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How to Face the Racism in your Organisation - and Change it

We have been journeying at Untapped AI. From a place of silence, into anger, confusion, guilt and shame. To a place of opening up – where anger is voiced, conversations began. Then workshops, open meetings, awareness-building.

I attended one of our internal sessions, run by a black coach within the organisation. I thought about the racism I saw at my university, where the number of black students was shockingly low. I thought about how to act now, ten years later, in ways that I didn’t then. I undertook an implicit bias test, and was brought face to face with the racism I unconsciously carry around with me, and have done all my life (see the resources section for a link.)

This is so uncomfortable, so difficult. This feels new, and hard – and vital. Few times have felt so fertile for real systemic change. Yet there is a huge risk as the enormity of what now needs to happen begins to sink in. The risk that we are overcome by the difficult work that has to follow, that we fall away, avoid it. After the shock of the Black Lives Matter protests the headlines are waning, moving onto another in a long line of disasters and crises, the lifting of lockdowns, floods and narcissists.

If you lead people, now is the time that really matters. There were many words as the BLM protests swept around the world. Companies leapt to order internal reviews, create flashy adverts and social campaigns, hastily wrote new diversity policies. But these old superficial actions will no longer cut it. Organisations have had diversity policies, officers, departments for years – and things have not changed, not really. Turning those words into effective actions takes time and work, and that is only just beginning.

At Untapped, change is what we do. For years we have been helping individuals and organisations to face hard truths, understand the implications, investigate and communicate, and build new behaviours. So we know the outlines of how this might look, how it might go. And yet we are seeing now how hard it is, as we journey within ourselves and as a community in facing racism.

Here’s how that path might look:

Facing the truth

As a white person, this will be painful. It means facing up to your unconscious bias, the implicit racism that travels through cultures often without language, or even conscious awareness. It also requires us to face the white privilege that we benefit from every day, and have done every day of our lives. To investigate it. Shame will often hold us back from facing these truths.

Take a pause.

Facing the truth – again

Yes, that’s right. This is not a discrete process. There is not one single training, one coaching programme, that will ‘fix’ your bias, or change you into a person without unconscious automatic thoughts and behaviours. We’re human, and we are all culturally-enmeshed, the products of a lifetime of passively-receiving messages through media, friends and family. The change comes where we recognise and accept this, and commit to getting to know these sides of ourselves better, as much as we can, over our whole lifetimes. It’s what Jung called ‘working with our shadow’ – and it is work.

You’ll probably need to take some space to reflect on what you discover within yourself.

Listening and education

Reading will help consolidate the facts and emotions of a new view of the world. Seek out black voices in the media; or take in what a black colleague or friend has to say. Listen – no, really listen. Ask questions, then reflect, and ask yourself some questions. Build this process into your way of working for the long-term: an open curiosity to the experience of others and a respect for their needs.

The next step is key. If you’re talking and listening, great, but if that’s all you’re doing then you’re still a part of the problem.

Enact change

As you learn about yourself and others, this may start to happen naturally, as you make new choices in your life. But it will probably require a more conscious effort.

If you’re a leader, it’s time to step up: Build new structures in your team or organisation. It’s almost certain that black people are under-represented in management and C-Suite levels in your company. Be bothered to find out why: This will begin with uncomfortable conversations within the organisation. Bear in mind that black colleagues may not want to talk about this to begin with. Some of their experiences are very painful and somewhat traumatic. Take time and patience to hear their specific experiences so you are able to pinpoint where these show up systematically within your organisational structure. Understand, and work to create an ethos of psychological safety, openness and compassion in which issues can be voiced honestly and feedback is received with integrity and empathy.

Out of this, commit to action and start to take steps. Create new hiring practices. You will probably need new policies. It is increasingly recognised that any effective Inclusion & Diversity approach will encompass elements of mental health and wellbeing. If these elements aren’t yet joined-up and foregrounded in your organisations’ way of working, then the combination of BLM and Covid-19 means that now is the time when you must make that change – or be left behind.

Recognise the leaders in your organisation who are cultivating inclusive and open teams. Nurture them: These are the leaders who will not only create space for the honest conversations needed at this moment, but also unleash the innovative potential of a truly diverse workforce.

We at Untapped are journeying in this alongside our clients, recognising the ways we could do better and starting to build policies and procedures to ensure black people and their voices are represented and heard in our organisation. Transparency is a key part of that process for us.


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