Moving Toward Racial Equity Through Learning
Jul 20, 2020 | Atlanta, GA
Achieving racial equity in the workplace will be one of the most important issues institutions must tackle.
The Office of Institute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion continues to sponsor learning-driven experiences through a variety of channels to lead the Georgia Tech campus toward a more diverse and inclusive culture.
The culture of our richly diverse campus cannot be defined by whiteness or white cultural norms, where people of color have to try to fit in to feel comfortable. Instead, today’s racial equity and inclusion strategies must focus on transforming our culture to fit all. To move toward racial equity and full inclusion for the marginalized, such as Black employees, our organizational culture must prioritize our common humanity. Workers deserve the dignity of having their histories and lived experiences acknowledged. Fairness, diversity, and inclusion must be the values that guide who we are and how we do business. Faculty and staff must be able to bring their whole and authentic selves to any role at Tech and thrive. To this end, greater participation in learning is crucial. And there are many ways to learn.
The Staff Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement (SDIE) team has introduced a series of learning events that started in June and will continue through September to engage the campus in collectively processing historical events in the context of race relations and social change. Our methods are based on inquiry and self-reflection in this moment of upheaval and change.
Intergroup dialogue is an educational and community building method that brings people from diverse backgrounds and varied cultural identities together to engage in processing issues or learning together. It involves perspective sharing, listening, and exploring issues that affect all of us, albeit differently. This serves the work of shifting the culture by promoting improved collective understanding and experiences.
The dialogues are designed to provide safe, supportive spaces to respectfully reflect on issues through the lens of participants. Through sharing, listening, and facilitated inquiry, participants process whatever emerges in the space. It is mindful, empathic communication with room for both shared and divergent experiences and ideas. We gain insights through our participation. In so doing, we strengthen our collective and individual capacity as agents of social change.
Decision-making can be stressful. Ruminating over decisions invariably takes up valuable psychic energy. Stress, anxiety, and fear can cloud our ability to make rational decisions. One of the top reasons executives and other leaders seek coaching is to create the space to speak vulnerably and vocally about decisions they need to make. Coaching tools help clients identify blind spots, move around mental blocks, or other inhibitions that may be getting in the way of them making their best choice. In coaching sessions, clients have the opportunity to gain clarity about who they are, who they want to be, and how they will make their moves based on the insights generated in the coaching sessions.
Individual coaching is an intensely personal experience driven by the clients’ agenda for learning and growth. It is unstructured, informal conversation that depends on the coach skillfully asking questions and the client answering questions honestly and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. True coaching isn’t mentoring or giving advice.
Clients of group coaching benefit from peer learning with one another, often referred to as the collective wisdom of the group. It provides exploration in a safe, facilitated space, highlighting practices that best serve an institution’s values and goals. Group coaching provides a space for centering, affirmation, or pivoting. It can be an ongoing transformative conversation that supports change over time with a team.
In these sessions, certified coaches lead from their core coaching skills, around topics of central importance to meeting organizational goals such as race relations, bias and bias resilience, or inclusive leadership. Participants are coached on behavioral norms and goal setting related to the topic, and actions to take for deepening self-awareness around key issues. Often, the coaching is behavior-based practice focusing on internal commitments or transitions that align with external goals.
Training is about the transfer of knowledge. It is typically done in a structured, formal setting and depends on telling more than asking. It has targeted learning objectives about a specific topic or skill.
The goal of training is for learners to remember knowledge so they can apply it. The challenge is that most don’t remember very well.
Since training is not enough, coaching is one way to address the reality that even the smartest employees will sometimes simply not absorb valuable information.
Training isn’t a panacea for the work ahead. And coaching, applied without a foundation of basic prior knowledge, won’t be successful either. As an intellectual community, we know that effective information retention and practice requires many options. With the combination of intergroup dialogue and coaching, we are likely to see a much greater return.
SDIE will continue to offer community dialogues, storytelling, and listening events for faculty and staff. These interactive learning opportunities are designed to support self-reflection, self-generated insights, and a pathway to mutual understanding. Our ability to learn together will ultimately lead us to our best thinking — together — as we reimagine our culture.
Regardless of the method, education without accountability simply does not work. As we move forward in reimaging Georgia Tech and all that it can be for the world, learning must be linked to performance outcomes. Failure will only hold us back at a time when we can’t afford to delay.
SDIE has a number of upcoming community dialogues and coaching opportunities for faculty and staff:
- Group and Individual Coaching Sessions: https://sdie.gatech.edu/culture-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-and-leadership-coaching
- Inclusive Leaders Academy Community Dialogue, July 29: https://sdie.gatech.edu/inclusive-leaders-academy-community-dialogue-july-29-2020
- White Fragility: When a Spoon Full of Sugar Isn’t Quite Enough, July 31: https://sdie.gatech.edu/white-fragility-when-spoon-full-sugar-isnt-quite-enough