Pathways to Equity at East Fork

How anti-racism work manifests in our workplace — as well as emergent strategies and opportunities for growth.

In 2018, we worked with a facilitator and commissioned our staff to help define our company’s core values. They are: Compassion, Accountability, Equity, Sincerity, and Adaptive Tenacity.

Naming equity as a core value for our company required us to take corrective actions for missteps that had already been made and to craft a new framework with intention.

We acknowledge that the realities of white supremacy, hetero/cis-normativity, and patriarchy, work in tandem to oppress both people and planet. Through proximity to power, we have benefitted from systemic inequity, but we will not allow stumbles to discourage us from continuing to confront and rectify our privilege. As we continue to build momentum within our anti-racist work we pledge to be intentional in crafting actions that support equity, diversity, and inclusion in our framework.

As a business we have the potential to synchronize the efforts of all our employees, customers, and investors towards a collective pursuit of our future liberation. Utilizing our most readily available platform we advocate for those who follow our brand to examine the economic structure that affects all aspects of our lives. We commit to struggling with the conflicts inherent to what we do, openly and transparently, with the hopes that by doing so the solutions can have a ripple effect far beyond our company’s boundaries.

We are committed to building an equitable workplace—a space where people can show up authentically in mind, body, and spirit. We honor the collective sum rather than a monolithic experience to reveal a path of excellency, yours and ours. Our dedication to achieving greater inclusivity is not a goal related to merit or morale, it is our guiding ethos.

Below we have outlined how anti-racism work manifests in our workplace, as well as identified emergent strategies and opportunities for growth.

Hiring Practices & Workplace Policies

The East Fork factory, office, fulfillment center, and flagship store are located in Asheville, North Carolina. While there is a perception of Asheville as a happy-go-lucky, progressive, “hippy” town, the city has a long-standing legacy and history of racist housing restrictions dating back to the early 1900’s, before doubling down in the middle of the century with some of the most aggressive redlining in the country. The forms of institutional racism have only continued to manifest in Asheville to current day: de facto segregation, along with some of the worst racial disparities and inequities in our education system, policing, and other sectors have only widened the gap between people of color in Asheville—especially for Black people.

For all its good intentions, systemic racism in Asheville continues to marginalize and disenfranchise the Black community, and perpetuate the erasure of the Black people who were born and raised here. Furthermore, Asheville has become an undesirable location for BlPOC professionals to relocate as dominant culture shifts lack the ability to welcome those who are unable to fit the paradigm. Usher in the less than competitive wages offered from many businesses in Asheville and the lack affordable housing and we continually lose those community gems to larger surrounding cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte.

In their 2001 work, “Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups,” Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun name “a sense of urgency” as a characteristic of white supremacist culture within white institutions. From early 2017 to late 2018, East Fork experienced 3x growth in manufacturing capacity and revenue and expanded from 10 to 48 team members. Insufficiently anticipating hiring needs in that growth period led us to revert to that “sense of urgency” often ingrained in many of us to recruit from a small, homogenous hiring pool—mostly leaning on our preexisting networks of calling in friends of existing employees and posting to our social media platforms, where most followers were white.

In an effort to overcorrect and make our workplace look more diverse, we rushed into recruiting from an organization that provides job and life skills training to people from marginalized communities who previously have had difficulty finding and sustaining employment. This process of integrating our staff brought to light the need to commit to and center equity and inclusion work. For us to truly build a company culture that allowed all team members to show up authentically, we would need to acknowledge and account for the differences in lived experience, proximity to power, and privilege between us; while holding accountability and space for the lessons learned and knowledge gained.

Consulting

The executive team works with Desiree Adaway at the Adaway Group for business coaching through a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lens.

Third-Party Investigations

When accusations of workplace misconduct arise and/or tensions between employees erupt, we seek outside, third-party counsel in the claim’s investigation and hire an impartial party to mediate and facilitate resolution. This includes mediation services from certified peer support counselors such as Michael Hayes and Philip Cooper, consultation with our coach and DEI specialist, Desiree Adaway, and legal oversight and advice from an Employment and Labor Law specialist, Angelique Vincent-Hamatcher of Robinson Bradshaw.


Pugging the Clay
Working at the East Fork Factory

Community Partnerships

Green Opportunities: East Fork works with Green Opportunities to provide well-paying jobs with benefits to people who have previously experienced barriers to maintaining long-term employment.

Hire Powered Staffing: East Fork works with Hire Powered Staffing, run by Philip Cooper, to provide living wage jobs to justice involved citizens.

Soliciting Employee Feedback

We take employee feedback seriously and encourage a feedback culture year-round. We create both structured and informal opportunities for team members to have their voices heard.

  • 1:1’s with team leaders and Director of Culture & People
  • 30-60-90 Day Culture Check-Ins
  • 30-60-90 Manager Check-Ins
  • Annual Development Reviews
  • 6-Month Check-Ins
  • Annual Employee Surveys
  • Open-Door Feedback Policy
  • CEO Open Office Hours
Hands trimming edges of pottery bowl

Staff-wide Trainings

Staff-wide trainings provide team members with a shared framework of understanding and language that can be used to more effectively communicate with each other around issues of equity, personal boundaries, cultural differences, and more. Below are examples of trainings we have offered to staff:

Tepeyac Consulting: In early 2019, we solicited the services of Marisol Jimenez at Tepeyac Consulting to onboard the team to a shared language around social justice. Together we explored how inequality is perpetuated in our own company and co-created a list of what we wanted to keep doing, what we wanted to start doing, and what we wanted to stop doing in service of equity in our workplace and community. You can see a report prepared by Marisol here. This workshop and follow-up support served as a jumping point from which our efforts began to take clearer shape.

Our Voice: In fall of 2019, Our Voice provided an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training and policy review. Together we created a framework for all new hires to receive training quarterly moving forward and all employees to receive refreshers on both anti-harassment / anti-discrimination trainings and bystander training annually.

Whiteness at Work: This summer, 10 members of East Fork’s leadership team, across all departments, are taking The Adaway Group’s “Whiteness at Work” summer series.

Fundraising

East Fork engages in year-round fundraising for regional, secular*, justice-minded organizations working day in and day out to contribute to a more joyful and just Western North Carolina. As East Fork is not yet profitable (working toward it!), we’ve developed creative ways to raise funds while not putting untenable pressure on our production team.

Fundraising has taken many forms, including raffling off one-of-a-kind pieces or experiences, the sale of event tickets, or direct donation of portions of proceeds. We’re proud to provide our community with accessible ways to redistribute wealth to good work being done in our town. While our growth deepens and complicates our complicity within an economy so in need of reimagining, it also allows us to put more money in the hands of educators, leaders, and organizers for justice.

Factory worker at East Fork with The Mug
The Mug being glazed at East Fork Factory

Events

East Fork hosts events in our community that amplify the voices of POC, especially queer and gender-nonconforming POC. We are diligent in offering fair pay to speakers and contributors and, whenever possible, offer a sliding scale ticking model that allows us to extend discounted or free tickets to community members with less disposable income.

Storytelling

Storytelling is a conduit for change in a way that connects people and contextualizes the “other” experience. We believe that when words are presented thoughtfully, enthusiastically, and wholeheartedly they matter. At East Fork, we use our platform to tell the story of our company, our team members, our work, and our town, authentically. In order to do this in the most organic fashion, we lend space on our platforms for other storytellers to share their narratives as well. Our voice is our brand and we use it intentionally. It is our responsibility to use our privilege, in every capacity, to advocate for our mission statement and educate our audience.

East Fork Pottery Bowl Being Sanded

Representation

Our pottery is expensive because it costs a lot of money to make it. Our pottery is not for “everyone” in that many—or most—do not have the disposable income to spend on non-essential dinnerware. While income levels will continue to be a barrier that prevents many from making purchases with our company, race, ethnicity, age, ability, or body type, should not. In making marketing materials, we invite our employees, friends, and neighbors to model our products. The line between tokenism and representation is a fine one to walk, but we believe it is worth the risk to increase visibility for faces historically left out of advertising. Cheesefest for a second—there are so many ways to be human, and beauty is everywhere.

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