Is racial equity the lastest shiny penny?

What is Shiny Penny Syndrome? 

Shiny penny syndrome refers to the attraction to the new. It is drawing close to the latest, most epic concept in your orbit at this moment. The underlying theory is that if reaching in your wallet, you’ll choose the shiny penny over an older one even though they have the same value. My thought question for this post is: As organizations take up race equity, has it become like a shiny penny?

There’s meaningful pressure for nonprofits to commit to race equity work right now. Philanthropies are encouraging their grantees to take up the work. There’s internal pressure from staff. And, there’s the explicitly racist political environment that surrounds us right now. 

Race equity work requires more than an attraction to the new.  It’s rich yet often challenging work. Embracing equity as a practice is more significant than checking the box and requires more than attending a training session. Many organizations start down an equity path but are unprepared for how an equity perspective can expose racism within their organizations. 

Ways to Avoid Shiny Penny Syndrome in Your Equity Work

Be adaptive
Demonstrate a willingness to confront racialized dynamics
Acknowledge and act to support differential experiences

Here are three things to think about as organizations dig into race equity work with higher intensity and greater intentionality:

  1. Are you willing to be adaptive? Committing to doing your work more equitably requires change. Can you change as the work requires?

  2. Are you willing to confront the dynamics of race and power in your organization?

  3. Can you change your policies and practices to affirm staff the differential experiences if staff across the dimensions of identity?


The answer to these questions is a good indicator of the sustainability of an organization’s equity efforts.

Every organization that commits to racial equity — as a practice — captures the opportunity to do mission-centered work in real-time. Returning to my thought question, the way to ensure that race equity is not a shiny penny in your organization is to practice racial equity when it hurts. Pushing through the hard place can change your work in powerful ways. 

Sometimes organizations need a little help to move past hard places. Here are a few resources to help:

Move Beyond Training Coaching Program — designed for organizations who have had racial equity training but may be stuck

 Race in the Workplace Newsletter — a bi-monthly communication with guidance for folks doing the work in their organizations every day

Author: Joanna Shoffner Scott
Joanna Shoffner Scott is an experienced management consultant with deep expertise in racial equity. She is the founder and principal of Stamey Street Consulting Group, LLC, and is a Senior Consultant with the Race Matters Institute of JustPartners, Inc. Joanna has consulted with numerous organizations all over the country on unpacking race in their every day work.