Solidarity statement issued after George Floyd was murdered, check. Responding to your staff’s growing demand that your organization do “diversity and inclusion training,” check. Retaining outside consultants and trainers, check. But now what? What happens after executives have stopped reacting or gone through the motions of saying and doing “the right thing?” Many now find themselves in a very uncomfortable spot and the realization starts to sink in: “I have zero clue about what my actual role is in moving my organization through this…”
I have observed many companies and entities create a “Chief Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Officer” position, which is a great step, but not one to be taken lightly. Creating such positions or “asking” your HR director “to lead the effort” should not and cannot translate into an absolution of yourself as an executive to make it your responsibility. At the end of the day, you as the president, CEO, ED, or any other position of leadership are still in that seat and the ultimate steward of any DEI effort within your organization.
“But, Carla, I don’t feel equipped to do this right.” I love that statement because it gets to the heart of the matter. It is the crossroad of being “the boss,” the ultimate authority, and being a human who recognizes that they have never had to think about the things our current times ask us to unpack or reckon with the discomfort and vulnerability such introspection certainly brings. As much as our natural instinct is to hide (i.e. pawn that task off to someone else and just become a bystander), our team members, colleagues, employees, as well as our customers, clients, patients, and other end users now demand more and will hold us accountable.
So, what now you ask? To me, it all starts with being honest, primarily with yourself. If you are able to quiet your ego’s insecurities about exposing who you truly are, the step I recommend is to find a “brave space” in a trusted confidant, like an executive coach, where you can show up as your authentic self and where judgment, shame, or guilt are absent. (Note I did not include accountability in that.)
Questions I like to explore with my executive coaching clients center around one’s self-awareness concerning the identities they embody or have adopted as they have matured through life, the intersectionality of said identities, as well as the narratives the individual was given or taught about their own community and, more importantly, those outside of it. Being a leader of an organization that now wants to engage in dialogue about things like systemic racism or other forms of historical oppression means not only offering space and resources to others—such as your employees—but also a moment of honesty and a willingness to look at one’s self in an honest and clarifying light. This is self-reckoning Is what enables one to at least start to figure out how to show up in those conversations as a true leader, even if that means saying “I am trying to figure this out for myself.”
Having a space where you can bring your full self is a practice I always encourage leaders to adopt because, whether we believe it or not, our team members, employees, and those around us will be able to tell whether we are genuinely engaging with a process like this. And the worst thing any leader can do in this particular moment is to go through the motions or checkboxes. So, as I like to say, “Buckle up, it’s gonna be an interesting ride!”
About the Author
Carla Madeleine Kupe, Esq. is the Managing Partner of CZL P.C. , a Black Owned and Black Women-Led law and consulting firm and an anti-racism/colonialism, diversity, equity, and inclusion educator and expert, and entrepreneur.
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