Using Choice Points to Advance Racial Equity and Inclusion

This article was written in partnership and consultation with Terry Keleher of Race Forward.

Committed to advancing racial equity, inclusion, and justice in your organization? Want every member of your team to be fully seen, supported, and engaged? Wouldn’t you get better results if your team and organization were places where your most marginalized staff could thrive? Do you feel like, try as you might, you’re still seeing inequitable practices, non-inclusive processes, and uneven results across your team? Do you wish you could make it better? Yeah. We do too.

The bad news is that we all operate with unconscious bias that reflects and reinforces systems of oppression. Identifying, mitigating, and counteracting racial and other kinds of bias is like swimming upstream, and even the most committed managers miss opportunities to advance equity and inclusion in their everyday practice.

The good news is that it is possible to learn to be equity-conscious by becoming aware of your own power to advance equity and acting on it. Anyone who’s ever read a choose-your-own-adventure book knows that it’s often not a single decision, but the cumulative impact of a bunch of small decisions, that influences the ultimate outcome. In order to shift your organization’s culture and systems to advance racial equity and create an environment for your most marginalized staff to thrive, you need to zero in on those opportunities to influence equity and inclusion outcomes. Thankfully, our friends at Race Forward developed just the tool to help you do that: choice points.

What exactly are choice points? Choice points are opportunities for leaders and managers to reflect, generate options, and act on decisions that can impact racial equity and inclusion. They’re like forks in the road, where one path is the status quo or the default option. This path saves you time when you’re swamped with deadlines and deliverables. You can walk it blindfolded. It’s also the path most likely to lead you to where you’ve always been, which for many organizations means replicating bias and inequity. The alternative paths (there are usually more than two!), might be harder to see, more complicated to navigate, or not as well-trodden, but may lead you to more equitable outcomes.

[Image description: The title of the image is “No Neutral Path.” At a fork in the road, there are two railroad tracks leading to divergent paths. The tracks start in the same place, under the label “Choice Point.” The left track leads to a text block that reads, “Autopilot: The practices and policies that we’ve always used,” which then leads to a text block that says, “Status quo: Results include inequity, exclusion, and a disproportionate turnover of marginalized staff.” The right track diverges. It first leads to a text block that states, “Equitable and inclusive practices and policies to achieve results,” which then leads to a block that reads, “Outstanding Org Results! Organizations where those with marginalized identities can thrive!”]

In stories, forks in the road are often singular and enormously significant; the hero’s decision makes all the difference. The beauty of real-life choice points is that you never have to look too far to find them, as long as you take yourself off auto-pilot. You might come upon choice points in whom you invite to meetings, who gets assigned the “fun” or “stretch” projects, how you allocate bonuses and raises, and when and to whom you offer feedback.

Here are the main steps for using choice points:

  1. Know your desired outcome. What’s the end result you want? It might help to think of this as the problem you’re trying to solve. Are you finding that your talent pool isn’t diverse enough, or you have one staff person who’s not meeting the bar and you’re not sure why? Whatever it is, you need to know where you want to go to figure out how you want to get there.
  2. Pause and identify decision-making opportunities. It happens to the best of us—we get so used to the status quo that we don’t see when we have choices right in front of us. There isn’t always time or space to think through the options when you are navigating the day-to-day pressures of being a manager. That’s why it’s important to set aside time to reflect on your choice points (such as by auditing how you spend your time or relate to each of your staff) and develop the awareness to spot them as they come up. For example, one choice point that managers often face is who they invite to be a sounding board for a pending decision. When you were last faced with a decision or came up with a new idea, who did you tap for their perspective or input, however formally or informally? Who got to weigh in during the early stages of a new project? How might it have gone differently if you had asked someone else? To identify these decision-making opportunities and check for implicit bias, start with this question: what is my default action or gut reaction in this situation? Why?
  3. Examine the choices and their potential impact on equity and inclusion. This step is your chance to examine the unintended consequences of your default actions. Is one of your hiring requirements resulting in 80% of your candidates looking and sounding just like you? Do you have a staff person who’s been overlooked for a promotion because they haven’t gotten enough opportunities to improve or demonstrate their skills? While every decision you make can impact equity and inclusion, not every choice will carry the same weight. Prioritize the ones that could make the most difference for reducing or eliminating structural, cultural, and systemic barriers that create an uneven playing field.
  4. Brainstorm alternatives to the default approach. Ask yourself, what could I do instead? What alternative actions could I take? From whom should I seek perspective or get feedback? This is also an opportunity to partner with those most impacted to see what ideas they come up with.
  5. Act and evaluate. Choose the path you think will best advance equity and inclusion and get the results you’re after. After enough time has passed or you’ve gathered enough information, step back and evaluate the results. Did the course of action get you (closer) to your desired outcome? What was the impact on equity and inclusion? What did you learn? What might you do the same or differently next time?

No, choice points alone aren’t going to solve racism or eradicate white supremacy culture in your organization, but they can help you see where bias might be influencing your management and overall results. Regularly looking for opportunities to shift the status quo can create cumulative change that will help level the playing field for marginalized people in your organizations. Ultimately, it’s not about choosing an alternative and getting it “right” every time—it’s about taking yourself off auto-pilot, noticing when and where you have the power and ability to make a different choice, and being intentional about your decision.


Choice Points At A Glance

What are choice points?
Choice points are opportunities for leaders and managers to reflect, generate options, and act on decisions that can impact racial equity and inclusion.

Why are they important?
Regularly looking for opportunities to shift the status quo can create cumulative change that will help level the playing field for marginalized people in your organizations.

Step
Ask yourself…

1. Know your desired outcome.

What is the end result I want to achieve?

2. Pause and identify decision-making opportunities that might have equity and inclusion impacts.

What decisions do I regularly make?
What is my default path or auto-pilot choice?

3. Examine the choices and their potential impact on equity and inclusion.

In what ways could my default path lead to unintended impacts on those on the margins?

4. Brainstorm alternatives to the default approach.

What are my other options?

5. Act and evaluate.

Did my choice lead to the desired results?
What was the impact on equity and inclusion?


Moving forward, check out some choice points scenarios based on real client stories, our “bias check” tool for identifying choice points, and a list of common choice points.