Racial Equity Work That Moves Too Slowly Diminishes Staff Morale

Racial equity work that moves too slowly will diminish staff morale. Analysis paralysis can keep the most well-intentioned leaders from advancing needed shifts in their organization’s practices, resulting in racial equity fatigue.

Moving too slowly erodes staff morale.
This week, I want to focus on instances where racial equity work moves too slowly. Usually, my guidance around time focuses on moving too fast. Taking up equity in a fast-paced work environment means that staff will not have sufficient time to think about how to apply new equity approaches or practice using new tools, like the Racial Equity Impact Analysis. However, moving too slowly has dire consequences as well.

In my last blog post, I shared strategies for supporting staff of color across differences in identity. A key element to maintaining an organizational equity commitment is listening to staff feedback and taking clear and decisive action once pain points become clear. Too often, leaders get stuck in “analysis paralysis” because they have too many options to consider, or they are afraid the option they chose is a mistake.

AnalysisParalysisNL

Address staff asymmetries.
I worked with an organization once where the decision to do equity work had lingered for a long time. It really struck me because I caution clients about speed most of the time. Follow-through that happens too slowly is just as destructive and demoralizing as moving too fast, even when the intent to take action is present. This instance is another one that calls the question between intent and impact.

If your organization has expressed an explicit commitment to doing equity-centered work, then do something, a small thing, a 1% thing — and do it with intention. Your equity conversation may be their first real conversation about race, racism, and its role in their work for some staff. Expectations to include this perspective in their work product feels daunting. There is no shame in that.

For others in your organization, it is their 601st conversation, and perhaps they are witnessing the third racial equity initiative within your organization since their start date. Don’t ignore this asymmetry. We bring different sources of knowledge into every workplace. Lived experience is just one way to “know” something. There are other ways that staff without lived experience can tap into, like race-informed research and practitioner knowledge. These asymmetries are why communicating clear expectations about the knowledge staff needs to do their jobs becomes critically important.

1perRacial equity habits

Avoid racial equity fatigue.
As noted above, moving too slowly comes with real consequences, including racial equity fatigue. In the article Overcoming Racial Equity Fatigue, Benjamin Abtan writes that racial equity fatigue is “the fatigue of those who feel that progress toward racial equity is frustratingly slow or even stalled and of those who are disgusted by the political backlash against reform. This is the fatigue of those who feel that the charges of systemic racism being made are not always fair, who resist change, or for whom the changes are happening too fast. This is the fatigue of organizations that have been spending time and money…with little visible improvement in team cohesion and effectiveness.”

Moving through this level of fatigue can be done but will require both trust-building and decisive, intentional actions.

Here are some practical actions you can take to avoid the “too slow” trap: 

  1. Ask and act. Ask and decide where equity work can happen and create opportunities for those who are ready to take on projects in their respective areas of focus.
  2. Acknowledge support areas. At the same time, make space for those who aren’t there yet. Support is needed for reflection and to build capacity — even if that person is an organizational or company leader.
  3. Create clear expectations. Expectations (of staff) should always connect back to your organization’s equity why. Expectations should be equitable, meaning draw on the different “ways of knowing.” This is not a load for staff of color to carry. In other words, avoid over-privileging those with lived experiences as a way of knowing or those who have an existing racial analysis.

If you plan and then take intentional actions, your organization’s work will move forward, avoiding the “too slow” trap. Staff who are ready are watching how (and how fast) their leaders will move. Take their hope seriously because it is fragile. Moving too slowly will extinguish their willingness to dive in with you.

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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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