How can we help each other learn about equity?

You’ve been in one of those meetings when someone asks, “What does equity mean?” And then silence fills the room.

That silence happens not because we don’t have insights to share, but often because we don’t feel safe sharing them. We worry about being judged as ill-informed, uncaring, or worse.

If we are going to create equity within our workplace and our community, we need to make learning about equity feel safe.

A few weeks ago an unknown co-worker drew a colorful rendition of an equity tree on the wall in our reception area (we painted the wall with IdeaPaint, so it functions as a white board).

fair just tree chairI can’t walk by without thinking about the words “a fair and just workplace for all,” and the challenge these words present. How do we create a fair and just workplace?

What a marvelous question to ponder. So I do. And I appreciate that a co-worker has caused me and others to reflect and talk about equity in our workplace.

Building Equity and Opportunity is one of Dow Constantine’s priorities. It’s central to how we want to influence our community and our workplace. These equity infographics help visualize the challenge of equity in terms of people, place, and opportunities in our region. But I feel like I’m flying 30,000 feet above the issue.

How can I bring the dilemma of inequities closer in?

In a recent The Power of Stories to Shape Organizational Results class, we explored what we mean by equity stories. One participant shared that equity stories are about empathy. They help us learn about other peoples’ experiences. But not just head-learning. Heart-learning. Through an equity story we learn the facts and details of someone else’s experience; and we feel their struggle, their vulnerability, their anger, shame, despair, and sometimes hope.

Structuring a conversation as dialogue can help us share our equity stories in more open, honest ways. We need to listen with curiosity, rather than judgement. These Guidelines for multicultural interactions can help set up healthy group norms to hold these challenging conversations.

Here are some questions and resources you might consider by yourself, or better, with a group, to learn from different perspectives and stories about equity.

  • What do we mean by equity? And what’s the relationship between equity and equality? Here’s a useful picture.
  • How does equity show up in our workplace?
  • What equity blinds spots do we have? Take an implicit bias test to find out about your implicit associations related to race, gender, sexual orientation, weight, self-esteem, and even presidential preferences.
  • Now that you/we have more insight into your/our biases (we all have them to varying degrees), what can you/we do to manage them?
  • At Facebook, they discuss equity in similar, yet different terms than we do here at King County. What can we learn from their insights? Watch Facebook Managing Unconscious Bias. This two hour training video looks at the importance of being aware of our unconscious biases related to gender, race, and performance in the workplace. Thanks for sharing your corporate resources online with the rest of us Facebook!
  • Watch The Danger of a Single Story, a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  Given the danger of operating by a single equity story, what are the various equity stories we want/need to pay attention to in order to create the quality of fairness and justice that we seek in the workplace and in our community?
  • Read and discuss Letter to My Son, an article adapted from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me, about the dangers of growing up black in America. And read the insightful NY Times Sunday book review Ta-Nehisi Coates’s ‘Between the World and Me’ by Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
  • Read and discuss the article Emotional Inequality: Solutions for Women in the Workplace. Could these ideas and skills help in your workplace?

If you want more tools and resources and assistance in learning about equity, contact the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice.

How are you challenging yourself and others to learn about equity today?

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