Sustaining momentum post-“awakening”
Right after George Floyd was murdered by police in May of 2020, my email was blowing up. My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing with alerts that another organization was looking for help with antiracism. It was encouraging to see the increase of interest.
I was excited, but I was also wary. How long would the fervor last?
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised that the demand continued into 2021. It’s definitely quieter now. Have you noticed the dip as well? I’m guessing if you are a DEI consultant you may have noticed the inquiries slowing down. If you are the DEI director at your organization, you’re probably having a harder time getting people to show up to meetings to tackle those long term projects you started in 2020/21. It might also be harder to get the necessary money approved for those projects.
It raises a painful question: As a society, do we require an ongoing series of horrific incidents and sensational headlines in order to maintain the momentum of antiracism work? I hope not. But, how do we keep the work going? Do organizations have the stamina to follow through with changes when they don’t always see visible progress within a few quarters—and when opposition begins to regain traction? How do we keep folks engaged and committed to this work for the long haul? Particularly people who may not feel directly impacted.
If we knew that trick, of course, we would have dismantled racism long ago. My advice for leaders in times like this, when external pressure has lightened somewhat and the momentum is coasting, is to ground yourself in your sphere of influence. Ask yourself, where can I have some impact? Take stock of what’s happening in your organizational culture and evaluate where you have influence to make change.
Schedule time on your calendar to examine the systemic issues within your organization. Do a data dive: what is the distribution of employees of color within your hierarchy? Are they disproportionately at junior levels? What are you doing to advance people from marginalized groups? Is the rate of turnover in your organization higher for people of color? Do a DEI audit of your policies and practices to see if they’re equitable. Take the pulse of employees with surveys; see how they’re experiencing the environment, and be sure to obtain anonymized demographics so you can look for disparate impact on people of color. Include some qualitative data—try to get some stories from people. You might find insights that can serve as internal pressure to take to senior leadership.
I see some of this happening within our client organizations, and it gives me hope. The inquiries we receive these days tend to be more serious, more thoughtful, reflecting a deeper level of commitment. Motivated by clarity about the evidence of systemic racism and inequity inside their organizations, our clients are determined to make change and are engaging in the hard work of getting it done.
Antiracism work is not only important, but it takes time, attention, and focus. Don’t wait until the next crisis to start again. Let’s maintain the momentum.