April 10, 2019

How to Lead Conversations on Equity

I started my last post talking about #ClearTheAir and I'm going to do the same thing again. That community has had a huge impact on me. Thank you Val! In the fall we read White Fragility and it was eye opening. Everything in that book seemed so obvious, yet I'd never really paid attention before. Once I had that experience I wanted everyone to join me in my new enlightened state!

My current work is all remote so it wasn't quite as simple as hanging out in the staff room and raving about the book until I found people who would discuss it with me. But, we'd had a book discussion at work before (Radical Candor) so when my colleague spoke up about our lack of action steps toward a new organization goal (Attract, retain, and support a diverse community.) this seemed like a good opportunity to find a partner in this effort. We decided that our co-workers were in a variety of different places and maybe starting right in with White Fragility would be too much. We needed an entry text.

Point #1: Know your audience. The goal is to move forward in the work, but if you jump straight to the finish line you'll be the only one there.

So we read The Loudest Duck with anyone who wanted to join us (15 people out of under 50 full time employees). The very first thing we asked people to do was to state why they were joining. It was great to read different reasons and see a few perspectives, but also to hear a reverberating commitment to learn about diversity and equity. For the book discussion we alternated between asking people to post things on slack and having video conference calls in small groups. I liked being able to read everyone's thoughts when they posted, but we got feedback that people were more comfortable discussing where they could see each other, hear tone and get immediate feedback.

Point #2: Push people a little outside their comfort zone. You have to push, otherwise you'll never get any closer to that finish line. But not too far, or you'll be alone again.

After we finished the book we wanted to continue the conversation, but with a less work intensive method than a book discussion. We moved to discussing articles, podcasts, tweets, and other questions that arose. To honor the request for discussing in person rather than via text, we set up this awesome slack app called Donut. The app randomly pairs people who signed up every 2 weeks so they can go out for donuts! (Or in our case as a remote organization, conference calls. But once I ate a bagel while I was on the call...) It's been great because we're building connections across the organization, which is a great way to increase the all important sense of belonging, while continuing to have conversations about equity, so we can find other ways support everyone in the organization.

Point #3: Keep going! You don't finish equity work in a day, week, month, or semester. Find ways to follow up and sustain conversations. That finish line we're aiming for? It's really far away.

More than half the employees participate in the donut chats every 2 weeks. There have been 62 pair or trio discussions so far in just a few months of running this. Two new employees are leading a discussion on the book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. A few of us also read Dare to Lead. We're still working on figuring out what our next steps are, but in reading the book we realized we'd like to move from grassroots (anyone who wants to can opt in) to structural change (moving this conversation to formal meeting times).

Next fall at the Boston NCTM regional conference my original partner in this work and I will be presenting on equity in the IM curriculum. There was certainly attention paid to equity before we started these conversations, but the sustained conversation has kept equity at the forefront and improved the whole company's understanding of how our design principles align with equity and access.

Now it's your turn to try. I'm happy to share more about our process or prompts but I think the 3 step guidelines I made up in the last half hour summarize it well.

  1. Know your audience.
  2. Push people a little outside their comfort zone.
  3. Keep going!

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