Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Role-playing

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.

Expression

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

Conclusion

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.