By Jai Thade, Head of Content
In recent years, a growing number of organisations have begun to take steps to drive racial inclusion. This process was of course hastened, and its need made more widespread in the wake of George Floyd’s death and protests that followed. Over the last two years, many organisations saw the issue of anti-racism slowly creeping higher on their agendas. Unfortunately, meaningful action did not follow from this, for many organisations.
For some, it ended up being a one-off PR opportunity. Others, with more noble intentions, thought of involving their workforces. Over the last year or two, some of you may have seen anti-racism awareness sessions pop up here and there in your work calendars. For some of you, this may have been a one-off occurrence. For others, you may have attended more than one such session. “Anti-Racism training” is an endeavour that comes in many shapes and sizes and flavours.
At IDC, we’ve noticed how for many organisations the pinnacle of what they aim to achieve when it comes to anti-racist work is putting their workforce through anti-racism training.
While it is true that by conducting such training, organisations place themselves amongst the ranks of those doing relatively more than others, we must also remember that such training is merely the beginning of a long road ahead. And if organisations are truly committed to doing meaningful work in this area, they might want to consider moving their goal posts further back.
What follows is a few pointers that we’ve gleaned from our experience actually leading anti-racist interventions for organisations. We’ll look both at how such training can avoid some of the pitfalls of becoming just a tick-box exercise, as well as what needs to accompany such training for lasting change to take place.
1. Anti-racist work is an ongoing process
It is important to first remember that true anti-racist work will always be an ongoing process. It is not a one-time engagement. Organisations and their leaders must make long-term commitments. And once these commitments are made, it is crucial for monthly/quarterly/yearly reviews & evaluations of adherence to these commitments to become part of your organisation’s fabric.
Evaluations allow organisations to ask themselves simple yet important questions about the actions they’re taking like: “Is this approach working or not? Can it be tweaked to make it more effective? What else can we do instead?”. Based on these evaluations, your organisation can focus on the few things that really count, rather than pursuing redundant token/tick-box gestures which aren’t actually contributing to meaningful changes for their workforce.
2. Expect reluctance & cynicism, and prepare counters for them
There’s an important point to keep in mind when it comes to the “optics” of how the training might be perceived by your workforce, which influences their engagement with it. If you don’t manage these perceptions effectively, then the training is doomed to be largely unsuccessful.
One might think how employees belonging to racial minorities would welcome such training with open arms. However, this isn’t always the case. In the eyes of your marginalised employees, if your organisation has only paid lip service to this issue earlier and made what they perceive to be half-hearted attempts at driving racial inclusion, then expect cynicism from them.
So, what do we do about this cynicism?
First, extend respect to your employees by allowing them the space to doubt your intentions and to feel like no change will come from your actions. Engage them in an open and transparent two-way conversation, where instead of trying to convince them that they’re wrong, you recognise how their apprehensions are justified. Then, try quelling their doubts by clearly indicating how the initiative is not merely a tick-box exercise. Express the reasons underlying your organisation’s adoption of the programme (e.g. highlighting actual stories of racism from your organisation), as well as some of the objectives you aim to accomplish. This will also help when it comes to those employees who are reluctant or dragging their feet for other reasons when it comes to the initiative.
3. Focus on actions, not just information
We mentioned in the point above how you should indicate to your employees how the anti-racism initiative is not merely a tick-box exercise. One way to give credence to this is by making sure the “learning” and “awareness” aspects of your intervention are also accompanied by something that is action-based as well.
Information is just information, and its rightful place is in a database. What employees need is knowledge – where they are learning how to apply the information they’ve acquired during the training.
IDC, for instance, grounds all of its interventions (including our anti-racism programs) in the execution of small habits, which the research suggests drive sustained behaviour change. By grounding our interventions in this evidence-based approach, we’re able to increase the likelihood that our clients will see sustained and meaningful changes.
4. Not just leaders, all employees
If your anti-racist training is just limited to leaders, it is far too limited in its scope to effect meaningful change. Some organisations focus their anti-racist initiatives only on leaders, and what this doesn’t account for is the fact that the day-to-day experience of employees is not influenced by the behaviours of senior leaders as much as it is influenced by the behaviours of their peers and team members.
Employees at each level need to be educated about and empowered by the training. It is also important to set up accountability measures at every level (e.g. the regular evaluations and appraisals we spoke of earlier).
5. Focus on the “Dos”, not just the “Don’ts”
One pitfall that anti-racism initiatives may occasionally fall into is becoming too focused on the “Don’ts” – on behaviours that are wrong and which need to be reduced or avoided. While this is important, such initiatives should spend more of their time focusing on the “Dos” – what behaviours we need more of. Also, keep in mind how framing something negatively (i.e “Do X less”) rather than positively (i.e. “Do Y more”) might sometimes end up having paradoxical effects (“How to Think, Say, or Do Precisely the Worst Thing For Any Occasion” – Wegner, 2009)!
The “Dos” your intervention focuses on should ideally revolving around fostering more inclusion in general. This will allow your initiative to not just address problems of racism, but to also simultaneously address other equally pertinent issues like sexism, ageism etc. Thus, these initiatives can become opportunities for your organisations to work towards your broader inclusion goals as well.
6. Recognise its limits
As we conclude this article, the last point we want to highlight is that any anti-racism training, no matter how elaborate and intensive, can only go so far. We need to recognise that no training can cover every subtle nuance that pertains to this topic (e.g. colourism within a particular community, the experience of mixed-race individuals, the phenomenon of “brown privilege”, etc).
It is the responsibility of organisations, but also individuals, to augment such training with a personal learning journey as well. While individuals can seek out resources and have conversations, organisations should ideally provide their employees with recommended reading/viewing/listening, as well as opportunities for sharing their learnings (e.g. in the form of book/movie clubs, forums, etc).
With these points in mind, your organisation can have a more effective anti-racism journey.
To learn more about our bespoke anti-racism interventions, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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