University of Wisconsin–Madison

2017 YWCA Racial Justice Summit: Are We Living Racially Just Lives?

Representatives of the Office of Human Resources attended the 2017 YWCA Annual Racial Justice Summit on October 3rd and 4th at the Monona Terrace. The focus of this year’s summit was on ‘living our racial justice values.’ We asked our representatives why they asked to attend the summit and what they felt was particularly useful for HR professionals to consider.

Why did you attend the summit?

  • Because I am white and I need to understand my bias.
  • Because I want to become more aware of specific racial barriers and to learn more about action planning and dialogue in relation to racism.
  • To continue learning about what it means to be white and how we who are white can leverage our privilege to foster inclusive and equitable work environments.
  • To learn how I can help others feel less alone, and eradicate the need for individuals who feel they must tirelessly self-advocate as the only person of their identity/identities.

What was especially relevant for HR Professionals?

In a session entitled Transformational Leadership: From Tolerance for Diversity to Deep Systems Change for Equity, Angela Russell (Director of Diversity at CUNA Mutual) and Jordan Bingham (Health and Racial Equity Coordinator at Madison and Dane County Public Health), talked about the relationship between diversity, inclusion and equity work and transactional versus transformational change.

They invited participants to imagine an iceberg*, with the largest part under water and generally unseen.

Iceberg Organizations tend to focus on ‘diversity’ – that which we can see, or the tip of the iceberg. Work at this level is external and produces transactional change that can occur quickly.

Russell and Bingham encouraged more focus on the unseen. Inclusion demands us to reflect how we operate, and what the unspoken rules in our organizations are.

Even deeper is equity work, which demands that we acknowledge why we operate the way we do. Working at these levels is the work of transformational change. It begins internally at the individual level and is a slower process. We don’t get ‘quick results’ at this level of work. The change is more lasting, however, because we ultimately develop the strength in individuals to address systems.

*The iceberg analogy originated with Edward Hall.

In a session entitled Retaining a Diverse Workforce: Tools for Sustaining Diversity & Inclusion, Julia Block, Rasheid Atlas, and Naomi Takahashi, employees at the YWCA, reiterated the iceberg analogy:

Diversity The superficial “what.” Many organizations work hard at this level.
Inclusion How we operate. Most organizations are only semi-conscious of this.
Equity This is the “why” of an organization’s culture and climate. It is usually unspoken. There is high emotion here. How do you feel working here? The answer is often abstract and unconscious. The trouble for employees with non-dominant identities is that equity – or the lack thereof – is hard to know until joining the organization. For instance, it’s hard for people of color to know whether anyone else looks like them until they start a job. Turnover is a common symptom in organizations working toward diversity without also working toward inclusion and equity.

“There’s no business case for diversity without inclusion.
Diversity without inclusion is tokenizing.”

Takahashi acknowledged that while diverse teams are more uncomfortable, there is plenty of evidence that diverse teams serve their customer base more effectively, are more effective problem solvers, expose non-minorities to culturally-derived problem-solving strategies, and make better decisions.

The presenters shared the MCOD (Multicultural Organizational Development) Continuum originated by Bailey Jackson and Rita Hardiman:

Exclusionary Organizations “The Club” Organizations Compliance Organizations
  • Openly maintain dominant group’s power and privilege
  • Deliberately restrict membership
  • Intentionally design the organization to maintain dominance of one group over others
  • Dismiss overt discriminatory, exclusionary, and harassing actions
  • Make it unsafe/ dangerous for subordinated group members
  • Are “mono-cultural”
  • Maintain privilege of those who have traditionally held power and influence
  • Promote mono-cultural norms, policies, and procedures of dominant culture as the “right” way
  • Are “business as usual”
  • Institutionalize dominant culture in policies, procedures, services, etc.
  • Allow a limited number of “token” members from other social identity groups in – and only if they have the “right” credentials, attitudes, behaviors, etc.
  • Engage issues of diversity and social justice only on club member’s terms and within their comfort zone
  • Are committed to removing some of the discrimination inherent in “The Club”
  • Provide some access to some members of previously excluded groups
  • Don’t change their organizational culture, mission, or structure
  • Emphasize: Don’t make waves, or offend/ challenge dominant group members
  • Make token placements in staff positions, requiring “team players” (efforts to change workforce profile come from the bottom)
  • Insist that employees assimilate into the culture, don’t challenge the system or rock the boat, and don’t raise issues of sexism, racism, classism, or heterosexism
Affirming Organizations Redefining Organizations Multicultural Organizations
  • Are committed to eliminating discriminatory practices and inherent advantages
  • Actively recruit and promote members of groups that have been historically denied access and opportunity
  • Provide support and career development opportunities to increase success and mobility
  • Encourage employees to be non-oppressive by attending awareness trainings, etc.
  • Employees must still assimilate to organizational culture
  • Work to ensure full inclusion of multicultural workforce to enhance organization’s growth/ success
  • Begin to question limitations of the organization’s culture by examining its mission, policies, structures, services, operations, management practices, climate, etc.
  • Move beyond “non-discriminatory” to work towards Multicultural
  • Are committed to redesigning/ implementing policies and practices to redistribute power and ensure the inclusion, participation, empowerment of all members
  • Have missions, values, operations, and services that reflect the contributions and interests of wide diversity of cultural/social identity groups
  • Have leaders and members who act on organizational commitment to eradicate all forms of oppression w/in org
  • Have members across all identity groups who are full participants in decision-making
  • Actively work in larger communities (regional, national, global) to eliminate all forms of oppression and to create multicultural organizations

To move toward being a multicultural organization, consistent action is required all of the time because organizations are always changing. Redefining an organization has to happen on a continual basis. That includes regularly examining our evaluation, supervision, leadership, planning, hiring, onboarding, performance management, training, etc.—essentially everything that we do in HR!

To learn more about the 2017 Summit, reach out to Jacy Whitehead, Justina Schmitz, Kyle Brown, or Sarah Carroll.

To read more about the 2016 Summit, see the article in the HR CoP Newsletter Archives.

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