For many years GLI’s focus has been to support our clients in taking a more inclusive and open stance with their stakeholders (especially employees) in an effort to solve the perplexing, complex, systemic problems facing their organizations. Issues arising from resource deficiencies, knowledge loss, mission alignment, and workplace culture, for example, are best solved by the people with the problem—those who need to live with and adapt to the solutions.
It is increasingly clear to us that for an approach to be genuinely inclusive it must be informed by a deep exploration of the systemic realities of power inequities in our culture, especially in the realm of race, culture, and ethnicity. Officially every organization we work with claims to follow equal opportunity hiring and promotion practices, and has extensive diversity programs aimed at creating more equity in the number of people in their organizations who identify with a certain race or ethnicity. Though the numbers may be closer to our societal demographic, what is often missing is the recognition of where power and influence resides and where it doesn’t.
Exploration of where power resides in an organization in relation to race, ethnicity, gender, and many other dimensions is a complex and loaded topic. Most people and, by extension, most organizations often choose to avoid or deny this topic because the content is painful to every group involved for different reasons and in different ways. Or, more likely, when an issue with the slightest whiff of racial (or power inequity) content shows up, the tendency is to compartmentalize this issue as something that requires a separate, special approach (e.g. diversity training, EEO process, etc.). However, in our experience, these kinds of “issues” are continuing to show up in a subtle and ubiquitous way. The special approach to handling the issue is not addressing the issue. So any “inclusive effort” that does not intentionally account for the realities of power inequities misses the mark for a large minority of people.
If an organization wants to maximize its alignment and impact around its mission and create systemic change that is effective and sustainable, how can it begin to do this without a deeper and more thorough understanding of the nature of power and influence and where it resides within their organization? GLI is driven by a deep belief in the power of collective wisdom—the group’s ability to solve its own tough challenges. We are striving to foster ever more inclusive processes. To do this well, we need to find ways to have the conversation about where power and influence resides. And as four white people who have been raised in a society that hides and denies our own privilege, we know that we have our own blind spots and assumtions, which may prevent us from effectively venturing into these topics with our clients.
But we do not want to stay where we are. As change catalysts, we are seeking to improve our understanding of these issues; to understand our own entitlement and illuminate our “blindness” to issues of power; and to develop a deeper understanding of what other groups and individuals are experiencing. We are engaging in professional development to find ways to effectively venture into the dynamic and potentially volatile landscape of race, power, and priviledge. We are developing collaborative relationships with practitioners of color with a goal of diversifying our own ranks. And we are striving to bring a more robust definition and enactment of inclusion to the workplaces we serve and the communities we live in. We see no other way through the challenges facing us.
If you are aware of these realities in your organization or community, and are seeking inroads to addressing them, we are poised to support that exploration and learning, with candor and compassion. Again, we believe the path to lasting systemic solutions often winds through somewhat daunting terrain. We want to support leaders and catalysts in courageously facing and addressing the forces that prevent genuine inclusion of all the voices and perspectives needed to create meaningful change.