Why we start with race

Our organization has been engaged with training around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for several months. As C.O.O., I’m the person who got the ball rolling, though this goal was present on our 5 year plan prior to my arrival at the organization.

Though I have always had an interest in equality and inclusion, I had not had much education or training around it. These past few months have been nothing short of transformational for me. I believe the work we are doing will also be transformational for our organization, though that will take more time.

One of the fundamental ideas that I’ve learned is that DEI (or EDI if you prefer) begins with race. We begin with race because that work can be leveraged to impact other marginalized identities, commonly referred to as “intersectionality”.

Speaking from my own experience, beginning with race helped me see the world around me with fresh eyes. This education has made me feel embarrassed by my own previous assumptions, and humbled to learn a new way of viewing society in general, and my own privilege in particular.

I am convinced that a deep understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion is a non-negotiable leadership competency. Leaders must be educated in this work, and must maintain that education. Whatever a leader’s speciality—finance, m&a, HR, IT, whatever—their work must not only acknowledge the importance of DEI, but must center on it.

Centering our work on DEI does not necessarily mean we become trainers, though that role may make sense for some. It means that we are able to articulate organizational strategy in ways that expose, interrupt, and sidestep the currents of white supremacy in our organizations, and in the culture at large.

I feel strongly that leaders who understand DEI are obligated to work only with organizations that also demonstrate an understanding of the importance of interrupting inequitable cultures. Do not join organizations, as employees, board members, or volunteers, if the organizations do not clearly demonstrate a commitment to racial equity.

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