This is a follow-up to How to Manage When Things Are Not Okay (And Haven’t Been For Centuries).
Making a statement—like holding a sign at a protest—is not enough. Our public displays of anti-racism are only as authentic as our private actions, mindset shifts, and interventions. In this article, we share five things for leaders to consider doing to live by their Black Lives Matter solidarity statements.
As you’re reading, please keep the following in mind:
- We’re sharing these insights as co-conspirators, not as experts. While we have spent the last several years collectively working on weaving racial equity into our work, we still have a long way to go to be an anti-racist organization. All of our suggestions below are things we’re working on and learning about.
- Similar to our last article, this one is primarily for non-Black leaders and managers and was written by one.
- This article is not meant to be a list of actions you can check off your to-do list (we wish it were that easy to dismantle systemic racism!).
Here are five starting points for acting in line with your Black Lives Matter statement:
1. Acknowledge and learn from past harms and inequities within your organization.
Addressing and dismantling anti-Black racism requires looking inward—at our organizations and ourselves. The purpose of looking inward is not to expect forgiveness, to celebrate “how far you’ve come,” or to wallow in shame and guilt. The aim is to be aligned on mistakes made so that you can learn from them and repair harm. Plus, acknowledging harm validates the feelings of people who have been negatively impacted and who may have been gaslit when they’ve raised concerns in the past.
Start here: “I know that under my leadership (and that of others before me), we have made decisions—both unintentionally and deliberately—that have caused harm and created inequities, particularly for [Black women / people of color / BIPOC] on our team. Here are the lessons that we’ve learned from them and how we commit to doing better…”
2. Root out existing inequities inside your organization.
Wherever your organization is on its racial equity journey, assume that you can do better. You might start by looking at the areas that have the most significant impact on people’s lives: hiring, firing, promotions, and compensation. You could also look at the composition of your team at different levels to check for patterns. Wherever you begin, remember that you can’t do everything at once, and you can’t do it all alone—it’s going to be a team effort.
- Whatever your sphere of control (the aspects of your work that you have ownership of), reflect on the question, “In what ways do our systems, policies, and practices make it harder (or easier) for Black, indigenous, and other people of color to thrive at our organization?”
- Create opportunities for BIPOC to share their input on the above question without expecting or demanding their labor to fix the problems.
- Read point #4 in this article and reflect on the checklist provided.
3. Make specific, concrete, and outcome-driven plans to address inequities.
Once you’ve identified areas of improvement, pick one or two, and set goals for improving them. Then, communicate your plans to reach them. You can also review your existing goals to make sure that they incorporate a lens on racial equity and inclusion.
Avoid these two traps: 1) Focusing on activities that aren’t tied to goals or outcomes, essentially creating DEI busywork (like collecting demographic data when hiring without a plan to interpret it and act on the findings) and 2) Trying to change everything all at once.
4. Make challenging anti-Blackness part of everyone’s job description—starting with your own.*
By now, you’ve probably drawn some parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and racism. While racism has existed exponentially longer than the novel coronavirus, one crucial similarity is that everyone has a part to play in eradicating it. Some aspects of your anti-racism work will need to be owned and driven by specific people, but it will require effort from everyone. Each person will have to adopt new habits, behaviors, and mindsets to address and interrupt the everyday acts of anti-Black racism that shape our society’s (and organization’s) culture. It will likely require, among other things: practicing sharing, inviting, and listening to feedback—particularly from Black folks; regularly reflecting on your choice points; deep reflection about what’s at stake for you in upholding or dismantling white supremacy.
Start here: Look at your organizational values and your role competencies to weave in your beliefs about anti-racism, racial justice, and racial equity.
5. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
While the current uprisings and surge in support for the Movement for Black Lives have moved the conversation about systemic racism in the United States, organizational change doesn’t happen overnight. As non-Black leaders, many of us are living with guilt and discomfort about our complicity in white supremacy. And this can lead us to make changes to our mission, goals, or programs that might appease some stakeholders short-term but are not strategic, sustainable, or realistic long-term. These actions are usually about making us feel better, rather than doing better. For example, if you’re a predominantly white youth leadership development organization, think twice before developing a program for Black youth, even if that move might appeal to your staff or stakeholders. Not only is there a high chance of failure, but also it may lead you to do or co-opt work that other organizations—probably led by and for BIPOC—have already been doing.
- Get clear on how advancing equity and justice connect to your overall mission, vision, and strategies.
- Consider your organizational comparative advantage: What is your organization uniquely positioned to do? How can you use anti-racist practices and frameworks to shape and guide what you already do best?
*This point was inspired by this statement written by Jarrett Lucas, Executive Director of the Stonewall Community Foundation.