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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 https://thecurrentmsu.com/2021/06/22/racial-imposter-syndrome/

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.

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 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. 

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.

Categories
Anti-Black Racism Governance Housing Leadership Social Planning and Equity Urban Planning

2020 Year In Review. It was one of transition.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CBYa8W9hOx8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Every year, I would write a post reviewing what transpired over the year and plans to move forward. Last year it did not happen because of a major upheaval. This year, I decided to return to the long standing tradition.

This year it is a year of transition, while remaining consistent with others. The biggest accomplishment this year was the recommencement of graduate school in September to complete the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program in Local Government at Western University. The last time I was in school was March 2016. Tragedy stuck where I lost my mother and took a lot of out of me emotionally. Now I return with greater confidence and purpose.

My research interests have slightly changed. I initially went into the program concentrating on regional transit governance. Those who have followed my blog, or those on social media, noticed my constant defense on the subject. I have been out of the transit profession for a while and the planning profession for three years and have been more focused on strategic and equitable leadership in local government. While governance remains a subject of interest from an organizational perspective, the majority of recent blog posts concentrated on racial and social equity.

This year’s international and national events surrounding addressing and eradicating racism after the deaths of innocent Black people with of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet was one factor. My post Enough is Enough from May highlighted my frustrations with systemic racism and my lived experiences navigating through White spaces in the professional world, and my own personal lived experiences from childhood to today.

Another factor was highlighted by the COVID pandemic that exacerbated the existing anti-Black racism and income gaps surrounding transit, public health and housing. Earlier this year, I contributed to an article to The Local Health Magazine where I spoke about my experience on the Jane 35, a Toronto transit bus route that traverses low-income neighbourhoods and where the hardest hit communities with COVID.

The plethora of Zoom webinars and meetings came with some positive results. One of them was meeting Carlton Eley, who provided me with some input on successfully maneuvering through the professional world focused on racial equity. I am forever grateful in him suggesting a book from Susan T Gooden titled Race and Social Equity: A Nervous Area of Government. I summarized the book in a post from the summer related to disrupting the status quo in the public sector. I will be incorporating some of her thoughts into my major research paper.

During this pandemic, I took up running as a form of physical activity in lieu of gyms being closed. As novice runner, it was more for exercise as well as visiting new neighbourhoods such as Oak Ridge and Birch Cliff in Scarborough and trails like the Finch West Hydro Corridor and the Beltline Trail.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CB-n4w8Bbqq/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
https://www.instagram.com/p/CBqdF5Nh9pI/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

But my social justice conscience went into high gear where I witnessed such disparities between the aforementioned Jane Street corridor and the Swansea neighbourhood as well as my experience seeing a makeshift encampment in Alexandra Park in Downtown Toronto. It was my last post on addressing the housing inequities in the City.

Finally, I started Urban Equity Consulting as a stop gap to find a way to work on contract developing solutions in strategic and technical urban planning and policy. But work has been scarce. It will be a placeholder to add racial and social equity to my practice once I complete graduate school and gain more experience in that area.

I predict the first half of 2021 will be more of the same, even with the discovery and distribution of vaccines among the general public. I will be graduating with a MPA degree in hand with a paper that hopes to carry me forward in my career, running a consistent 6:30 minute per kilometre pace, either continuing my practice with greater fervor or landing a full-time job – which the latter is preferred, and volunteering for causes with a strong racial equity focus.

I am looking forward to completing this transition in 2021 with greater purpose and success. Who’s ready to come for the ride? Drop me a note in the comments or follow me on my various social media channels.