKensie Mack Group (MMG), a global consulting group that helps organizations identify and transform social inequities at the individual, interpersonal, and institutional level. They specialize in change management that focuses specifically on racial equity, gender equity, and LGBTQ2IA+ communities. The MMG team is conducting a Racial Equity and Belonging Audit to help us identify and address challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of us in this work to fully incorporate diversity, inclusion, and equity practices into our culture

Benefits and Compensation

We reviewed benefits and compensation across the company and enhanced our offerings, specifically with hourly employees in mind. All hourly employees are paid a living wage, are eligible for time-and-a-half overtime, and accrue paid time off, and all full-time employees receive full company-paid benefits and equity in the company.

Additionally, we’re building out an internal structure for roles across the company to provide employees transparency into the core competencies needed to receive promotions and raises.

Community Engagement

In October, we implemented a policy for volunteer paid time off (separate from existing PTO). This new policy is available to all Square Roots employees, to give team members the time and flexibility to make a difference in their local communities. One example of an organization employees have volunteered with is Urban Roots in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Education & Empowerment

We have implemented learning and development programs across the organization, with training that includes leadership, creating a more inclusive workplace, and more. We will continue to make sure our entire team is involved in these efforts.

We’ve launched a number of Employee Affinity Groups to represent racial and gender identities across Square Roots to create a space of belonging and community for all employees, and a channel for advocating for the needs of these groups.

Team members have been encouraged to vote in local, state, and federal elections by taking advantage of Square Roots’ paid time off policy for voting. In October, the DEI team hosted a virtual non-partisan info session on voting rights, specific to the states in which we operate, to encourage civic participation.

Our Methodology and Approach

Through virtual town halls, surveys, 1:1 meetings, anonymous feedback, and team dialog, we collected input from across the company to inform areas of concern, need, interest, and ultimately, of work. Through this process, we were able to surface pain points and a ton of great ideas, ranging from benefits and compensation to community engagement. However, there are limitations to this approach, and we can’t say that these results are inclusive of all perspectives represented at our company and across the cities where we operate. Likewise, in some cases, we can begin to implement ideas or start work on initiatives immediately, but we understand that we lack adequate representation and we will need to bring in outside perspectives to fill in our knowledge gaps.

About the DEI Team at Square Roots

As a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, we established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Team in June 2020 that was tasked with creating an anti-racism plan. Our goal is for this team to help facilitate, with the help of outside perspectives, a root and branch review of our business, our hiring and retention policies, our vendors, and more, to understand where we are falling short through the lens of racial equity. The end result is to fully integrate anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion into our existing triple bottom line efforts and throughout all our business operations. This work needs to be done thoroughly, which means it will take some time, but it will be done. We want to ensure that we are upholding our mission of empowering the next generation of leaders by creating an inclusive work environment that allows us to celebrate and grow from diverse experiences and ideas.

Our DEI Team reports progress to the organization on a weekly basis and at our monthly “All Hands” meetings. The team has also been holding regular virtual town halls to allow for company-wide participation and input. We’re dedicated to doing the work and will continue to uphold our commitment to making anti-racism integral to our company’s culture.