In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was asked, “how are organizations doing with naming and addressing anti Black racism and systemic racism?” This started a very interesting and lengthy conversation about what I am seeing and hearing from leaders in the non-profit sector.
Leaders have recognized that their diversity and inclusion work has run its course and they need to do more. Many organizations have comprehensive policies and procedures related to diversity but these alone haven’t created the impact that they expected. Organizational cultures have not changed, biased processes and practices remain intact and organizations don’t know if they are part of the solution or maintaining systems of exclusion and oppression. Likewise, organizations that have invested in diversity training are now acknowledging that there is still a gap in knowledge and understanding when it comes to anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and anti-oppression. Another critical need that leaders have identified is the need to build their capacity to create safer spaces for conversations, and to foster an organizational culture of listening with empathy, ongoing learning and ultimately the integration of equitable practices and processes.
Some leaders, boards and staff want to move from words on paper to actions that create change. They are now seeking advice on how to embed and integrate equitable practices into their decision making processes, and they want to know how to apply an intersectional lens to their program outreach, design and evaluation. In essence, they want to build their capacity to apply equitable practices in their day to day activities.
Underpinning many of my conversations with executive directors and managers is a feeling of being overwhelmed; they don’t know where to start, or what a learning process could look like.
My message to them is to start – start somewhere. For example, non-profit organizations and leaders can:
Determine where you are as an organization by listening to staff, surveying them or speaking to them about their experiences. What are they struggling with, what are the gaps in knowledge, and what solutions or opportunities exist? Identify champions and those willing to take on a leadership role and give them the space, time and resources to map out a plan.
Commit to learning as an organization or team. Set a learning agenda and create safe spaces to delve into systemic racism, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, power, privilege, bias, etc. Foster an organizational culture where empathetic listening and meaningful conversations can happen.
Leverage and build on your current organizational strengths and seek help when needed. These are complex concepts, and language, context and framing are critical to establishing a foundation and common understanding. An external perspective can help facilitate conversations and support staff to stay engaged and open to the process.
Eight months ago, organizations and leaders were not explicitly speaking about anti-Black racism, but today many are. That’s one step in the right direction.