The racial climates of organizations have recently made headlines in the higher education sector. Leaders at my alma mater, Harvard, and others, Ithaca, Yale, and Mizzou, have been challenged by their customers (mostly students) and staffs to increase the health of the racial climate. Rarely do our formal educational experiences prepare us to lead in or create healthy racial climates or inclusive work environments. Here are nine places to start.
1. Expand your courage to face data that shows in-house systems that likely contrast with espoused values. Many people perceive themselves as non-prejudiced, liberal, social justice oriented, even freedom fighters. Often the data our organizations produce suggest otherwise. In the face of such contradictions, there can be a tendency to avoid, withdraw, explain-away, or deny. When we face the data, we have to face ourselves and bear the compunction to move, to change course.
2. Authorize Self & Others to Use Appropriate Racial+ Language. “The limits of my language means the limits of my world” (Ludwig Wittgenstein). Are you a leader in an equity-mission-driven or committed-to-diversity organization, but people around you avoid authentic dialogue? Do colleagues persistently use more palatable terms like “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “difference” rather than words like “racial+ differences” and “systemic racism.” Are there proxies for race and other identity markers used? For instance in schools, staff use terms like “at risk youth,” “English language learners,” and “our repeat offenders” to refer to students of color, particularly Latino/a and African American. The terms employed to discuss race and social disparities reveal the level of experience and expertise in grappling with race+ related issues in an organization. A significant step towards progress is self-authorizing oneself to learn to appropriately describe racialized people, events, and processes directly and explicitly.
3. Increase your capacity to sit through unpleasant emotions (i.e. shame, guilt, anger, confusion) and challenged ego states (I’m not racist. I’m a good person.) When one is less experienced, facing racialized data and grappling with racial+ terminology, rouses both fear and fascination. Pre-determine how you will handle two emotions: shame and guilt. When a team does not grapple with these emotions, progress tends to be severely halted. A few indicators of progress include:
Staff members spend less time in active protection & passive resistance (i.e. silence).
Team members sit through their own discomfort, looking internally for resolution more than externally, accepting personal power & self-determination.
Over time, colleagues’ prior fears, preoccupations, & reservations have less of an impact on the way people show up in the room.
4. Create an atmosphere where employees take risks, look forward to course-correction, use feedback to improve, and are willing to keep engaging their work team with different choices and noting the varying ripple effects it has on their colleagues. Indicators of progress occur when group members are:
walking towards stretch assignments
willing to take heat
willing to raise the heat
willing to be wrong, rejected, and judged.
5. Improve the content of the ideas asserted for external programmatic strategy, organizational policy, and daily practice. This involves talent, skill, innovation, and an attentiveness to whether one’s ideas compel or encumber progress. This recommendation also involves thinking systemically and with complexity. One-off diversity trainings may seem like a good starting place, but we know they are not effective or high impact. Why suggest it, then, at your next Equity Task Force meeting?
Suggested: 3 Reasons your Inclusion Strategies Yield Slow Progress & 4 Alternative Approaches to Minimizing Unconscious Bias.
6. Disagree. Use conflict/tension, rather than be leveled by it. Many people on work teams express dissatisfaction and disagreement with others’ assertions by holding back, rolling eyes, letting it slide, and sighing. Then they go talk about what happened in the parking lot, bathroom, or happy hour. Think of ways to partner with colleagues to disrupt in the moment. It's a choice to sit in meeting after meeting, accomplishing little, and rarely,if ever, making an effort to change course.
7. Build on “I disagree” statements by adding an alternate approach. That is, it's not enough to merely assert, “I disagree.” A more useful intervention might hear a person’s idea, listen for the song beneath the words and say, “I hear your proposal and see it's beneficial in x ways but disagree for y reasons. In light of these reasons, I would alternatively suggest that we z.”
8. Use interruptions strategically. Refuse to let meetings that determine organizational policies and practice to continue when you know they are headed in a frivolous, hum drum, ineffectual direction. However, interrupting to merely make a point does not move the group’s idea generation and dialectic forward. If you’re choosing to interrupt, do it for a substantive purpose, like ripening an underlying race+ and power issue in the group or to stop any form of work avoidance (i.e. discussing a frivolous topic). This recommendation informs the next strategy.
Suggested: 5 Organizational Paradigms that Beg to be Tranformed so Inclusion can Thrive
9. Synthesize across disparate points of views in ways that improve the ideas put forward. In other words, when tension appears to arise between ideas, it's useful to think about how these ideas shape and inform each other and maybe when taken together produce a third alternative. This requires synthesizing which is more cognitively demanding. It moves a team's idea generation beyond making both/and statements and naming co-existing contradictions. It requires taking parts of different ideas to form a new whole.
You’ll notice that each recommendation is rooted in transforming important features of an organization’s culture. Shifting the culture of an organization to one that embraces allyship, minimizes unconscious bias, reduces systemic exclusion, and nurtures a healthy racial+ climate requires turning traditional diversity and inclusion training on its head. The Racial+ Equitecture Crucible Experience is a perfect option for the precise endeavor of doing it differently. It provides a format for leaders in committed-to-diversity organizations to immediately dive deep, face discomfort, surface biases, and seriously grapple with the institutional issues that maintain its homogeneous workforce while achieving its ambitious goals. If you're an organization/individual looking to strengthen your strategy for inclusion and diversity. Come get some.
3 Reasons your Inclusion Strategies Yield Slow Progress & 4 Alternative Approaches to Minimizing Unconscious Bias.
5 Organizational Paradigms that Beg to be Tranformed so Inclusion can Thrive
6 Popular Beliefs about Race and the Scientific Contrary Every Leader Should Know
Bio: Greetings, I'm Dr. Myosha McAfee, the founder of Racial Equitecture (R+E), a company revolutionizing inclusion and diversity. I am no stranger to thinking scary big to undertake the most pressing issues of the 21st century. I help organizations unpack how unconscious bias may be occurring in-house, with high support and high challenge. The Racial+ Equitecture Crucible Experience, one of my most inventive solutions, facilitates a productive container for leaders in committed-to-diversity organizations to dive deep, face discomfort, surface biases and seriously grapple with institutional issues. To workplace inclusion, equity, and diversity (IED) challenges, I bring what social scientists know about social inequality, what iconoclasts know about leadership, and what educators know about helping others acquire new skills. Is your IED strategy fresh, fearless, and forward? Come get some. For inquiries Dr. McAfee can be contacted at email@example.com.