After shedding joyful tears, I was thrilled to share this news with our team. Many years ago, we aspired to attract an angel investor, but never had the capacity to pursue one rigorously. Since then, we occasionally joked about this possibility, but never really thought we would be on the receiving end of the biggest charitable donation of our careers. The $2 million gift, with no strings attached, was validation for a team whose members have been humble over the past thirty years as we worked to build collaborative capacity for social justice and racial equity.
In the midst of the excitement and overwhelm of the unexpected gift, we also recognized the responsibility that comes with our windfall. For many organizations led by Black, Indigenous, & other people of color (BIPOC) — like ours, operating on relatively small budgets — a cash infusion of this magnitude could enable us to grow our programmatic work while also focusing on often neglected internal needs. Yet, rather than rejigger our budget, we are choosing to take a long pause before doing anything with the grant. We are faced with answering an otherwise hypothetical question that we often pose to the networks and organizations we work with: ‘What would your non-profit do with $1 million?’ In our case, what would we actually do with an unrestricted $2 million grant?
We are keenly aware of the freedom to make expansive choices and explore new possibilities now available to us. At the same time, we are also aware of: 1) the countless entities we support or are in partnership with that did not get a grant as we did, and 2) that the grant has created an implicit power and equity differential between IISC and those with whom we work. So what is the way forward?
To guide our response, we are drawing on our organizational values — to ensure that this gift benefits not just our organization but also the ecosystem within which we operate including our clients and partners.
Social change is possible through shared power and equity, network building, and love — our lens for collaborative change which guides our internal and external work. As we consider how we will spend these grant funds, and what we want to do with them, we hope to foster a sense of power-sharing, ensure equitable outcomes, build relationships and networks, and express love in action.
With that in mind, we are clear that decisions on how we spend the money will be led by BIPOC staff, including our affiliate consultants and trainers and our board members, with input from other IISC stakeholders. We want to ensure that historically marginalized and racially oppressed groups and communities have an equitable share in the power and control of organizational and societal resources. This is particularly important to us because BIPOC are typically not centered in big money spending decisions. Furthermore, centering BIPOC is an act of trust, with the understanding that the people involved in the decision-making will do so with the strengths, aspirations, and needs of their organizations, networks, and our communities in mind.
Transformative leadership is the kind of leadership we need in the 21st century. With this organizational value, we are considering how this potentially transformational gift to IISC is an opportunity for us to lift up organizations and networks that were not chosen for the grant. We are already using our position to leverage funds for other great organizations. We are excited that this is one way we can expand our circle of influence and promote greater equity in philanthropy.
The change we seek in the world ultimately comes down to the decisions we make about how we expend resources in our lives from the individual to community, organizational, and societal levels. IISC envisions a healthy planet where people thrive, value their differences, and work together for peace and justice and we are committed to leveraging the gift from MacKenzie Scott towards realizing this vision. As we come out of our pause and initiate conversations on how we will utilize the grant, we invite you to stay tuned as we share what we are learning and where we land.
If you or the people in your organization are fraying or even crumbling, ask yourself why wouldn’t you be? After over a year of a vicious virus, political disruption, and continued racist trauma, of course we are unraveling. What does fraying look like in organizations?
Staff needing to call in sick more often or take leave from their jobs to heal, restore, and pivot
Employees quitting or moving onto other opportunities, including relocating to other states as they reevaluate their priorities after a year of survival
Staff engaged in greater conflict with each other as the tensions they have tucked away come into fuller view
Individuals lacking patience as Zoom fatigue deepens to intolerable levels
People complaining of new physical pains, aches, and challenges arising from working in home offices that are not adequately set up to support physical well-being
Too many meetings and projects and not enough people to manage them, which causes stress in the workplace under the best of circumstances
Lack of purposeful attention to relationships as people focus on quickly moving into reopening
Staff taking care of children or others unwilling to return to in person work and old office norms that don’t support flexible work options
As we navigate the space between how things used to be – the “old normal” – and the emergence of a new way of being and working with one another – the “new normal”- we are essentially emerging from a metaphorical portal. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy introduced the concept of the pandemic as a portal when COVID-19 first broke. She shared, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” I believe that we are emerging from the portal like a shaking and vulnerable rocket ship returning back to earth after it breaks through the sound barrier.
What can we do to support ourselves and our teams to emerge from this portal?
There’s braiding to be done. Bringing people back into connection and collaboration to build toward the future. And it will be gradual.
We can validate the experience of others. We can help those who work for us, as well as our peers and partners, to understand that it’s normal to feel the fraying and crumbling that comes with being isolated and in survival mode for so long.
We can reflect and re-collaborate. This involves regrouping as a staff, reflecting on what’s happening to us and our organizations, and recommitting ourselves to operating in the spirit of human and community care and collaboration. We need to focus on building and sustaining relationships while we build better processes and strive for results that can build a better future.
We can give people a sense of control and hope. Ask staff and communities, what new opportunities do they envision for themselves and organizations and networks as we emerge from this portal?
We can close down our offices. For a week or two, or even a month, several times this year to replenish. If everyone’s not working, everyone can attend to themselves without distraction. It’s like a mini sabbatical for all.
We can continue work-from-home options. For many jobs, offering flexibility through continued remote work will be critical in retaining high-performing staff and boosting morale. Twenty-nine percent of working professionals say they would quit their jobs if they couldn’t continue working remotely.
We can center Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in all of what we do. Whether it’s in our planning processes, implementation, organizational culture, or visioning, we can follow their innovation, ideas, and leadership to deepen our strategies and approaches. Our workplaces can benefit from the traditions of BIPOC cultures to slow down and take time to reconnect in human ways. Strategies informed by a racial equity lens will be relevant and timely to all the decisions we are making in this moment.
We can come together in-person as soon as people are fully vaccinated. It’s not too early to plan the reunion which will offer connection and signal a new beginning. Consider planning a ritual or exercise during the time together to leave behind the old and bring in the new.
People are exhausted, mentally and physically. Expect the crumble. It’s coming, if it hasn’t already. Plan for the crumbling and consider new ways to braid people, yourself, and your community back together.
 According to an online survey of 1,022 professionals by LiveCareer, an online resume and job search consulting service.
Are you feeling a bit weary and maybe even crumbling? You’re not alone. We’re almost at the one-year anniversary mark of the pandemic, a few months out from the storming of the US Capitol, and ten months out from the murder of George Floyd. If you’re working from home, you’re lonely, and if you’re a frontline or health worker, you’re exhausted. The anxiety we’ve all been experiencing is real.
What to do when we feel like this? We need to acknowledge it for sure. And we need to pause because the big reopening is coming and it may not be the cure.
Vaccinations are spreading, warmer weather is returning in parts of the world, and traffic is ramping up. States are rolling back to the “old normal.”
But that “old normal” is not what many of us want. We desire the old normal of hugs, social time, and in-person experience. We crave the return of play and the lightness of habit and ritual. Yet, we don’t want to welcome back stressful mornings, back-to-back meetings, political rancor, and racist violence.
Before it’s too late, we need to reimagine the new normal that replaces old norms with ones like joy, rest, and connection. A new normal that creates oppression-free lives and systems.
It’s time to plan, It’s time to gather your family and plan your new normal. What will you discard from the old, and what will you bring into the new, before the pace of life takes over?
It’s time to gather, Gather your teams and ask, What will your organization live into? What can you do to build and maintain human-centered and anti-racist workplaces and communities?
And for all of us, What do we need in order to heal and repair? It’s been a really tough time. How can we discover new ways to foster self and community care?
The negatives of the old normal will clash with our individual and collective well-being unless we work now to get rid of them.
So, when the snapback of the old calls you,
Stop See Love Slow down And ask yourself,
What can I do right in this moment to bring in a new normal that centers humanity, equity, and living?
We now understand that living is loving and being loved. It’s radical collaboration and sharing. It’s large openings and small slivers of joy.
Look for the small invitations around you to create a new and better normal. Jump in. If we develop the practices of the new normal, we have a chance to create the world we want, not the one that will overtake us yet again if we let it.
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