I’ll tell you a secret. Most staff embarking on a journey for racial equity change in their organization don’t see board members carrying their weight. I hope to be provocative by offering a few secrets often unshared with boards about their lack of deep participation in equity change efforts. It’s time to have a real discussion about board and staff engagement when it comes to equity change so that the whole organization can collaborate to seed and root transformative change.
Secret #1: Boards still view their roles as promoting diversity in the workplace which is no longer enough to move an organization along a path toward implementing racial equity and justice.
Diversity was the early way to approach change in organizations. The focus was on getting more of this or that group represented on the board and staff, but these efforts lacked a power analysis. Bringing people of color onto the board is very different than ensuring they have positions of power and real authority on the board, or accepting their challenges to unhealthy parts of the board culture or the organization’s way of operating. Boards have also proudly hired people of color or young executive directors and CEOs and then expect them to magically turn around underperforming organizations with little resources and support, or unawarely blocked them from creating truly transformational equity change. Examining issues of power in leadership is an equity and justice pursuit, not a diversity exercise.
Secret #2: Most staff who are deeply engaged in diversity, inclusion, and racial equity efforts believe that their boards are lagging way behind them on the path to change.
Staff committed to racial equity often participate in rigorous and deep training, learning sessions, affinity spaces, and working groups to consider how to challenge the organization’s status quo which likely upholds white dominant culture, practices of racial inequity, and over-centralization of power. They may be attempting to practice new ways of building relationships, making decisions, or handling major racial tensions on interpersonal and institutional levels. In many cases, the board has not had the benefit of these awareness and skill-building moments that could strengthen their capacity to address power dynamics on their board or between staff and board on core organizational questions around racial equity.
Secret #3:Staff see many board members as out of touch or – even worse – contributing to oppression in their organization.
Many boards are recruited for their potential to fundraise or simply to have famous names associated with the organization, rather than to create a balance of people who can bring many types of resources to the organization such as lived-experience and knowledge of a community. Wealthy board members who have not explored the cultural roots of wealth and classism may expect formal decorum in board meetings or social gatherings that is counter-cultural and oppressive to staff. They may believe that they are helping the organization by firing questions at the staff when in reality the way they ask those questions puts staff on the defensive, creating a culture of fear that puts creativity to death. White board members that don’t champion racial equity in a board meeting or fail to interrupt other white members from engaging in paternalizing or direct racist behaviors are seen as supporting racism for failing to act.
Secret #4:Because staff (and especially the executive director/CEO) think board members want them to be “perfect” and share only their accomplishments, staff are reluctant to openly share their struggles and tensions around racial equity.
Staff are wary to share real-time equity tensions in their workplace or programmatic struggles. Simply put, there is not enough candor between staff and boards. Board culture often rewards product over relationship; perfectionism, numbers, and plans over impact and learning from mistakes. Additionally, the executive director is evaluated by the board and the main way for board members to gauge the leader’s effectiveness is the director’s ability to paint a rosy picture of the organization in board meetings. Moreover, board members rarely raise challenging equity issues as a part of board discussions, either to reflect on their own mistakes and challenges, or those of the organization as a whole. They leave that burden to staff.
So what can be done?
Board and staff need to build trusting relationships where relationships are valued and challenge and mistakes are welcome for learning and growth around racial equity.
Board members should build trust with staff by showing their own vulnerabilities, giving the staff runway to move their ideas, and avoiding savior thinking that assumes board members have all the answers, or that one executive director who is a person of color will save the day.
Board members that join any board in this day and age must be willing to jump into a journey to examine how their experiences with race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and generation impact how they see the world and operate in it. They must be willing to face hard truths about their privilege and, without placing the burden on others, champion change and use their privilege (access, resources, knowledge) strategically to shift opportunities to others.
Board members who come from a position of privilege in any category should embrace new ideas and ways of doing things from leaders that are very different from them or leaders that hold a more bold view of racial justice.
Boards and staff should work together to ensure that board members sit on diversity/equity/inclusion or racial equity teams with staff to experience, learn, and champion the work for change. And this should involve not just one board member, but a few.
Boards and staff should come together in joint training and learning sessions for the board and staff to explore issues of racial equity. These sessions should include reflection on how issues of racial equity impacts the mission of the organization as well as how it impacts the organization’s internal culture and operations. Better yet, have the organization go through a comprehensive equity change process that embeds equity in everything the organization does.
What else do you think could shift change so that boards can fully and genuinely support and champion racial equity efforts? We want to hear from you. Please start a conversation with us by commenting below.
As the world reels from racism and re-openings from COVID-19, we have a small window of time in which we can decide never again to return to the “old normal” of racism in every facet of our life, or to the exhaustion from an overproducing system. Let’s walk into the next one hundred years together in the spirit of new creation and new norms. May this poem that I wrote be a source of vision and inspiration.
Let not the slow creep of the old return
Like childish feet come slipping through your doorways
Look in the direction of the sun
Remember the lessons of staying in place
Wading into presence
Tending to family
Resting your breath
Slowing your heart to hear cries of “I Can’t Breathe”
For the futures of humankind
Erase the “old normal”
Walk toward the light
Grieve the long path of injustice you were in
And stand upright
To meet your new life
The new society we are creating
There can be no turning back
You can look over your shoulder and peek once in awhile
But there is no freedom behind you
Greed, exhaustion, and oppression live there
You said you wanted change in your lifetime?
Keep walking forward
Keep pausing to hear your heartbeat
To hear the people in the streets
And create the next 100 years
And you will not return
Because we will rise forward with the force of 100,000 horses galloping
Tens of thousands of drums pounding
And a Planet alive with millions dancing
Life spilling over into our lineage of children
We’re rising up to end anti-Blackness around the world.
George Floyd died under knee in Minneapolis But Black bodies and minds are under destruction in all lands.
Enslavement was a world-wide global attempt
Its end presupposes that our planet undoes itself, and heals itself
through transformation of hearts, minds, and structures.
White people of this planet, can you…
love Black people with abandon and without expectation that they will dismantle this racism?
decolonize and clean your hearts of Black hatred, disgust, dismissal, and disrespect?
never take a hand, arm, leg, knee, bullet to Black bodies and souls?
speak Black names and languages, and love Black children?
destroy your unconscious value of Black people remaining small, restrained, and tethered to white supremacy?
forever replace structures and practices premised on white ways?
follow and hire Black leaders to change your world and that of your entire organization…
…or will you act to make them produce, clean up your mistakes, and sacrifice their vision for your small version of social justice?
understand that one training will not be enough…
…and that instead it’s a tidal wave shift in hearts, minds, behaviors, practices, policies, and systems over sustained time that is needed, and is completely within your capacity and control.
take accountability and ignite and invite action…
…knowing that your grief and anger are welcome, and if you’re afraid to set a path forward to emerge, you’re complicit in allowing racism to continue.
extract racism in all corners to revolutionize the planet to be free of anti-Blackness?
And as Black people can we discover and rediscover our joy, beauty, refreshment, and spirituality to heal?
At IISC, we are asking ourselves, what more or different could we be doing to support the deep, transformative change necessary for Black people to know better and beautiful lives?
And to our world we ask, what’s enough? Could this be the tipping point that finally brings liberation for Black people and collective healing for us all? And if not, how can we be of service to prevent ongoing tragedy? Please use the comment field below to share your commitments and, in so doing, inspire yourself and inspire others.
Thank you to the Black women and men of IISC that bring change to our clients. As a Black Biracial woman and leader of IISC, you bring me joy and purpose. Thank you for working for our people every day. Be well, be safe, and be bold.
Note: This blog was authored as a framework to assist leaders moving people and organizations through COVID-19. Shortly after it was written, the racial uprisings of 2020 began after the many deaths of Black people in the United States. We have since updated this framework to bridge the approaches we believe are necessary for navigating both COVID-19 and racial injustice. Please view this blog and new resource.
As we find ourselves rowing in uncharted, uncertain, and scary waters, feeling like we’re up against waves of deep tension and crisis, we know that we need to row together in new and deeply collaborative ways. Yet under current conditions, many leaders are overwhelmed with concern about their own organizations; their staff, volunteers, Board, constituencies, and networks. We are all problem solving minute-to-minute and facing many critical decisions – decisions which could determine if people have a source of income, if they will receive essential services, and, indeed, even if they will remain healthy and alive.
We need to support leaders at all levels – individually, organizationally, and at the level of the ecosystem of networks around them – to work strategically and collaboratively in this critical moment. We are using IISC’s Collaborative Change Lens, to harness the power of collaboration by focusing on love, racial equity, and networks. We are supporting leaders online, and will eventually support them in-person (yes, that day will come), to plan and move through the stages of transformation offered in this framework during the pandemic and beyond.
Organizations, communities, networks, and even individuals may experience these stages in linear ways. Or, they may dip in and out of the stages at different times as they move through challenges and opportunities. We are supporting them to shift from emergency responses to creating conditions for resilient futures that create regenerative and equitable systems that are sustainable for the longer-term. This includes helping individuals and groups “do what they do best and connect to the rest,” and to act in networked ways to strengthen response and movement.
As you review the framework, would you share your responses to the questions below in the comments?
What does it bring up for you?
Where do you find yourself focusing your thinking and efforts?
What might you want to explore, start, continue or further develop, or stop doing in any of the stages?How does the framework help you prioritize and perhaps find empowering areas for action and partnership?
Facilitate rapid problem-solving and decision-making in the face of immediate needs, heightened risk, chaos, and/or uncertainty.
Focus on relationships and results for rapid decision-making and crisis management
Engage in quick and meaningful stakeholder engagement of those impacted by critical and consequential decisions to generate effective responses.
Ground all decisions in what is best for our shared humanity and fate.
Act and respond with love, humility, empathy, and transparency.
Let those in critical need know they are not alone.
Show up with and model presence and focus.
Avoid “savior syndrome” and respect the dignity and voice of those most in need in the moment.
Recommit to racial equity practices and approaches from the organization’s past that can build resiliency.
Anticipate and remove racialized barriers to accessing emergency resources and uniquely tailor responses to account for historic inequities to eliminate disparities in the emergency response.
Foster connectivity and flows between leaders in various sectors and ecosystems to gather and share information, understand the current reality, and respond to complex problems.
Tap into diverse networks to address critical needs and discover new possibilities.
Eliminate bottlenecks and liberate the flow of critical resources.
Grapple with the reality of fewer resources and more distress within the organization/community.
Leadership is intrinsic in
every role in an organization and now with a public health crisis on our hands
we understand this even more clearly. With shared leadership, each role is
viewed as an important connector to all other roles, and all roles weave
together to accomplish more in dedicated collaboration. Roles are additive,
with all roles functioning as essential parts of the greater whole of an
As IISC we talk about the
importance of facilitative leaders as leaders that have both the mindset
and heartset to inspire these roles to work together through a common vision
and shared power. A facilitative leader sees their organization as a
network, with distributed leadership and decentralized roles so more can be
done with greater autonomy and impact.
In the backdrop of our
national state of emergency, we have so many social problems to solve, and they
are much more complex. We need collaborative practices of shared leadership to
handle the sheer volume of extraordinary challenges and the many
decision-points that are coming our way.
We need to liberate systems
to solve problems through shared leadership.
How can we practice shared
leadership on a day-to-day basis? Consider these core principles:
EQUITY & SHARED POWER
Foster equitable leadership and radical power-sharing by ensuring that people historically blocked from or denied power (people of color and younger staff, for example) in the organization are meaningfully leading work (and you), without mistrust and paternalism, and with resources and authority.
Operate in ways that foster “power with” instead of “power over”. If you are a central leader in the organization, operate with others in a cycle of mutual respect, learning, and action, knowing that your role is just one in the whole system. To the degree that you are holding leadership back, blocking innovation, or asserting unnecessary authority, release control and shift decisions to others.
ROLE RECIPROCITY &
Understand that each role in an organization or system is of equal value and is contributing to the whole of the organization. Recognize the value of each role and the person in it, and how they help the work and culture to flow.
Distribute roles and decentralize decisions and actions as much as possible. Help people share the burden and the success.
Create and dissolve teams of work as needed rather than relying on static committees or departments to foster innovation and bring in new voices. When work is complete or things shift, close down the team and rebirth a new one.
Consider the different ways to make decisions. We no longer have only two choices for making decisions: doing so alone or delegating it to others. At IISC, we offer a framework (see below) for understanding the levels and approaches to decision-making with a range of choices to arrive at decisions based on the unique context in which each decision needs to be made.
Engage stakeholders in the decisions that most impact them. Test new ideas and potential decisions with great consequences with your stakeholders and, better yet, ask them to come up with the ideas in the first place. If the decisions are not working, undo them, and get input to come up with new solutions.
In the end, we have more vibrant, productive, and resilient organizations when we share leadership at every level. There may be one person who has ultimate responsibility for the organization, but they are not the sole guardians of the organization. That is the job of everyone in the organization – in their respective roles – pulling together, working for the mission, protecting its fundamental beliefs, and making sure that it ultimately flourishes, even in times of crisis. In this period of uncertainty, we may not have a choice other than to try shared leadership. It may be the very strategy that sees us through.
At IISC, we are guided by a Collaborative Change Lens of Love, Equity, & Networks. During these unsettling and challenging times, what are you thinking about how we can live into love, equity, and networks? Please share what you’re doing and learning in the conversation that is unfolding below.
It’s deeply important right now to be gentle on each other and show compassion in your actions and policies. Ask people when you talk to them how they are doing, look them in the eye, and smile into their humanness. Be kind and patient with your co-workers, your boss, your partner, children, mothers and fathers, and customer service representatives. Be good to the people you live with, including your roommates and family members. You will be stressed. You will want to fight each other. Give grace and learn to work through conflicts. Breathe and love.
Be creative and resourceful and, above all, share resources. Remember that some people, families, and organizations already have less access to resources such as money and food. Listen to the ideas coming from people who need resources. They know what they need and can teach us best. Design strategies to ensure your actions, policies, and protocols design for the margins, are non-discriminatory, and have no undesirable impacts on specific groups. Equality assumes that everyone needs the same thing right now. People don’t necessarily need the same things; some may need different things, and some may need more of some things than others.
Now is the time to create a resilient network in your community. Create channels of communication and share resources, whether that’s food, community gardens, or technology. Networks are also helpful with finding those trusted sources that can give you good reliable information amidst all the noise and confusion. In the case of organizations and social justice organizations, now is the time to create resilient networks of your stakeholders and partners so that you can easily collaborate for change.
At IISC we believe that collaboration is possible if we focus on results, process, and relationships. We also understand that it’s hard to collaborate and do the work of racial equity if we pressure ourselves to work and “do” at a pace that depletes us and keeps us from experiencing our humanness and connection with each other. I offer this poem in that spirit to all our friends and visitors.
Be gentle on yourself
Like lapping waters drifting to your toes
A kitten’s cuddle at your calves
The nestled warmth of glowing ember
We are stretching too hard
Northeast dwellers haunted by those that arrived at Plymouth rock
Who created an epicenter of work til you drop
And colonize til you drop
And enslave until you profit
Working working working themselves
Working working working stolen people
on stolen land
This we have inherited
A ceaseless mantra in our head that
More needs more
More needs to be created
And more needs to be sustained
And we get sick
And we yell at each other
And train our kids and workers to emulate the same
Hurting our hearts
And our births
We need not look far for models to reclaim our humanity
The way we treated earth as wondrous toddlers
The circles of the Wampanoags and First Nations
Rituals and spirituals of Africans
Buddhists and indigenous religions
To simply breathe
Walk slowly with intention
Hold each other in times of conflict in circle
Sing songs of cherishment and liberation
Listen until someone is truly finished
Share meals and libations
Till and protect our earth together
And fearlessly love
We are enough
To silence the frenetic finger on the text and keyboard
To engage in single task to explore our natural focus
excels at many things, but one of the things we don’t do as often as we might
is to share our accomplishments and toot our own horn. In the spirit of
collaboration, we rarely take credit; however, I do want to elevate and
celebrate the special contributions IISC has made this year.
challenging as it was, 2019 was a successful year at IISC. We served over 70
client organizations and networks and trained over 700 leaders in the skills of
collaboration and racial equity. We published sixteen blogs to influence our field and share
learnings on the deep importance of empathy, equity, daring leadership, and
have shaped the field of racial equity and justice by combining our knowledge,
experience, and skills with the likes of great organizations working for change
like Race Forward, Building Movement Project, and Change Elemental.
built tool kits for racial equity for United Way Worldwide and campaigns such
as the 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge used by networks all over
the world! We started building a workshop curriculum for the breakthrough book Decolonizing Wealth by author Edgar
Villanueva, which is shaking the philanthropic field to its core. We offered
two well-attended webinars for current and aspiring IISC staff and affiliates
on network practice and racial equity consulting at IISC.
celebrated our 25th anniversary with over 200 old and new
friends and raised over $170,000 to fund our work, innovations to our products,
and a video that displays IISC’s rich
team has been on the move upgrading the Facilitative
Leadership for Social Change curriculum with a racial equity lens and
frameworks. Advancing Racial Justice in Organizations (ARJ), our signature workshop to
help leaders implement racial justice in day-to-day organizational life, will
now be offered to cohorts of leaders seeking deep change for
racial justice. Due to its popularity, we have also piloted an advanced ARJ
workshop to take learning to the next level. We are developing a new concept
for a workshop designed for people of color to support their leadership as they
traverse the challenges of change in deeply racialized contexts. Freedom is
speaking, IISC ended 2019 in the positive. That’s IISC’s third year in a row of
sustaining a healthy financial surplus; an accomplishment never seen in our 25
years. We are starting a reserve fund to help us through future difficult times
and unanticipated needs.
has been a remarkable year with impact, learning, and growth all the way
I have now sat in at least six meetings in
which women of color leaders have talked about feeling like an imposter. My
thinking is evolving, but I believe imposter syndrome in racialized contexts is
the experience (almost like a deja vu moment), when people of color feel like a
fraud or, worse, they actually believe they are not capable leaders.
Initially coined by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
Imposter Syndrome is unique if you apply a
racialized lens because it is so deeply intertwined with assimilation and
Assimilation into white and male work culture
was not something that women of color chose. We were forced to conform our way
of dressing, speaking, working, and being so that white people, and men – in particular – would accept us as leaders,
good workers, and trusted friends. It was an olympic code-switching, and it was
exhausting and soul depleting. But mostly, it was survival. Survival so we
could ascend to positions of leadership, keep a job, and make enough money to
support our families. Choosing not to assimilate came at a huge price.
When you assimilate, you lose a sense of self.
You lose the parts of you that were the “original you,” the stronger parts of
your identity and what made you unique and whole. And before you know it, you
become another version of yourself – watered down, less happy, more anxious,
and constantly questioning your abilities. It’s like catching a wicked case of
internalized oppression in which we walk around feeling bad about ourselves or
feeling like we fall short. It may be a feeling that lasts for a few seconds
and we swat it off to move forward, or it lasts longer, causing serious
emotional pain and worry.
This vice grip of assimilation and
internalized inferiority finds us showing up as half of ourselves in the
workplace. For example, we may have the best idea in a meeting at a particular
moment, but we feel self-conscious advocating for it or even raising it. People
may want us to take on leadership roles but we turn them down, either because
we think we don’t deserve the role or we might fail. Racial imposter syndrome
drains your confidence meter, and confidence is necessary to take risks, lead
and collaborate with others.
One thought leader on this topic speaks to how there is the real you and then there are the masks we wear to hide our authentic selves.
So what can we do about it?
As women of color, I feel we need to embrace
our real selves and discard the masks that assimilation requires us to wear. We
have to surrender our perfectionist patterns and release the internal negative
feelings that we have. We need and deserve a positive and healthy internal
dialogue and stance.
Racial Imposter syndrome prevents women of
color from taking on high profile roles such as executive director in
nonprofits or elected office. I am
convinced as a woman of color that we must confront and conquer racial
imposter syndrome to develop positive self-image and healthy confidence which
will help us to accept and excel in our most desired leadership roles.
Together, we can be free of our masks and lead boldly for racial equity and
I often think the biggest quest for IISC is to
mirror our mission internally. We work to build collaborative capacity for
social justice and racial equity with our clients and partners in the field,
but how do we practice that inside of our organization with intention and
Unconsciously or consciously what leaders show,
allow, and choose to grow are the things that people either imitate or support
inside their organization. IISC is a leader in the field of racial equity and
social justice so it follows that we should mirror transformational practices
for racial equity and justice at home. It’s not about being perfect but it is
about taking deep ownership of our own racism and other forms of oppression.
It’s about bringing to an end comments, behaviors, and practices that call into
question even subtly the worth, intelligence, experience, and dignity of people
of color or other targeted groups. It’s about making sure that all of our
policies are informed by a racial equity lens by asking ourselves how a
decision, policy, or practice negatively impact people of color or other groups
at the margins.
At different points in IISC’s history we have
paid deep attention to our own culture and practices to align them more closely
with the just world we want to create. In recent times that has meant examining
the personal, interpersonal, and institutional interactions that may perpetuate
racial inequity in our relationships and inside our culture and system.
We have examined and adjusted our pay scales to
bring them more in line with our values and to ensure there is parity based on
race and gender. We have restarted the practices of caucuses, in which white staff
gather separately to learn about white privilege and fragility in our workplace
so that they can support one another and take accountability for their beliefs
and actions. In the people of color caucus, staff support each other around
instances of racism by staff and clients and challenge each other to show up
more fully at IISC so that we can challenge the status quo. Both caucuses then
come together in staff meetings to explore our learnings, give each other
feedback, and discuss our aspirations and challenges. We are constantly in
dialogue and discovery.
As the leader of IISC, I have made it known that
it’s not enough to do your functional job at IISC – the tasks of a particular
role for example – but that it is equally as important if not more so to walk
the talk of collaboration, racial belonging, equity, and justice.
In the future, we will be offering individual
equity coaching to staff so that they can have a resource to impact and grow as
leaders. We will also be deeply infusing equity expectations into our
performance management process.
Some of the questions I think we need to explore
going forward are:
How do we disrupt and interrupt unconscious and conscious racism in
our organization? In our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions, and in those of
others? And how do we still reach for each other to collaborate when we are in
the middle of tough conflicts across difference?
How do we move this internal work into our relationships and practice
with the board of directors and with our affiliate consultants? What is the
most authentic and powerful way to do that?
In what ways we do expect our clients to treat people of color staff
and affiliates with deep respect and on the same level as their white peers?
There are many stories of white consultants working in client systems receiving
better or different treatment than people of color.
Clients pay IISC to design and facilitate
processes for racial equity change in their organizations. If we do that which
we say we do, IISC will always be in an equity change process itself. There may
be fits and starts, victories and back slides, but we will be in it. Embracing discomfort like our clients, making
changes despite setbacks, and taking on tough battles and decisions to uproot
the influence of racism and oppression that surrounds and penetrates the IISC
We will be undone as I shared in a recent blog, but we will be practicing what we
preach and that alignment and clarity will give us the strength and resilience
to keep transforming IISC and of course transforming ourselves.
As I watch the Democratic Party presidential
debates, I am particularly struck by the large number of white males and males
of color who insist they must be candidates for president in November 2020.
Why do they feel it’s their time to step in
when there are plenty of women – including women of color – who could lead this
country as well if not better than they could? When do people with privilege
understand and appreciate that they need to step back so others can step in? A
defiant and powerful act against racism and sexism is to say to yourself, “I
have experienced what it’s like to govern, to lead, and to hold power. It’s now
time for me to support others who have not yet had that chance so we can
experience a different kind of America.”
I have a fantasy that sometime in the fall of this year, all the male candidates – yes all – will host a press conference and relinquish their nominations. If the male candidates actually ceded power, it would change the course of this country because a woman would be elected as president of the United States for the first time in our history. Our culture would see power explicitly and transparently shift to those who don’t typically have it. Policies would undoubtedly look very different if approached through a gendered and intersectional lens.
But I don’t want to just make this a challenge
to presidential candidates. It’s a challenge I want to make to us all,
especially those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. There are
many great leaders holding onto their positions, titles, or spheres of
influence, not realizing that doing so comes at the price of denying others
Some provocative considerations include:
If you have been in your position
for at least five to seven years and think it’s yours until you leave the role
or retire, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
If you aren’t sharing your
relationships with people who have power and resources with others who have
less privilege, you aren’t ceding or sharing power.
If you are reading this thinking
you don’t have power, ask yourself if you have ever been in a position of
authority or responsibility. Are you in one now? Do your decisions affect
others as well as institutional or organizational policies? You may not feel
powerful but chances are you have power.
There’s reward if we step back to make room
for others to step in. We will get to observe and follow the leadership of
others and learn new ways of doing things. We will know that we proactively and
willingly contributed to shifting power unlike some of our ancestors or
predecessors. We will feel the sense of relief and humility that comes from
knowing that we are not the only ones who can answer the call of duty or lead
an organization. And if we allow others to lead and to lead fully, we will be
able to restore our energy for other ways we can contribute to the work that
remains so important to us all.
I think about this as a woman of color leading IISC. Although I am female and a person of color, I am older and I have had the opportunity to hold many positions of authority. I think about how I can support younger people to lead IISC. It scares me to think about leaving my role one day, what I might do next, how I would make it financially. But then I remember all the privilege I have earned over my fifty years. I have gained connections to money, connections to recruiters and other opportunities, and I have many family members who love and can help me.
I breathe and I remember I will be perfectly
On June 11, 2019, IISC successfully celebrated twenty-five years of
building collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity. It was a
beautiful and soulful party with over 200 supporters at the historic Hibernian
Hall in Roxbury, Massachusetts, a largely Black and working-class community in
the heart of Boston. It was IISC’s first time planning an event of this
magnitude, let alone celebrating such a major milestone as our quarter-century
As you know, part of IISC’s core and signature contribution to the
field is that we bring people together to collaborate, lead, and design processes
for social change and racial equity. Therefore, like a true IISC’er, I have
been pondering some questions. What did
we learn about collaboration, racial equity, process, and leadership through
this event? What did this event teach or re-teach us about collective planning
There are five observations that come to mind. Not so much about the mechanics of the event (get a great event coordinator is the short answer to that!), but rather about the important intentions around the event.
Clear collaboration got us through every challenge. It was important for us to have a clear purpose for our event, a set of shared values to guide our planning, and a collective vision for our success. Our willingness to share leadership brought wisdom and effective action to our task. We also understood that our collaboration could be efficient. At IISC we remind people that not every decision needs to be made by consensus and this was true in our process. In the case of our event, we delegated the role of planning the event to a committee of diverse stakeholders by role, age, and race that could work nimbly with a relatively small number of constraints such as budget. Other than that, the sky was the limit. We solicited input from each other and other stakeholders as we went along so that we could harness the collective genius and perspectives needed to make this a truly special and unique event. When we hit a block or wall, we would ask the group, what do you think?
Women of color leadership makes the difference. At IISC we are challenging our clients and ourselves to make and honor spaces for women of color to share their voices, to lead, and to flourish. Our event coordinator was a Black woman and at any given time, 70% of the event committee was comprised of women of color. These women of color brought intersectional approaches to everything, making connections between IISC’s equity values and our event vision and execution. We ensured that we had diverse voices on our event stage, and that we hired people of color, women, and Boston residents as vendors. Women of color have often had to make do with very little and to work on every task from bottom to top. With that, our skills kicked in, helping us to nail the small and big details. Collectively, we turned over every stone to solve every challenge along the way.
Set an inspiring goal. At IISC, we promote facilitative leadership, and a major facet of this kind of leadership is inspiring people with vision. We decided to set a fundraising goal that was a stretch but not one that would strike fear in us if we didn’t meet it. We chose a goal that if reached, would allow us to accomplish what had otherwise seemed impossible: a goal that would provide long imagined funding for innovation and product development. And we not only met our fundraising goal, we shattered it!
RPR works. At IISC, we talk about the three dimensions of success in any collaboration. Tending to relationships, designing artful and meaningful process, and achieving results. At each stage of our work as an event committee, we made space for each event committee member to personally check in about their lives and to learn about non-IISC interests and pursuits. We made sure to have focused and detailed meeting agendas with strong facilitation so that we could process all the event details before us and achieve our desired outcomes. We focused on achieving results. We set targets of $125,000 in fundraising and 150 event participants, and we exceeded both our goals. All three dimensions were essential to our event’s success.
5. Speak and show your values. At IISC our values include equity, networks, shared power, and love and we made sure our event program directly reflected these values. Event participants not only walked away knowing something about IISC’s historical accomplishments and what we do here at IISC, but also about the values that hold our work. Our special 25th anniversary video and program speakers spoke to racial equity, the value of networks, and of love as a force for social change. We had three tiers of event ticket prices along with scholarships, so that we could meet our fundraising goal and still make the event accessible to everyone. Our values were also displayed by hugs, laughing, dancing, and making connections between people around the room. It’s no fun to work on racial equity and social justice if you don’t get to live out and experience those actions and values.
There are many more lessons to learn, but this I know: love, commitment, collaboration, adaptability, connection, and ambitious goals had everything to do with our success. It’s actually hard to accept that our planning has come to an end. Our event planning committee members loved working with each other and experienced a sense of accomplishment that we hope to replicate throughout the organization in the next twenty-five years!