This is NOT an equity framework.
So, I've been talking to a lot of people who work in non-profits, and almost every time they bring up equity in the workplace, I find myself gravitating towards a wall, and by the end of the conversation there's a gaping hole in it, and a bruise on my forehead. A little like the guy in the video on the right, except I'm holding a shot glass, and trust me I hardly ever drink.
If you're interested to know what equity in the workplace looks like I'll be writing an article about it next week. But today I'm going to list a few examples of what equity in the workplace is NOT. Don't get me wrong, the concepts I mention below can actually have a positive impact on your organization, but they only act as band-aid to a problem. You want to get to the root, and that involves prioritizing equity work, working on your organizational culture, and implementing a framework around inclusion. (AKA write it in your 3-5 year strategic plan, and label it RED. Red as in important; red as in you're going to put dollars to it.)
An equity framework is not...
- One/multiple anti-racist training sessions
You cannot learn all there is not know about anti-racist work with one training session, and you should not claim anti-racism after said session. Anti-racism, and anti-oppression work is a long process that requires long-term commitment, and an attitude of continued growth and learning. Remember liberals have biases, and can still play out oppression; it's counter-productive to pat yourself on the back for being progressive. To put it bluntly, your organization does not get to claim a progressive label unless the communities you serve believe you do.
Also, please do not use anti-racist trainings to further your resume if you're not actually invested. It's unethical, and you're doing yourself, marginalized communities and your organization a disservice.
- An equity workgroup
Creating an equity workgroup is a great initiative for an organization; it's also a sustainable way to unsure equity work continues. However, the problem lies with the way this group is formed. More often than not, leaders and board members propose the creation of a staff-lead equity workgroup, as a way of deflecting from the real equity work needed in leadership. They hand-off all things equity and race related to this workgroup, comprising of mostly people who don't hold enough power in the organization to institute change.
To make things worse, the workgroup selection process is often voluntary, which means anyone remotely interested in it can join. It is incredibly dangerous for an organization to take all their community engagement advice from an untrained workgroup.
Lastly, people of color often feel compelled to be part of these workgroups, with the belief that it would create change for their own communities, and for the organization. They end up having to educate people, and do this work for free; there you have it, the irony of equity work.
If your organization is considering instating an equity workgroup, make sure all key stakeholders are involved; this means training all members who are part of this group - your board members, your leadership team, your staff. In saying that, an equity workgroup alone isn't sufficient, because it still does not tackle the overall framework of your organization.
- An affinity group
An affinity group is a group formed by/for people with a shared interest, identity or lived experience. For example, in the attempt to attract and retain more women in the tech industry, companies have formed support groups specifically for women.
Affinity groups are great, they help people feel supported in the workplace, but they don't mitigate or remove the problem. I call this the "coping mechanism" in equity work; this is when your initiatives are reactionary to an existing problem. Instead of fixing the attitude around the problem (oppressor), the organization decides to disassociate themselves, and leave the work up to those experiencing the oppression.
- Hiring board members and staff members from underrepresented communities to solve problems for you
Nope. The problems you're facing weren't created by people from underrepresented communities, or communities of color. They were created by people in power, and therefore your solution needs to come from deconstructing your own internal structures first.
And for heavens sake, don't plaster your marketing material with people of color if it does not represent the demographic make-up of your organization. Trust me, don't do it.
- Relying on your community engagement team to attract underrepresented communities
Nope. Your community engagement team are not miracle workers. Leaders need to center community engagement work, and refrain from deflecting the responsibility onto a few employees. Just to be clear, community engagement work is not just service out of goodwill; it should be in your interest to invest in this work because it affects the longevity, sustainability, customer/audience growth, public value, and overall long-term revenue of your organization. It helps your organization align with the current demographics, reach a wider hiring pool, and include diverse voices in your decision-making to expand your capacity. In short, it makes your organization relevant to the community, and the last time I checked supply and demand's still a thing.
I think the hole in the wall just got larger. In any case, let me know your thoughts.