Using Choice Points to Advance Racial Equity and Inclusion

Last updated: November 28, 2021
Estimated reading time: 5 min


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

Do you…

  • Feel committed to advancing racial equity, inclusion, and justice in your organization?
  • Want your most marginalized staff and community members to thrive?
  • Sometimes feel like you’re swimming upstream when addressing inequitable practices or patterns of bias—in yourself and others?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re not alone (we’re right there with you)!

For those of us who grew up in the United States, white supremacy culture has shaped our expectations, actions, and unconscious biases. These biases reflect and reinforce systems of oppression. Most of the time, our organizations uphold these dominant standards by default—unless we interrupt them.

The good news: we can learn to be equity-conscious and interrupt bias. We can come off autopilot and make more deliberate choices about the ways we operate (practices and policies) and the ways we relate (values, culture, and relationships).

Our friends at Race Forward call these decision-making opportunities “choice points.” Choice points are forks in the road where some paths replicate the status quo and other paths open opportunities for racial equity, inclusion, and belonging.

With choice points, leaders consciously pause to reflect, generate options, and enact changes that advance equity and inclusion.

When you arrive at a choice point, pause to…

  • Spot bias and barriers. Ask: What is our current approach and what is the result?
  • Look at unintended consequences. Ask: Who benefits? Who is burdened or disadvantaged?
  • Generate options. Ask: How could we create more equity, inclusion, belonging? What changes can we make to ensure more equitable results?

The title of the image is “No Neutral Path.” There is a photo of two dirt paths leading different directions. The paths start in the same place, with a sign post that reads “Choice Point.” The left track leads to a text block that reads, “Autopilot: mindsets, practices and policies, which then leads to a text block that says, “Status quo.” The right path diverges. It leads to a text block that states, “Questions, alternatives, new actions,” which then leads to a block that reads, “Conscious, equitable practices, and better outcomes.”

Everyone can use choice points to make more equitable decisions within their role or sphere of control. For example, an event coordinator might notice very few BIPOC-run restaurants sent bids for catering and examine barriers in the “call for proposals” and selection process. Whereas, a hiring manager might examine barriers facing people with disabilities to design more accessible hiring practices across the organization.

That said, the more positional power or mainstream identities you hold, the more important it is to notice choice points.

Five-Step Process for Using Choice Points

1. Know your desired outcome.

What inequities are you noticing and what’s the end result you want? Think of this as the problem you’re trying to solve (the bias or barriers). Are you finding that your talent pool isn’t diverse enough, or you have poor retention of program staff? Whatever it is, decide where you want to go so that you can figure out how to get there.

2. Identify decision-making opportunities.

It happens to the best of us—we get so used to autopilot that we can’t see the choices in front of us. With choice points, you deepen your awareness of your defaults and the decisions in your realm. The more you practice, the more you notice. For example, when you last faced a decision or came up with a new idea, who did you tap for their perspective? 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 an opportunity to partner with those on your team who might have perspectives and experiences you’re missing.

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?

Choice points are like a choose-your-own-adventure book—the cumulative impact of many small decisions influences the ultimate outcome. Looking for opportunities to shift the status quo can create cumulative change that will help marginalized people in your organizations thrive. While they may not solve racism or eradicate white supremacy culture in your organization, they can help you see where bias might be creating inequities. Ultimately, it’s not about getting it “right” every time—it’s about taking yourself off autopilot, noticing when and where you have the power 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 to pause to reflect, generate options, and enact changes that advance 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…

Know your desired outcome.

What is our current approach and what is the result?
What do we want to see instead?

Identify decision-making opportunities that might have equity and inclusion impacts

What decisions do I make regularly?
What is my default path or autopilot choice?

Examine choices and unintended consequences

Who benefits from the default path?
Who may be burdened or disadvantaged?

Brainstorm alternatives to the default approach

What other options could lead to more equitable results?

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.

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