What route are you taking? How long will you be gone? Do you have your phone with you? Please be careful. That’s the conversation I have with my 21-year-old son every time he tells me he’s going for a run.
Ahmaud Arbery, the young African American chased and killed while jogging could have been my son. That incident, along with so many others, was a personal reminder that my daily engagement and leadership in this work doesn’t guarantee my immunity to the realities of biased and racist behaviors and actions toward people who look like me or my son. And way too often, those racist actions result in the worst, tragic consequence possible – death.
George Floyd wasn’t just murdered by an individual, he was murdered by a system. The system in the spotlight at the moment is law enforcement/criminal justice, but there’s just as much systemic racism in corporations, educational systems, healthcare systems, etc. We would completely miss the point of the peaceful protests happening across the country if we don’t make a commitment to look within our own organizations. So how do we do that?
Here are four specific ways the CQ Framework can be used to inform solutions for creating an anti-racist organization:
The CQ Framework
Acknowledge and Lead. (CQ Drive). Historian and author Ibram Kendi says it’s not enough to say we aren’t racists. We must commit to becoming an “anti-racist,” someone who intentionally opposes racism. The same idea holds true for organizations.
An anti-racist organization takes intentional action to dismantle racist behaviors, systems, policies, and practices. It replaces them with an inclusive and culturally intelligent (CQ) organization whose policies and practices create equitable experiences and opportunities for everyone. It also demands commitment by leadership to be persistent and have a long-term focus. There’s no way around it. There are no quick fixes or overnight successes. The first step in the process is to acknowledge that systemic racism is real and that, since the beginning of our nation’s history, it has been embedded in many of our organizations and systems. A good example is redlining, a form of lending discrimination. For decades banks denied mortgages to creditworthy people of color, preventing them from purchasing homes. Although this once government-backed practice was deemed illegal with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the practice still continues in different forms. Fast forward 40 years and a 2018 investigation by the Center for Responsible Lending found that black applicants were turned away for loans at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 U.S. cities.
Leadership change requires more than performative allyship such public statements and press releases. There has to be a deeper understanding of the need for change and why your organization has a responsibility to create and lead the change. Not every employee, student, customers, suppliers, etc. will get it or agree with your decision to take this on. You’ll need to be okay with that. And to lead effectively, two prerequisites are required for this work — courage, and confidence.
When the President of the University of Minnesota decided to terminate the university’s contract with the Minneapolis Police Department, I am confident there was some pushback. But she stood strong. And her anti-racist policy decision demonstrated public acknowledgment of an unjust act and system, her priority to keep her campus community safe, and her willingness to hold others accountable for their actions. When organizational leaders understand the gravity and consequences of systemic racism, it will be less of a struggle to put the need for justice and equity above their own fears. They will develop the courage and confidence to do the right thing.
Commit to Learning and Unlearning. (CQ Knowledge). Although it’s no secret that the US has a gruesome history when it comes to how black and brown people have been discriminated, there is ignorance and denial about this truth and its continued existence. To effectively create an anti-racist organization, improving your knowledge is an integral part of the process. More importantly, you need to understand how systems of white privilege that were developed hundreds of years ago are still heavily embedded in our organizations and creating negative outcomes for people of color. Remember, racism is defined as prejudice and power. Who in America has the power? White privilege doesn’t mean white people didn’t work for what they have, it just means that race wasn’t a barrier to their success. Find ways to talk through these topics and issues with your employees, students, etc.
One best practice that is currently sweeping across several organizations is Listening Sessions. These sessions are initiated and facilitated by leadership (not only HR or the Diversity Officer) and designed to hear firsthand the thoughts, experiences, and ideas of their African American employees. For example, one of our partners, Spectrum Health, one of the largest health care systems in the Midwest, is facilitating a Day of Understanding with their employees. The event is intentionally being held on Juneteenth, the celebration of the ending of slavery in the US. Keep in mind that these sessions shouldn’t be about leaning back on people of color to teach white people about issues of race. Remember, it’s time for more leadership from White Americans. The sessions create an opportunity for you to take the initiative, create the platform, and build action into the process.
Be sure to lead these discussions with cultural intelligence. You don’t have to have all of the answers. Lean in with the intent to learn and grow. Observe how different cultural values and other differences manifest in the conversations. For example, most European Americans are individualistic. On the contrary, African Americans and other cultural groups, like Latinx and Native Americans, are much more collectivistic. Use the knowledge you gain to unlearn potential biases and stereotypes you may have developed from false narratives presented by history or, in some cases, the modern-day media. Affirm with your team that this is just the first step and that you are committed to creating more learning and development opportunities like cultural intelligence and unconscious bias training. Lastly, use the opportunity to communicate your commitment to reviewing the organization’s structure and systems and to developing a plan to create an anti-racist organization.
Make Systemic Change the Destination. (CQ Strategy). As I just mentioned, training is necessary and critical to the change process. Your employees need opportunities to improve their cultural intelligence, particularly around race issues at work. However, a training program cannot be your default strategy. Instead, view it as a starting point and part of a greater, more comprehensive effort towards more profound systemic change, which has to be at the core of any commitment to create an anti-racist organization. To have effective systems, a culturally intelligent strategy is needed. You must develop coordinated anti-racist action at every level of the organization. This includes evaluating everything from hiring policies, promotion and pay practices, work-life balance policies, etc. If you are a school or university, one of the actions might include a focus on decolonizing the curriculum.
If your organization hasn’t done any work in this area, this might feel a bit overwhelming. That’s understandable. However, don’t allow your feelings and fears to paralyze you. Commit to and start the work. Focus on small wins — concrete and implementable action steps that move you forward and can be measured. Perhaps your first step is a Listening Session. Maybe it is training with your leadership team. But don’t measure your efforts by the attendance or how good the conversations were, but what strategies and next steps were determined and implemented. If you do a training, use the CQ Assessment to assess and measure employee’s skills for engaging across cultures and help them develop action plans for growth. Over time you will find that every strategic effort and small win will begin to shift your organization towards the necessary transformation.
Be Consistent. (CQ Action). “We’ve heard you want to show your support, so just be you. Wear your BLM pin or t-shirt.” This was part of a memo sent to Starbucks employees last week. The memo was in response to a huge backlash from a memo, sent out just days earlier, banning employees from wearing Black Lives Matter attire. The company noted that it could be misunderstood and potentially incite violence. The company also argued that the original request supported an existing company policy that forbids accessories that advocate a political, religious, or personal issue. Yet, some employees claimed that the company recently gave employees pins and Gay Pride shirts during Pride Month.
To make your efforts stick, your decisions, behaviors, and actions must be consistent. On the one hand, it can be argued that Starbucks was willing to review its policy and adapt their actions and behavior accordingly. Not only did they allow employees to wear BLM attire, but they also made over 250,000 BLM t-shirts to support the movement. On the other end of the spectrum, perceived inconsistency in enforcing company policy across different cultural groups is what created the backlash. Their action also created distrust and called into question their claimed commitment to fighting racism. So what’s the lesson here? As you work to assess old policies and develop new anti-racist policies, proof of change is revealed by consistent actions and behaviors.
For our colleagues and friends outside the US, we see and feel your support. And it matters. We know you can relate. Racism isn’t just a US problem. It is a global problem. You can adapt these anti-racist ideas and strategies in your own organizations and contexts.
So what does all of this have to do with my anxiety when my bright and educated son goes out for a run? Everything. My day job is my work at the Cultural Intelligence Center. My 24-hour job is being Black and the proud mother of a Black Son.
The day we eliminate negative unconscious biases and racism, on both the individual and systemic level, will be the day I stop fearing for my son’s safety. I’m not convinced that we’ll fully experience that utopia in this lifetime. I am, however, very optimistic that, if we work together, things can get better. At the Cultural Intelligence Center, we promise to continue leading the movement.