Progress, Not Perfection

I've been thinking a lot about why organizational affinity groups like DEIA Task Forces, Anti-Racism working groups or whatever the effort may be called, often turn into spaces that become a heavy burden on the people of color as well as those with intersectional identities who have been historically and remain to this day othered. Those spaces often turn into ineffective venting sessions instead effective supremacy disruption. We must interrogate the systems we are navigating and shine a steady and un-flickering light on the inequities and discrimination baked into those systems. In the spirit of community developed knowledge, I thought I'd share an agenda in the form of questions that your teams might explore together.

Let me first say that if you are a white person and you are leading this internal effort, think about how you will be an effective ally and take the time to reflect on what is the truth of what you are trying to build? and, what are you inviting people into? There is work you can do ahead of time to ensure that your efforts are not a diversity checkbox. Ask your CEO these questions and ensure you have answers, in writing, prior to getting started:

  • What are you hoping this effort can achieve?
  • What decisions does this team inform?
  • What power does this group have?
  • If organizational leaders decide to join the effort, what are the safety guarantees that may allow those not in a position of power to be their whole authentic selves without fear?
  • How can we make it possible for directors and managers to allow their staff to join this effort?
  • Do we have a budget? If not, what kind of progress would need to happen for this effort to show up as a budget item?
  • What is the progress you would like to see regarding the representation of the people making final decisions about the experience of working and visiting our space?
  • Is the board aware of this effort and what role would you like them to play?
  • From your vantage point, what is the culture of our organization? Do you think everyone else would agree with that assessment?
  • Who is currently in charge of DEIA efforts?
  • What are the current DEIA initiatives in place and how are they tracked?

Prioritize sharing the answers to those questions with the existing team and as new members join. I will say that if the team hasn't taken the time to co-develop community agreements and outline how you will take care of each other in the space, you should NOT begin to explore the questions below.

Here are a few examples that can help you get started and always remember that these are intended to work FOR your group and if they don’t, amend them until they do:

  • What are the power dynamics in the room? How will we navigate those dynamics?
  • Share the air – It is important to not take all the oxygen out of the room by subjecting everyone to your entire thought process before finally arriving at your point. Develop self-awareness to recognize when you are taking too much space.
  • Take space – Safety is an active practice and if the space doesn’t feel safe enough for you to contribute, start there. What would make it feel safe?  
  • There is no need to validate or qualify your experience – we accept and believe each other’s truths
  • Conflict is not always a bad thing – lean into the discomfort knowing that you want to come out the other side having a deeper understanding of what caused the temporary rift
  • Come from a place of curiosity and not judgment
  • Challenge with compassion, empathy, and love - yes, love!
  • Work to not be offended – this goes beyond assuming best intentions
  • Don’t lay your experience on top of someone else’s – it is not helpful to compete for who has had it harder in life
  • Authenticity – Bring all the intersections of your identity into the room with you, unapologetically if you are a BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+
  • Pay attention to what is happening in your body as discomfort arises and if you so choose, please say it out loud
  • Recognize the above in others
  • Ouch & Explain - Compassionately explaining why something might be hurtful
  • Enjoy your snacks - Judgement free
  • (If meeting virtually) Furry friends and children are welcome to make an on screen appearance

Once those are agreed upon discuss some foundational realities:

  • What is the culture of the organization?
  • What is our mission?
  • What are the core values?
  • Do they accurately represent your values as a member of a community?
  • Are the mission and values inclusive? How so? or why not?
  • Did the organization release a statement of solidarity in the wake of civil unrest as a result of racism and police violence? If so, did we go beyond statements into action?
  • Was there anything posted on public platforms? - Don't speculate on why or why not, but if there was no acknowledgement this is a great question to ask the decision makers.

With a better understanding, reflect, unpack, explore, and develop:

  • Why was this group started?
  • Why did each member join this effort? What do you NEED to get out of it to remain at the table?
  • Who do team members feel then can speak for or represent?
  • What does each member hope this effort can achieve or advance? Dream big!
  • Have you seen effective affinity groups in any of your previous roles? If so, what in your opinion made them effective? If not, what made them ineffective?
  • Is this team at the Anti-Racism level or at DEIA level? No judgement, but it is important to be honest and on the same page about this
  • Why is important for this group to exist?
  • What needs to change?
  • What barriers are currently in place that will prevent new members from joining?
  • Who do we currently serve?
  • What are we doing to create an entry point for new members to join?
  • What are we inviting new members into?
  • Have you hosted any learning opportunities for staff?
  • What barriers would prevent staff from attending these training sessions?

Obviously, this is A LOT! Remember and be at peace with knowing that you won’t be able to tackle everything in one meeting. Ask that people respect the time you have together and focus on progress and not perfection.

Community developed knowledge is vital! Please share your own questions in the comments and tell me some of the challenges you are actively navigating. If I can be a source of support in your journey, don’t decide that you think I'm too busy, just reach out. Genuine invitation.

Dismantle away, my friends!

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