The 7 Hallmarks of an Antiracist Organization
Shortly after our inboxes were flooded with Covid strategy emails from every brand on earth, it seemed that every company suddenly aspired to prove its non-racist status. Even companies that furloughed or fired their diversity teams at the start of the pandemic released Black Lives Matter (BLM) statements in response to the racial uprisings following George Floyd’s lynching. Unfortunately, posting a BLM statement is the lowest bar for inclusion and corporate antiracism. Simply having a BLM statement and no antiracist action to back it up is tantamount to corporate Blackwashing. The world is looking for evidence of your sustained inclusion efforts and a track record of being a good actor in your community. If you don’t have that track record, it’s time to build one. I presently ask all of my clients whether they want to lead antiracist organizations or not. It’s not a trick question. If leadership has no desire to shift or pivot toward antiracism, that is their prerogative. A focus on sustainable justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) strategies is sufficient. However, the timing has never been better to take a morally and socially accountable stance in service of the restored humanity and rights of BIPOC communities. The organizations that make this shift expeditiously and intentionally will be the clear winners on all fronts long after the largest Civil Rights movement in world is archived in the annals of history. Here’s what it takes to create sustained, accountable, and impactful antiracist organizations.
1. Antiracism starts with leadership
This may seem obvious, but consider the implications. Many organizations are taking on antiracist actions because employees and communities are applying pressure. The focus on antiracism must be supported at the highest levels of the organization in order to maintain momentum and ensure accountability and impact. The efforts will require resources and prioritization that only leadership can approve. This includes both the board of directors and the executive team. Whether we are talking about engaging BIPOC communities more equitably or establishing community level reparations, leadership must be on board and heavily involved. Antiracist organizations have board and senior level champions spearheading all or part of their inclusion agenda.
2. Antiracist organizations listen to staff
We are already seeing the early indications of brands that rushed to support BLM with their inclusion statements now being discredited by the confessions of BIPOC employees with tales of racism and discrimination. It’s pointless to come out in favor of Black Lives Matter when your track record within your organizational culture belies evidence that your Black employees don’t matter. Whether you have piles of complaints about racism and discrimination or not, now is the time to ask for a clean slate. Don’t get caught publicly waxing poetic about Black lives when you haven’t bothered to ask your employees of color how you could be doing better. Believe me, they have all kinds of suggestions. No one has really wanted to hear them until now. Antiracist organizations continually solicit feedback from all employees and are intentional about hearing from and responding to the needs of underrepresented groups.
3. Examine the intersection of racism and industry
Regardless of how white your region, staff, industry or leadership might be, there is always a relationship between business and racism. The intersection of industry and race is often rooted in deep, historical trauma and therefore extremely difficult to digest. But it’s time that all leaders eat their cultural veggies and take the necessary deep-dive into the historical roots of their industries and the current trauma that continues to be inflicted on communities of color. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet of sample industries and concepts to look into. The list of industries is too long to capture here, so if I missed yours, google [your industry] +racism — and get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Antiracist organizations understand the history of racism, discrimination, and harm to people of color caused by their companies or industry.
Real-Estate Development and Housing: Redlining, low-interest home loans for white families, and housing discrimination created the intentional concentration of generational Black poverty.
Politics and Law: Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and voter intimidation are practices still overtly and tacitly supported by the business community––when we could use our collective economic power to demand change.
Insurance, Banking, Textiles, Manufacturing: Wealth and industry were built on free enslaved labor and convict leasing. It’s still in place today thanks to the deplorable loophole in the 13th Amendment.
Education and Generational Wealth: GI Bills (for white veterans), denying loans or offering very high interest loans to Black people, the destruction of wealthy Black neighborhoods, and the private school system have stripped many Black communities of education and wealth-building opportunities. Private schools were erected when public schools were forced to integrate. White flight to the suburbs drained the tax based and depleted resources for what became mostly underfunded, Black schools and city infrastructure.
Antiracist organizations understand the history of racism, discrimination, and harm to people of color caused by their companies or industry. They actively work to repair that damage and restore trust between their brand and BIPOC communities. Community level reparations, investment in schools, housing, community centers, BIPOC-owned businesses, empowerment programs, scholarships, paid internships, apprenticeships, etc. Myriad options exist and are only limited by a lack of creativity.
4. Hire JEDI experts
If your company specializes in antiracism, you may be able to skip this one. Plenty of antiracist organizations operated long before George’ Floyd’s murder initiated a seismic shift in the societal and institutional discourse on racism. The Equal Justice Initiative, Race Matters, Initiatives of Change, Kirwan Institute, Search for Common Ground, Color of Change, Southern Poverty Law Center, and many more work tirelessly to eradicate racism in its many guises. That said, not every business in every industry is ready or needs to pivot toward antiracism as their sole mission. Nonetheless, unless you are already JEDI experts, you probably need professional support calibrating your antiracism and equity strategy. You need need to ask the right questions and leverage proven strategies to maximize impact and efficacy.
The historical violations that have undermined the Black community’s collective ability to enjoy the American dream have rendered aspects of our existence an American nightmare.
I believe the most authentic inclusion of an antiracist agenda is one that addresses historical wrongs within said industry (and is thereby embedded in the organizational commitment to the core work) and one that deploys the substantial resources associated with corporate enterprise back into communities of color. Why does the money matter? Money matters to BIPOC communities for the same reason it matters to businesses. Money offers a path to freedom and independence. Trying to avoid the reparations conversation is insulting and inappropriate. BIPOC labor is no longer free and should not be cheap. The historical violations that have undermined our collective ability to enjoy the American dream have rendered aspects of our existence an American nightmare.
5. Interrogate truth with data
One of the things a JEDI expert should help you do is collect and analyze data in service of a quantifiable strategy. Every organization is unique, therefore each needs to have a carefully calibrated JEDI and antiracism strategy. What works for one company may not work for yours. Data analysis allows you to ascertain where to begin, what to improve, and where to focus. Initiating a strategy without relevant, measurable data leaves your organization vulnerable to false starts, nebulous direction, and ineffective tactics. Whether the focus is internal, external, or some combination of both, you need to know exactly what you are dealing with to lead effectively in the antiracist space.
6. Listen to affected communities
One of the biggest mistakes aspiring antiracist organizations make is deploying community oriented strategies without input from affected communities. “Nothing about us without us” is a key mantra to prioritize when attempting to support BIPOC communities in particular. Majority white companies, boards of directors, and leaders of any kind should never inflict their programs and policies on people without consulting them. That’s exactly what it feels like — an oppressive mandate from on high, about which we were either not consulted or inadequately consulted as a perfunctory box-checking exercise versus a desire for real input. Antiracist organizations work in tandem with the communities they serve. This way there are fewer disappointments and no surprises. When a community feels involved and engaged, it engenders trust and a sense of pride and ownership that yields exponential dividends.
7. Implement long-term antiracism strategies
No company gets to check the antiracist box by completing a single, isolated action. That’s a PR stunt. While the B Corp community may have a long way to go toward diversifying itself, there is a lot we can learn from them and from B Lab, the sector’s originators. The B Impact Assessment (BIA) is a free online tool that helps leaders calibrate and understand the environmental and community impact of their business. The BIA offers a host of questions on diversity-related topics that can shed light on organizational inclusion strengths and deficiencies. Since the overall scores affect a company’s certification status, businesses are incentivized to improve those scores over time. My JEDI company uses B Corp metrics to calibrate our global impact in an industry otherwise devoid of unified standards. Even if leaders don’t decide to certify their companies as B Corps, (a paid option after exceeding the minimum score threshold on the free assessment) they can still leverage the tool to better understand their relationship to underrepresented and historically marginalized communities.
Loom Technologies also developed a software platform to calibrate organizational culture through a JEDI lens. The tool yields a long-term diversity strategic road map that helps clients close equity gaps between employee demographics and address dozens of related culture concerns. The bottom line is that becoming an antiracist organization is not a one-shot deal. You also cannot focus externally while ignoring the plight of your BIPOC employees. If you don’t have any employees of color, you’ve got a lot of work to do. It takes time, effort, and intentionality to lead the way in equity and antiracism by getting on — and staying on — the right side of history.