Associate Program Officer
Greater Rochester Health Foundation
The illusion of inclusion is defined as the “sometimes subtle ways that standards can appear to address race while at the same time marginalizing people of color,” (Heilig et al 2012) or as I like to say, an organization’s inability to engage in authentic practices. For example, many organizations have a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategy but have no or very few Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) staff or leadership representation. The illusion of inclusion also occurs when it is assumed that the voices and opinions of team members of color are valued and respected; external appearances are often very different than internal realities.
When thinking about equity and justice, funders should ask themselves if we are operating from an authentically inclusive space—or under the illusion of inclusion. I would argue that when funders fail to engage in authentic practices, we act as pillars that uphold the very systems that we fight so hard to dismantle. Unfair and unjust practices impact the psychological safety of our BIPOC colleagues, who often find themselves “working while wounded.”
Imagine showing up to work with an uneasy feeling. You have noted unfair and unjust treatment in your workplace, but nothing is done about it. When our BIPOC colleagues do not feel seen, heard, or valued they are less likely to see themselves as influencers and change agents to the organizational culture. This creates feelings of distrust and resentment. They lose faith in the organization’s ability to be transparent and authentic which then impacts the morale and culture of the organization. This does not just impact the promotion and retention rates of our BIPOC colleagues, but also negatively impacts their spirits, decreasing their confidence and mental and emotional well-being. For many, this is experienced as racialized trauma.
To ensure that racial equity and justice is not another trendy topic of discussion at the water cooler, we as funders must do internal work to support equitable and just practices and weigh ourselves on the scale of accountability. There is no gray area in the fight against inequity and injustice. Our white colleagues should understand their positions of power and privilege; understand how to reflect, filter, and strategize through an antiracist lens; and structure positions, roles, and responsibilities using an antiracist approach.
How do we create an inclusive workspace where BIPOC colleagues are safe and can thrive?
We can start by listening, learning, and implementing. We must listen to the experiences of those most impacted, learn from the mistakes of the past, and implement as suggested by those most impacted. Our white colleagues need to leverage their privilege in support of their BIPOC colleagues. White leadership must share power and become intentional when implementing DEI and racial equity standards. These standards must be included in our mission, vision, and values; reinforced in our day-to-day operations and behaviors; supported by our BIPOC colleagues; and championed by all staff.
As you embark on racial equity and justice in your organizations, start by answering the following questions and then holding yourselves accountable:
- What steps has your organization taken to become an antiracist organization?
- What are the organization’s racial equity and justice goals?
- Do the organization’s mission, vision, values, and practices represent and support the organization’s racial equity and justice goals?
- Does the organization have intentional recruiting, hiring, and retention practices, including pay equity?
- What are the internal experiences of your BIPOC colleagues?
- What is the hiring and retention rate of BIPOC staff?
- What are the opportunities for growth and advancement for BIPOC staff?
- Are the executive team, board, and staff diverse and representative of the communities that you are funding?
- Does your organization have a clear and concise DEI plan that is routinely reviewed and updated?
- How do your white colleagues leverage their privilege?
We should be asking our BIPOC colleagues about their experiences of our organizational culture; encouraging our white colleagues to leverage their privilege in support of necessary changes; and ensuring that foundation leaders revisit and refine internal policies, procedures, and practices. In the end, equity, justice, and accountability begin at home. It is our responsibility to set an example for the communities and initiatives we fund. If we don’t do this work, we continue to operate under an illusion.
Heilig, J. (2011, November 30). The illusion of inclusion: A critical race theory textual analysis of race and standards. Retrieved May 03, 2021