Podcast: What To Do When Your Organization Declares Itself To Be Anti-Racist Too Soon

If you aren’t living into an anti-racist commitment every day, those proclamations can feel meaningless for those you need the most to make that aspiration a reality.

It’s happening. Your leadership decides to declare the organization is anti-racist. Now what? Did the communications team already post on social media and blast the email list? Were you brought in to consult on the language in your DEI role? When an organization publicly declares itself anti-racist, DEI practitioners are the first people I think of. Your job just became 50% harder.

Public Relations certainly has a place in race equity work, but making external statements without doing the internal work first can do more harm than good. Because racial equity always lives in the how.

Real talk: these statements are often not backed up by internal work and contradict how you are showing up externally. No one knows your culture better than your staff; no one knows your work better than your partners. If you aren’t living into that anti-racist commitment every day, those proclamations can feel meaningless for those you need the most to make that aspiration a reality.

I never want to discourage organizations from moving forward in their race equity journey. What I WILL do is give you, DEI practitioners, concrete steps to help your entity live into an anti-racist public commitment.

Whether your organization is considering a statement or has already published one, this advice will help you navigate the “how.” Check out where your organization falls on this list of stages, then let’s get into it.

Three ways to live into an anti-racist public commitment:  

1. Building an anti-racist practice. [6:38] Deep dive internally to gauge the experiences of staff and partners. Take direct action to address those areas where improvements are needed. Take the data and adjust policies and practices to address those changes. The voices of the most vulnerable need to be centered here. This is not easy, but it is critical. 

2. Check yourself as an organization — are you staying on top of disrupting white organizational culture? [10:05] How is your organization showing up in the world? What are the experiences of your staff and partners? What are your values and behaviors?

3. Assuring space for questions without fear of penalties. [10:52]  This is part of the work that needs to happen first—before a statement. I want you to rethink how we define penalty. I’m not talking about suspensions or title changes. Let’s say your staff raises a concern, and they are met with: “That’s interesting. You are welcome to work on that.” Or a penalty could be passive: “That’s going to push the timeline back.” Penalties can be subtle ways of putting the burden to solve on the person raising the question.

 

Take Action [10:24]

Concrete steps to get you started.

1. Make sure public declarations are authentic. [13:18]

Public declarations are good. They can be part of an organization’s story. But don’t overpromise or overcommit to what you can do. Try not to cast your organization into a light that it’s not currently living into. Public declaration needs to be backed up by private actions: functioning systems for accountability. 

 

2. Bring leadership back to the how. [13:52]

DEI leads, this is for you. Here are specific questions that can be a pivot point in working with your leadership: 

  • How are we going to do this? 
  • How are we going to live into this commitment? 
  • How will this declaration bring meaningful change for staff? 

Reflection & Parting Guidance

Over the course of my consulting career, I’ve seen many organizations make public statements with good intent, but they lack impact. Organizations need to do work before going public. Here is my blog to help you reflect: the 7 capacities to build before going public. Dig deep internally before going public. It’s important for the race equity journey, but it’s also a best practice for PR. Take that to your comms team. Because what you don’t want to happen is to make this huge public proclamation, maybe you get some good press about it, but internally, your staff is feeling oppressed and is struggling. That is a demoralizing place for employees, and it can do harm to the organizational brand.

Here is my parting advice to you DEI leads. If you’re finding yourself in a public statement situation, try these actions:

1. Try to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy by doing the internal work first. You can never go wrong by starting with whatever shows up in the mirror.

2. Be authentic. It’s okay to say to your audience (staff and partners) that you’re going to be showing up in the world differently, and here’s what that’s going to look like, and have that be the reality of your day today. It’s real. It’s authentic. It’s not overpromising.

3. Create a system for how you’re going to implement the promise. So, in other words, you’ve made the declaration. If that horse is out of the barn, then it’s out of the barn. What is the supportive system you’re going to use to back up that promise? Here is a blog on that if you need somewhere to start. 

DEI leaders: bring it back to the how in order to get your organizations to live into an anti-racist commitment. It’s not easy; take care of yourselves in the process. And if you are feeling burnt out, go back to Episode 001. 

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