Anti-Black Racism Social Planning and Equity

The Skin I’m In: Experiences of Racial Imposter Syndrome

Working from an equity lens is hard work in of itself. I am a self-taught equity professional looking to apply my work in a municipal government setting. But I am on a journey myself. While I am a racialized person, I still come with privileges. I am a straight male, white-passing, and university educated. I have not have had the lived experiences of someone whose colour is different from mine and having to have their backs up because of how racialized people are perceived. But even Even then, I continue to go through racial imposter syndrome.

Racial imposter system runs deep for multiracial people. Some of us feel fake, and inauthentic in their identity and sometimes can cause mental health challenges. So what is racial imposter syndrome? It is best described as:

(T)he feeling of self doubt when one’s internal racial identity doesn’t match others’ perception of their racial identity, or the feeling when a multiracial/mixed person doesn’t believe they belong to any part of their racial identity. The feeling of being at home is often lost because individuals’ lived experiences are more unique and complex than their monoracial counterparts or those with a more homogeneous culture. This makes it hard for an individual to connect and engage with the communities with which they identify. 

Source: Mai Vang – The Current

According to Jennifer Cheang from Mental Health America, multiracial individuals face colorism, exclusion and isolation, lack of representation, and privilege. I mentioned in previous blog posts that I am biracial and grew up in social housing. I was socialized in White communities yet experienced countless microaggressions several times throughout my youth and professional life. My lived experiences are definitely unique and where I sometimes question the work is something I am meant to be doing, especially in how identity is rooted in how others are seeing me.

I am a self-taught equity professional since the educational structures and systems in place were oppressive, biased and filled with systemic biases. While I briefly learned about human rights in my courses, I did not learn about the racial trauma that exists for Black, Indigenous, racialized communities and equity-seeking groups and how they were perpetuated through policies and programs. In addition, graduated with Bachelor degrees from X (Ryerson) University, to which its namesake was Egerton Ryerson, was the architect of the residential school system. I did not learn of this until taking a workshop on reconciliation nearly 10 years ago. Only now has X University become accountable and have decided to start the process of renaming its institution.

I have not been around a community who has experienced racial imposter syndrome. In the past, I received criticism for not understanding the plight of the Black community through my own actions or received backlash from White people because I speak up on racial and social equity. This issue is a struggle I continue to experience and deal with personally and professionally.

The inconsistencies of the social construct of race, as Tamia Adolph states, are evident for multiracial people when they find themselves in between the spaces of culture, identity and belonging. Further to this, as a male with strong voice and stature, some people have come to expect a more sensitive and demure personality. As I navigate these systems, while coming to grips with my own racial imposter syndrome, I would certainly hope that my work will become beneficial to others. I have always wanted to give back talking about my lived experiences and mentoring those who require the space to do the work.

Overcoming racial imposter syndrome continues to be challenging. Talking about it is one thing. Coping with it is another. It is about embracing the skin we are in. It is complicated for us while we are trying to be authentic. Secondly, it is about speaking our truth because while I do not have the lived experiences of a monoracial Black person, I will defend those with the experiences of others by listening and learning. Third, it is about showing up. My contributions are valid and some are the others of racialized people and those from equity seeking groups. I will continue to engage in those discussions. Finally, overcoming racial imposter syndrome is about being courageous. It is one thing for those who are attempting to bring diversity and equity by being morally courageous, and then becoming tired of talking now only my lived experiences as a biracial person but also the experiences of others when talking about equity and inclusion. We belong in the same discussions.

Are you someone who experiences racial imposter syndrome? Do you have professional dilemmas? Let’s have this discussion, especially among equity professionals.

Anti-Black Racism Leadership Organizational Change, Justice and Leadership Social Planning and Equity Urban Planning

Using an Adaptive Leadership Framework to Advance Racial Equity in Planning

Image courtesy of Innovative Leadership Institute

This post is an excerpt from my upcoming paper on adaptive leadership and advancing racial equity in transit organizations.

There are fluid current discussions on the detrimental effects of structural and institutional racism exists at all levels in many Canadian public sector organizations. One example has been within transit organizations. Transit agencies are still managing and operating past decisions that have racism embedded in them where they have inherited past decisions, entrenched systems and attitudes. This is the part of the nervousness that Susan Gooden spoke about and something I mentioned in one of my previous posts.

Up until recently, the executive leadership and Board of Directors at the Toronto Transit Commission have been predominantly White males. The recent hire of Keisha Campbell as the agency’s first Chief Diversity Officer and Fenton Jagdeo as a TTC board member created strides in addressing anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism from a leadership level to where it all starts. Leaders using an adaptive leadership framework would be the most effective in doing this.

Operationalizing organizational change and development as well as race are necessary components of the work towards racial equity. Using an adaptive leadership framework with a racial equity lens is critical to this work. Adaptive leadership is defined as Ronald Heifetz as an activity and not a set of personality characteristics. The concept of adaptive leadership has been used in non-profit agencies, health and education sectors but never in the public sector. The core activity for leadership is mobilizing groups and individuals to address adaptive challenges and helping create conditions that make adaptive work possible. It then becomes a commitment from the organization to ensure that all team members are treated equitably, feel a sense of belonging and have an adequate amount of resources – financial and human – for individuals to reach their full potential.

Technical challenges are those problems in the workplace or within the community that are clearly defined with known solutions that can be implemented through existing organizational challenges and are usually solved by technocrats and subject matter experts who revert to the status quo. They can be found in siloed professions like engineering and planning. People then look to the leader for a solution because they are the experts. Adaptive challenges on the other hand, like institutional and structural racism, is embedded yet complex, unidentifiable and entrenched into our systems and beliefs.

There are five leadership behavioural characteristics that encompass adaptive leadership according to Heifetz. They are:

  1. Leaders seeing the big picture by getting on the balcony.
  2. Leaders must identify adaptive challenges which are usually value laden that can stir up emotions of racial trauma through a Black person’s lived experiences.
  3. Leaders must regulate distress by creating a holding environment where they must balance White comfort from the status quo and from racialized people who need to be given the psychological safety to address racial trauma from their lived experiences.
  4. Maintaining disciplined attention to know that the work is tough.
  5. Leaders must give the work back to the people to figure out by giving them the autonomy and space to work. Moving to racial equity means again listening to the marginalized voices and providing them to space to work towards a solution.
  6. Leaders must protect the voices from below, which means the community organizations who are on the front lines listening to the marginalized voices – those who are frequent passengers who reverse commuting or trip chaining, for example.

Adopting an adaptive leadership style underscores that leadership is not a trait or characteristic but it is a constant interaction between leaders and followers through multiple dimensions. It is about horizontal and vertical levels of trust within and outside the organization. Executive leaders must be able to trust what their employees are saying whether it is moving up the ladder to those leadership positions that are seemingly out of reach, or those who are making the policy decisions that have negatively affected passengers, such as fare inspectors who racially profile Black passengers.

Adaptive leadership is about mobilization where followers learn to adapt and do the work that is necessary. Transit leadership that requires the need to get to racial equity must set up the holding environment to achieve to facilitate that adaptive change. That is why those leaders who use an adaptive style are the most effective when focused on inclusion and equity. They are focused on hearing from diverse voices and backgrounds in order to achieve equity.

Local government agencies like transit and planning are coming to a reckoning due to the urgency in address Anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. A more diverse workforce coupled with changing times calls for an upheaval. This also requires a change in the approach organizations operate as well as the policy decisions they make. The TTC is one organization that is stepping up to the plate is moving towards racial equity as they are in the midst of developing their Anti-Racism Strategy.

Whatever direction the TTC will be going once the Strategy is adopted, it is important that the CEO and executive leaders use a different approach to organizational change that will reverberate throughout the agency. Executive leaders adapting to focus on the behavioural and relational interventions instead of just the technical decisions will allow for better and more thoughtful decision making down the road. Adaptive leadership is effective in addressing complex situations like racial equity and will hold executive leaders accountable in doing so.

I am hopeful that the exercise the TTC is going through will provide an opportunity for not just for other transit agencies to follow, but planning agencies as well. The status quo is unacceptable. Being an adaptive leader is the way to go.

Anti-Black Racism Social Planning and Equity

The Effect of Black Businesses, Arts and Culture on Toronto’s Economy

Economic drivers in local communities relate to the diversity of talent that exists. Diversity of talent ranges from entrepreneurs to those in arts and culture, particularly from Canada’s immigrant population’s contribution, as a positive influence on city-regions (Gertler, 2009, 120). What makes Canadian cities like Toronto flourish is its “distinctive cultural capital” that is felt in key sectors such as food, arts and culture (Gertler, 121). While Richard Florida distinctly refers to the Creative Class (2003) in that diversity and creativity, including artists, are basic drivers of innovation (Florida, 2003, 8). However, with that assessment of the creative class, the theory becomes problematic in that Florida realized a “new urban crisis” was on the horizon. There was a decline of middle-class neighbourhoods, gentrification and economic segregation (Florida, 2017) in major cities. There is no better example of this than one currently happening in Toronto along the Eglinton West Corridor in the City of Toronto, particularly in the Little Jamaica area. The City of Toronto’s Anti-Black Racism Unit addressed the current effects on Black businesses and initiatives. The purpose is to uplift areas such as Little Jamaica to reverse the trend and bring back economic prosperity.

With this article, I will highlight the significance of the Little Jamaica area and its prominence of the diversity of Toronto and its decline because of past policies that neglected such areas. From there, I will use Gertler’s explanatory power when it comes to the immigrant contributions on cities. I will then explain how Florida’s creative class and new urban crisis harbours on a social dilemma regarding race and class.

Diversity is its Strength
Economic success rests on an increasingly global and connected world that bring out the social qualities of cities and city-regions (Wolfe and Gertler, 2016, 7). The success is based on the quality of place and community characteristics that promote strong cohesion (Wolfe and Gertler, 7). Securing talent is influenced by local levels of liberality to diversity and is brought by inclusivity and belongingness towards immigration.

Diversity rests in the openness towards immigration. Immigration changed both mature inner suburbs’ social character, such as Eglinton West and Rexdale and suburbs like the ethnic enclaves found in Brampton and Markham. Immigration has a strong positive economic influence in two ways. First, skilled workers and entrepreneurs are a significant source of new human capital or talent. Second, immigration flows enrich cultural economies through creativity and dynamism located in various sectors, including food production and the arts (Gertler, 2001, 120).

Placemaking is based on the premise that cities make investments into the public realm to become more inclusive, welcoming and dynamic cities where people want to live, work and play. Creating those equitable and inclusive spaces though becomes a challenging endeavour. For cities to compete based on quality of place, quality of life, and innovation, social polarization and spatial segregation must be prevented by accommodating diversity and cultural pluralism (Wolfe and Gertler, 7).

Where there is diversity within cities, there are a flow of ideas through innovation and culture. While Wolfe and Gertler refer to innovation through collaboration and the relationships with post-secondary institutions and research centres (Wolfe and Gertler, 123), there is subject of cultural dynamism that I referred to earlier. The success of entrepreneurs of cultural products rests on a common attribute of their “originality, distinctiveness, creativity and imagination” (Wolfe and Gertler, 124).

The observations from Gertler and Wolfe on the role immigrants have played on Canadian cities continues today. Urban theorists such as Richard Florida have similar viewpoints, especially on the creativity factor of immigrants on the economic success of cities. In the next section, I will discuss Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class and how he believes they shape cities.

The Creative Class
Richard Florida’s thesis on the creative class (2003) asserted cities that were prosperous were doing so because of the success of those in the creative economy. These are the talented and educated professionals who worked in knowledge-based industries like business and finance, technology, healthcare and medicine, law, and education. In a 2005 paper, Florida stated what makes “an enduring difference in a city’s quality of life are small low cost, community-initiated, and bottom-up improvements like parks, bike paths, neighbourhood improvements, and so on” (Florida, 2005, 202). Consequently, they would find themselves more substantial and more prosperous than other municipalities because the impact would trickle down to all sectors of the urban economy.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated, to which Florida quoted, “the most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity, and offer a bunch of cultural opportunities” (Florida, 202). Consistent within Florida’s work is that while his definition of cultural diversity refers to the Gay and Bohemian indices (Florida, 12-13), there was no mention of the role ethnic diversity plays in his creative class theory. Florida’s theory then becomes problematic in the context of Toronto’s immigrant population, including Afro-Caribbeans, to which even Wolfe and Gertler (2016) were in disagreement. I will speak about this later in the paper.

The Rise and Displacement of the Little Jamaica Cultural District
Africans have made a significant contribution to Toronto’s economy contributing their talents its cultural mosaic. Yet the Toronto CMA has the highest proportion of immigrants of any major centre in North America. Immigration is a strong positive economic influence on city-regions. They have played prominent roles in skilled labour and as entrepreneurs, as seen in Little Jamaica. While cultural diversity is meant to drive economic opportunity among immigrants and the creative class, the benefits have not trickled down to Toronto’s Black population. Blacks comprise of 9% of Toronto’s population according to the 2016 Census, yet have an unemployment rate of 13% (Vincent, 2018). In addition, Black residents are often concentrated in precarious part-time work that is inadequate to meet their basic needs and fails to leverage their talents (City of Toronto, 2017, 29).

Currently, the heart of the Black business has been centred around Little Jamaica. Little Jamaica is a commercial business district located in the former City of York on Eglinton Avenue West and between Marlee and Oakwood Avenues. While this strip is the heart of Little Jamaica, Black business extends south on Oakwood Avenue and further west on Eglinton to Keele Street. The neighbourhood has been the distinct cultural hub for Afro-Caribbeans for nearly 50 years. Immigration policies had favoured White immigrants up until the 1960s. There was a rise of new immigrants from Caribbean countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. Early enclaves gathered around Bathurst and Bloor. With opportunities rising in Toronto’s inner suburbs, the Black community dispersed throughout the City like in Lawrence Heights, Jane and Finch and Rexdale, and Eglinton West (Black Urbanism TO et al, 11-12 2020).

At the height of Little Jamaica’s prominence in the 1970s, it became a destination for a variety of activities related to food, arts, culture. This is where patrons and residents from outside the neighbourhood would purchase specific products and clothes when traditional stores would not cater to Caribbean culture’s diverse needs. The barbershop and salons are well-known spots for the Black community where residents from all over Toronto gather. Besides, there are celebrations such as the Junior Caribana parade, otherwise known as Kiddie Carnival, and the celebrations of Trinidad and Jamaica’s participation in FIFA World Cups in 1998 and 2006, respectively.

The community has been faced with business displacement and rapid gentrification. With the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail construction, scheduled to open in 2022, and political inaction by way of a lack of government support, many small businesses along the corridor have been forced to shut down (BUTO, 15). This displacement has been caused by lax city planning policies that “cater to the interests and tastes that align with a larger neo-liberal plan…that has been a culmination of a deliberate set of actions and inactions” (BUTO, 27).

Systemic racism and Anti-Black bias are prevalent in housing, transportation, health and economic development which “trickle down” to the community level which marginalizes Torontonians of African descent. This has resulted in a lack of economic opportunities, poor health, precarious employment, and service delivery discrepancies. To take steps to reverse these discrepancies and provide a level playing field for Black Torontonians, the Action Plan for Confronting Anti-Black Racism is a leadership initiative to operationalize equity. The next section will outline specific initiatives in the Action Plan related to economic development.

Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism
In 2017, the City of Toronto introduced the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black racism. A 5-year plan focused on corrective action to address historically embedded municipal services, programs, and policies. The Action Plan includes recommendations in 22 recommendations and 80 actions. There are 5 key areas focused on operationalizing racial equity, including child and youth development; health and community services; job opportunities and income supports; policing and the justice system; and community engagement and Black leadership. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the recommendations in supporting Black-owned businesses (Recommendation 15) and investing in Black arts and culture (Recommendation 21).

Several actions within The Plan were proposed. These actions involved targeting Black-owned business and social enterprises, supporting startups and incubations and business supports for women, Francophones and those who were previously incarcerated (Toronto, 32). Furthermore, concerning community engagement and investing Black culture, the actions recommended included reporting on the economic impacts from community festivals, engaging the community in increasing the sustainability of festivals, and outreach to African descent regarding City grant processes (Toronto, 38).

The City has been willing to listen to Blacks across Toronto. Through the Mayor’s Roundtable, facilitated by the City’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and the Economic Development Division, some action has been taken. For example, the Unit’s priorities for 2021 include:
• Enhancing supports to the Black arts and culture through increased investments in festivals that preserve and promote Black Heritage; and,
• Supporting Black-owned Businesses to better recover from COVID-19 to compete and thrive as part of City Programs such as Digital Main Street (City of Toronto, 2020a).
In the summer of 2020, the City of Toronto announced a commitment to over $1 million in investing in the arts and the business sector to address the systemic economic, social, and cultural exclusion facing Black communities (City of Toronto, 2020b). Some of the announcement included:
• Supporting Black heritage organizations
• Re-opening the Toronto History Museums with a focus on philosophy of anti-oppressive practice, advocacy and storytelling to connect the public to art, creativity and innovation to work with Black communities and creatives in reshaping culture and build room for self-reflection and accountability.
• Ensuring that City funding for arts, heritage and cultural organizations is prioritized for organizations that reflect the diversity of this city in their leadership and operations, supports smaller and often newer organizations to increase their reach and impact, and addresses social and economic exclusion.
• Developing a five-year community economic development plan for Black communities while continuing to support established initiatives such as those in Weston Mount Dennis, Golden Mile, Little Jamaica and East Downtown (2020b).

Bringing it All Together
Wolfe and Gertler, and Florida have similar thoughts regarding the importance of knowledge and creativity and where human capital shapes economic activity geography (Wolfe and Gertler, 16; Florida, 6). Economics is tied to human capital, where immigration is a crucial source. Immigrant talent is a key source for creativity. Florida concurs that immigration is a significant factor to regional growth. However, he asserts that the effects of openness on immigration are mixed. There is a strong association with high tech sectors, but not with innovation (Florida, 12). He believes that gays and bohemians are key indices when it relates to the creative class.

Where Florida and Gertler (and Wolfe) differ is on the assessment of the creative class. The creative class theory is elitist in nature. Some of have questioned the “claim that particular qualities of place such as coolness, openness and social diversity exert a causal influence on the flows of talent on city-regions” (Wolfe and Gertler, 17). There also has been growing criticism to his theory in that it is based on a “greater bifurcation in the distribution of jobs within the occupational structure of urban centres and the income flows that flows from that bifurcation (ibid, 17). As a result, there has been growing income inequality and economic segregation in cities.

Florida recognized that his theory was problematic and addressed those flaws in his book “The New Urban Crisis”. He recognizes an increasing inequality and segregation in the formerly stable middle-income neighbourhoods, (Florida, 2017, 9), similar to what has occurred in Black suburban neighbourhoods like Little Jamaica. Wealth has only dominated in individual pockets of Toronto. They have the resources to gain access to the more desirable neighbourhoods leaving those middle-class neighbourhoods behind. In the end, businesses like Rap’s, the beauty shop or music store either struggles to survive or is gone.

Wolfe and Gertler mention the dynamism and growth of the creative industries and production of cultural products are vital to the Toronto economy. Black immigrants’ contribution from the establishment of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood, and by extension several kilometres along Eglinton West corridor, has been vital.

Systemic discrimination and anti-Black bias exacerbated through planning policies such as gentrification and the Eglinton Connects study which neglected to mention the historical importance of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood. Multi-level government inaction such as economic assistance to help Black businesses thrive during the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction. Also, while Florida recognized that there were flaws in the creative class theory in the New Urban Crisis, the effects of income inequality and economic segregation reverberate throughout the community. Yet, Florida still ascribes to and refuses to detract from his theory. Immigrants play a minor role in contributing to the city’s economic vitality. His generalization of immigrants and lax policies from an economist standpoint is considered as an anti-Black bias.

Black Urbanism TO’s hard work and efforts TO, with the support of Toronto’s Anti-Black Racism Unit and several councillors, shone the light on the hurtful discriminatory policies that have besmirched the Black community for decades. With the recent announcements of grant funding from the Federal and municipal governments, it ensures that there is corrective action is made and that Black entrepreneurs and the Black arts and culture are uplifted to allow for the Eglinton West corridor and for Little Jamaica to thrive and preserve its history for years to come.

In conclusion, Wolfe and Gertler’s theory was inclusive. They solely recognized the contributions immigrants made on the Canadian economy – Black immigrants included. Richard Florida’s creative class theory is problematic. It does not recognize the contributions of Blacks on the economy of the city-region. Black leaders’ efforts should be recognized and incorporated by public administrators and academia alike as a template on how an inclusive economy is vital for society.

Black Urbanism TO, Soca and Open Architecture Collaborative Canada. (2020). Report: A Black Business Conversation on Planning and the Future of Black Business and Residents on Eglinton Avenue West. Retrieved on February 20, 2021.
City of Toronto Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit (2021). 2021 Work Plan Priorities – Year Three (January to December 2021). Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
City of Toronto (July 24, 2020). City of Toronto commits more than $1.2 million in cultural and economic investments to confront anti-Black racism. Retrieved on February 20, 2021.
City of Toronto (2017). Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism. Retrieved on November 15, 2020.
Florida, Richard (2017). Canada’s New Urban Crisis. Martin Prosperity Institute. Retrieved on February 22, 2021.
Florida, Richard (2003). Cities and the Creative Class. City and Community 2(1) 3-9.
Gertler, Meric (2001). Flows of People, Capital and Ideas. Isuma. Autumn 2001. 119-130.
Vincent, Donovan (November 8, 2018). Census map shows Black people live in ‘segregated’ Toronto, professor says. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
Gertler, M. S., Wolfe, D. A., & Tremblay, D. (2016). Growing Urban Economies: Innovation, creativity, and governance in Canadian city-regions. In Growing urban economies: Innovation, creativity, and governance in Canadian city-regions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Anti-Black Racism Leadership Organizational Change, Justice and Leadership Social Planning and Equity

Organizational change must include equity and inclusion

I am nearing the end of completing graduate courses in the Masters of Public Administration in Local Government at Western University.  I began the program in 2015 having taken a sabbatical in 2016 due to personal circumstances only to return in 2020. Although I have saved some money from not travelling back and forth to London, learning in an online environment has been highly challenging.  Certainly, several of the other students in my cohort have felt the same.

Image courtesy of IPAC

At the same time, it has allowed me to focus on professional development racial equity and organizational change management and leadership. The latter has been a passing interest of mine for well over a decade. Now it has become a passion. My purpose is still to lead change with a racial equity lens.  Over the last few months, while being immersed in 5 courses, I attended several webinars related to racial equity and organizational change: the Institute of Public Administration (IPAC) Leadership Summit and American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Annual Conference.

The effervescent Daniele Zanotti, the CEO of United Way of Greater Toronto, moderated one of the panels at the IPAC Leadership that related to putting an effective EDI Strategy into action.  The panel consisted of Nosa Era-Brown, Dr. Malinda Smith and Nouman Ashraf.

A two-word phrase from Nouman Ashraf resonated with me: culture collaboration.  Cultural fit or adds, have been problematic as they are known to expose conscious or unconscious biases. Some organizations, as part of their inclusion efforts are recognizing the need for collaboration.  There is proof that inclusiveness at an organization enhances performance and employee career longevity. Many organizations rely on multidisciplinary teams comprised of a collective of women and men, those from racialized communities, and are intergenerational.  Organizations should be moving away from partnerships to influencing and shaping cultural collaboration.  Organizations should be paying close attention to their values and behaviours and backup up their commitment to improving their workplace culture by allowing for authenticity.  Leaders should showcase their organizational effectiveness.

The theme of the ASPA conference was Picking Up the Pieces: Protests, Pandemics and the Future of Public Service. 

Image courtesy of ASPA

The streams that interested me, naturally, were related to equity, inclusion and organizational change.  While this an academic conference, several presentations were relatable.  The presentations that interested me centred around the following:

  • Equity in budgeting
  • Representative bureaucracy and organizational performance
  • Employee outcomes of working remotely
  • Structural inequity in the public sector
  • Cross-sector collaboration
  • Diversity and inclusion in city management

 Some takeaways from these sessions were that:

  • The politics-administration dichotomy must be rethought.  There is a disconnect from public value and the politics, especially where inclusion and equity are concerned
  • Reframe budget submissions to include equity.  A perfect example is in policing.  Rather than the full-out “defund the police” narrative, look at each item in the police budget to determine where the most money is spent. Then determine if that money can be spent in other areas such as community and social services.
  • As with my earlier point, organizational performance thrives when equity and inclusion are part of the equation.  It is not about “fit” anymore.
  • Equity initiatives must reach up, down and outside of the organization.  Community engagement is just as crucial as having CAOs/City Managers understand and trained on the importance of equity, inclusion and justice within the various government agencies.

Overall, organizational change that includes equity and inclusion is a long-term process.  It requires the commitment of political and administrative leaders to see this through.  Justice does not end until the nervousness of public managers ceases and when communities can thrive equitably. 

Anti-Black Racism Leadership Social Planning and Equity

Moving past diversity towards inclusion and racial equity

Organizations have had diversity, inclusion and equity departments for a better part of two decades. While much of the focus in our workplaces has been on the varying definitions of diversity, there has been inaction or very little action towards inclusion and equity. So how can organizations move towards inclusion and equity? We must look at the present state of diversity.

Diversity isn’t about the cultural theatrics of hosting a “Caribbean Day” or a “Filipino Day” at our workplaces or sporting events. Nor is it about “improving the numbers of traditionally underrepresented people in your workplace”. It does not provide benefits as Ely & Thomas mention in their Harvard Business Review article Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case. Furthermore, taking a “diversity and stir” approach while continuing business as usual will not spur leaps into your organizations’ financial performance or effectiveness. What matters is how an organization harnesses diversity and it’s willing to disrupt the power structure.

Sarah Mayorga, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University concluded that diversity was an ideology that enables whites to superficially commit to achieving racial justice. She states diversity dictates that intentions only really matter as opposed to outcomes and taking specific actions towards inclusion and equity. Diversity becomes about inclusion and tolerance yet not having the uncomfortable conversation of how one group is systemically privileged over another.

Mayorga mentions that diversity is a held as a commodity and pluralistic in that the latter tends to focus on representation rather than equity. There must be discussions on how equity relates to an organization’s values and culture. It is about naming oppression and racial harm, especially Anti-Black racism, in the first place rather than avoiding it.

What areas must leaders focus on?

Moving towards equity for organizations must have has multiple actions – class, building a cohesive culture, role-playing, expression, actively working against discrimination and subordination, and being open to different cultural communication styles.

Don’t be afraid to discuss social class

First, organizational leaders must talk about anti-racism and class simultaneously. The first point is obvious because it identifies the structural racism that exists and looks at ways to address it head on. The second characteristic is not so obvious to many because diversity tends to solely be focused on race, gender and ability.

In Ingram’s article The Forgotten Dimension of Diversity, “a person’s social class origins leave a cultural imprint that has a lasting effect, even if the individual gains money and status later in life”. Ingram states, for example, that those from lower-class origins are 32% less likely to become manager than those that come from higher origins.

There is a class disadvantage in management. Research has shown that representation from equity-seeking groups among their managerial peers produces more effective advocacy. Inherited privilege in the promotion process can therefore be a source of long-lasting inequities.

From an organizational perspective, while companies like Google, Facebook established employee resource groups to support employees from underrepresented groups but none mention social class.

Building a Cohesive Culture

Workers from lower social classes are more likely than those from higher ones, as Ingram posits, to “understand that their outcomes and responsibilities in the organization are interdependent with those of the people around them. Therefore, organizational culture can be strengthened by implementing strategies of social active inclusion. An example from Ingram’s article where one organization, Televerde, introduces employees to the organization through an intense socialization process. The process promotes values of caring for people, trust and courage to change, which resonates to those with social class origins.


Second, Ingram mentions role playing works to build organizational culture that support and integrate workers from lower social class origins. When those transitioning between classes, they can offer guidance to new employees from lower social classes and can make up the know-how deficit.


Third, leaders should be building trust where people can express themselves freely. This reminded me of a recent TEDx video from Jodi-Ann Burey where she states why you should not bring your authentic self to worth.

Near the end of the video, Burey stated:

Black people don’t need to be any more authentic. I will not be bringing my immigrant, disabled authentic self to work. Those of you with the power of position and the protection of your Whiteness and other societal privileges that are not earned to take that risk instead. Close the gap between what you say and how we are treated. We are told that we are to bring our whole authentic selves to the workplace.

Many publicly expressed their support for Black Lives Matter. They posted “blackout” images or posted books on Instagram promising to educate themselves on the oppression Black and other people of colour face on a regular basis, but not truly listening to their lived experiences or doing anything about it. Many fear that speaking truth to power would appear biased against whites. Instead Ruchika Tulshyan states to invite buy-in from Blacks and people of colour and listen with humility. All-white panels at conferences or in meetings to discuss racial equity is not the answer. Listen to those with the lived experiences then demonstrate how you’ve taken action.

Actively working against discrimination and subordination.

We need to confront the relationship between class and race when moving towards inclusion and equity. Leaders must learn how privilege and systems of oppression – racism, ableism, classism – operate in the wider culture. Educating themselves is on step towards transformational change. The other, as Ely and Thomas mention, is for leaders to use their personal experience to spur collective learning and systemic change. But those efforts stall. This “nervousness”that Susan T Gooden mentions in her book Race and Social Equity: A Nervousness in Government is what stifles progress.

As Gooden states in her book “it is the racial equity commitment of senior leadership that shapes and defines organizational culture, provided socialization to employees across the agency, and establishes clear norms and expectations of racial equity performance and accountability” (p 190-1).

Be open to a broad range of styles

We are aware of the stereotypes. The meek Asian woman who is told to speak up. A Black man who is told to smile more. A Latina woman who speaks with passion as someone who is too loud. Leaders who create trust and break down those barriers of discrimination, embraced the broad range of styles


Diversity must move past the business case and its pluralistic definition. Getting to equity is a long process with plenty of mistakes to be made throughout. These mistakes have been happening for the past two decades. There will be challenges from the status quo. Those who are the privileged, higher class few. In the end, organizations must innovate or they die. There are clear economic, psychological and societal benefits for organizations to become more equitable. The reckoning is here and the path to equity is surmountable, but only if leaders are willing to work to bring transformational and adaptive change towards equity.