Racial Equity Readiness Signs: Growth Requires Readiness Checks Along the Way

Each equity stage requires a new level of readiness. If you are leading racial equity work and are finding yourself constantly frustrated, it could be that your organization has hit a readiness gap. By that I mean, it’s progressed to a new growth stage that it isn’t quite ready for yet. Take a look at this post and try to identify where the gaps are. This post is an updated version of a post that I wrote about organizational capacity.  It reflects new thinking and trends I see in my consulting practice.

Where is your organization in these readiness areas?

A racial equity framework. You need to adopt an organizational framework that explains how your organization sees the world and its work. Your framework should include a historical and place-based analysis that names structural racism, how your work disrupts it, and your connection to the community. (Here’s an excellent example from Funders Together to End Homelessness.) 

  • What is your organization’s explanation of why racial equity matters? 


Create a debrief culture.  Do you regularly debrief work projects? Debriefing is a critical practice to build within teams that forces a pause to access work outcomes. Racial equity always starts with the desired outcome. Many times organizations dive into deep, difficult conversations around racism but have not done the basic work of creating team structures to plan and execute the work. If teams cannot debrief without defensiveness then conversations about how to embed equity considerations will be much harder.

  • Do you debrief projects regularly?


Create accountability structures.  Accountability starts with self.  By looking inward, I mean managers, directors, and those with decision-making power need to actively examine their behavior, and shift where needed. If your organization has declared itself to be anti-racist, then do the internal work that statement requires. Be who you say you are.  Staff of color are not responsible for holding the organization accountable to its equity commitments. 

  • Does your organization have the capacity to handle equity issues like micro and macro aggressions, advancement pathways, and wage disparities? 
  • Does your organization follow the policies, practices, and processes outlined in the policy handbook? When was the last time it was updated? 

Leaders’ ability to adapt to change.  There is an entire body of literature on adaptive leadership. Adopting racial equity as a practice requires change. It is an adaptive challenge in that it “requires new learning, innovation, and new behavior.” Often, technical solutions are used to respond to adaptive challenges. The short-term fix for what is an adaptive question can feel like performative box-checking. Get clear on the why. 

  • Can your organization shift strategies when needed and without penalty to those in leadership positions?


A learning culture. Continuous learning is an important expectation to create among staff members. Our world is big, complex, and constantly changing. If an organization expects staff to change the way they work in response to a racial equity commitment, then it is vital to expand professional development opportunities. Building a learning culture isn’t necessarily learning “together.” There is a place for shared learning. Personal learning (and re-learning)is often needed for racial equity as a practice to take hold. Part of that practice is self-awareness — being aware of what you know and do not know. Leaders need to set clear performance expectations that can be connected to learning needs.  Many organizations do not do this step. They dive into building a learning space with no context. 

  • Have you created clear performance expectations for staff that connect back to your racial equity commitment?


Time.  Building an organization that centers racial equity as a practice takes time. There is no way around that. Racial equity as a practice will always get pushed off the table due to time constraints. Always. Staff often need time to build critical relationships, to learn, and to practice applying a racial equity perspective to their work. Organizations that work at a fast pace –as a norm– must hardwire equity-centered practice into their decision-making processes. Always moving too fast is one of the features of white supremacy culture. It also doesn’t allow for reflection or collaboration.

  • How has your organization built additional time into its processes to encourage racially equitable practices? 


Money.  Racial equity work requires resources. Although my start in diversity, equity, and inclusion work was an “other duties as assigned,” task, it isn’t. Effective racial equity leadership requires its own set of skills and compensation. Sometimes equity leads need mentors, professional development, coaching, books, and other resources to do their jobs from an equity perspective.  Understand that receiving a grant can create its own sticky place. Organizations may be encouraged to start with external work at the detriment of internal readiness, which can be seen as performative or worse box-checking. Budget for getting stuck. 

  • Do you compensate staff for leading internal DEI committees or major equity-centered projects? 


Readiness shifts at each stage of growth. 

Given where your organization is in its journey RIGHT NOW, where is additional readiness be needed?  Take a look at this list and reassess and shift where needed. 

For Helpful Tools 

I created a “Readiness Checklist” that you can use to think through places where your organization is getting stuck. To get the checklist, click the button below.

Author: Joanna Shoffner Scott
Dr. Joanna Shoffner Scott is an experienced management consultant specializing in helping organizations realize their racial equity aspirations. She has consulted with more than 50 organizations in the public and private sectors. Clients and former clients include organizations from workforce development, research, public policy, social services, place-based community sector collaboratives, government agencies, and philanthropies. She is the founder and Principal of Stamey Street Consulting Group. Joanna helps organizations move forward who are stuck in their racial equity journey.

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