Organizational Baby Steps

Most of the organizations that ask me for  “Diversity and Inclusion” programs are not at all ready for my response.

There is no such thing as Diversity and Inclusion (DEIA) as a program. It is a process, a transformation, and a pivot, but it is not a one off program. I have lost  two contracts this summer alone, through my insistence that it takes more than one session to reach any form of organization shift. These D&I sessions for  a hour or two usually do more to exacerbate racialized or identity related tensions in an organization.  Locally, the  popular  2 day training  for dismantling racism (which has a much longer and focused name) is still leaving many hungering for more.

Image result for dimensions of diversity
Gardenswartz & Rowe, Diverse Teams at Work (2nd Edition, SHRM, 2003) *Internal Dimensions and External Dimensions 

Although I had the pleasure/trauma of studying  anthropology with a focus on the African Diaspora, I consider the study of diversity as an ever-growing field. Certifications offer  7 dimensions of  diversity and  some identity mapping exercises offer more than 25 possible categorizations of diversity.  This can be overwhelming for an executive director or human resources professional to consider.  However, in are increasingly complex working environment, this is the time to get real about diversity.

I am currently designing a series of Charlotte-specific learning experiences related to the history of segregation and the impact on our education practices today.  This topic is close to my heart,  both as a former candidate for school board, as a community organizer advocating for  adequate supports to undo severe disparities in racial outcomes for children of color in Charlotte- Mecklenburg School systems.

The key to organizational movement is commitment to the decision to move.  Below I have a picture from a new activity I have been using in several planning  sessions. Participants mapped their “home base” in Charlotte with what they most hoped to  examine during the session. Words included relationships, opportunities, impact, growth, and connectivity. There were also asked to examine disparities, racial slurs, and assumptions. 

This activity has been interesting for me in it similarity across maps with other groups across Charlotte.  Consistently, the west corridor  is marked by assumptions and disparity, while the southern corridor is marked by growth and  connections.  In this map, it is important to note the placement of the  highways which were a major factor in Charlotte’s Urban Renewal and subsequent displacement of poorer African Americans and working class Charlotteans in general.


Group Agreements

I strongly suggest using group generated agreements as the starting place to create  share culture. The agreements should ALWAYS be co-generated and dependent upon total group agreement.  Each set of agreements offer insights about how the groups work together and blind spots related to typical group dynamics. In a recent session the repeated emphasis  was on: Active Listening. This was reiterated by multiple people indicating that in previous training or group sessions this was not a shared value. Participants wanted it to be explicit in this session. When a groups spend 15 minutes reiterating  the need for respect, it is obvious that  many of the participants have previously felt disrespected. The “container” they create together is relevant to any ongoing process of group development.

Places to Delve Deeper

Most organizations are so anxious to get through the process in a limited amount of time they ignore  glaring group issues.  In another session for a local educational group, we paused the original program design to offer space to delve more deeply into a comment  related to fear of reprisal from supervisory staff. This comment seemed to spark a resounding agreement from the staff prompting many to share their perspectives of effective next steps. A facilitator may need to diverge from the plan to honor the group, it will be time well spent if it reveals an issue that many are facing  in the organization.

Here are some key take-ways for your organizational baby steps when you are not ready for full scale transformation: 

  1. Make space ( both virtual and physical) to share strong voices and differences of opinion. Don’t outright dismiss conflict as a reflection of staff dysfunction, rather, embrace opportunities to delve the discomfort for underlying similarities of experience.
  2. Value the personal stories and experiences and examine existing policies and organizational culture that may foster exclusion, disfranchisement, and ultimately disconnection from the organization.
  3. Maintain a solution-oriented culture. It is not enough to share a personal experience, the organization (powered by staff initiative) is responsible for cultivating equity in both policy and practice.

By the end of  a DEIA session everyone in the room should have the opportunity to reflect and respond to the overall session experience. Feedback around the facilitation  and the future should illuminate the value of the experience.  Since of the launch of Facilitate Movement, I have  tools to measure my effectiveness, but there is one sure indicator of success: Participants and staff  asking each other for guidance, follow-up around remaining questions, and hugging after they expressed polarized opinions during the group sharing process.

Ready to start your baby steps?

Contact me, FacilitateMovement at

Front Image from the community response exhibit: Xiaolu Wang on the Mural organized by Arianna Genis and Ashley Fairbanks @ Minnesota Institute of Arts

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