Educational Equity Newsletter – May 14, 2020
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Making Equitable and Inclusive Decisions Under Pressure
Our hunch is that this week, you are knee-deep in a lot of time-sensitive, hard decisions. Whether you’re thinking about furloughs, pay cuts, or layoffs, or how to improve online programming for the next school year with limited staffing, we know these decisions are both high-stakes and deeply impactful on the lives of your students and staff members. These are also the kinds of decisions leaders sometimes make in a vacuum, causing them to lose the trust of their teams.
If you’re in the throes of these kinds of decisions, we have a few thoughts that might help.
Decide who needs to be “at the table” and in what roles before you engage.
Create (more) opportunities for input.
It’s easy to assume that for leadership-level activities like scenario planning and programmatic decisions, only senior leaders should be “at the table.” Sometimes, you may need to set a new table altogether. For decisions with wide-reaching impacts, think critically about who can contribute (especially across lines of difference related to race, gender, and role) to ensure you are getting the best input possible to inform the decision. This could look like setting aside time to speak with rising leaders, conducting a small survey to get wider input, or inviting a few team members to join an Executive Team call to contribute their ideas.
Consider fair process.
Fair process is a decision-making approach that fosters appropriate engagement and input-gathering in a structured, streamlined way:
|Frame your decision.||Start by identifying what stage your decision is in and which of your stakeholders would offer the most useful input.|
|Ask for and engage with input.||Once you know whom to ask and what you want to know, you can involve your stakeholders in focused feedback-gathering. Listen deeply and engage with the input.|
|Inform and explain your decision.||After you make your decision, announce it in a way that generates buy-in and paves the way for implementation.|
|Revisit the decision-making process.||Who doesn’t love a good debrief? Evaluate the outcome of your decision and the process you used to get there to gain valuable lessons learned to carry into the next decision-making cycle. Be sure to check for negative unintended consequences (of the process or the decision itself) on the marginalized people on your team.|
Center the people at the margins.
When we try to make a decision quickly, we tend to think about what will be the most helpful for the most people (the mainstream) and forget those at the margins. While that makes sense on the surface, equitable leaders think about how those who are systemically at the margins (BIPOC staff, those with less financial resources, LGBTQ staff, staff with disabilities, etc.) might experience the decision. We aren’t always able to adequately meet the needs of everyone impacted, but acting and managing with equity means determining who might be structurally less likely to benefit from the decision and using mitigations to support them if we can.
Engineer opportunities for course-correcting feedback.
During a time when 22 million people are filing for unemployment and job stability may be uncertain for many, it might be an especially hard time for staff to raise critical feedback to leaders. Even if you’ve said that you’re open to feedback, people on your team—especially junior staff, people of color, and other marginalized staff—may not feel the psychological safety to share what they’re really experiencing. Instead of relying on their courage to speak up, build structures to get critical feedback on big decisions. You can do this by sending short surveys periodically, asking direct questions in check-ins, or asking people to bring both positive and constructive feedback to debriefs. We also advise senior leadership teams to carve out time along the way to reflect on the equity impacts of previous decisions and identify places where implicit bias showed up in what was decided or who they garnered input from.
How inclusively and equitably we handle the decisions in front of us are often as important to our teams as the content of those decisions. Deliberately choosing to center equity in our decision-making not only increases the chance we get these decisions right, but also builds our credibility as managers with those we lead.