Felicia: That’s the thing though, as Lauren mentioned earlier, people want to have discussions with people they trust. There can be a tendency to avoid difficult conversations because people are afraid to say the wrong thing. How can we create an environment where everyone feels psychologically safe to have courageous, authentic conversations?
Jackie: This is a difficult one. The truth is everyone defines psychological safety for themselves. As leaders, we need to be keenly aware of what type of environment and context provides safety for each person so that the conversations begin to open up. It is not a one-size-fits-all. We need to ensure our workplace is one where everyone can feel they can speak freely without retaliation and/or repercussion and that the conversations spur action. These are certainly challenging times. But we are going to come out the other side as better people — more reflective, open, vulnerable — with a better grasp on what truly matters.
My hope is that we can all be proud of how we show up every day but realize that can be hard as examples of racial and gender inequity continue to linger and systemic change comes slowly. As a leader, I concentrate on providing different avenues and opportunities for deep, important conversations to happen. I strive to be a role model of transparency, empathy, vulnerability, patience, and always try to listen deeply.
Lauren: I’d love to add a personal story as my sister, a first-grade teacher on the Race & Equity team at her elementary school, has encouraged me in a couple of ways. Five years ago, a University of Washington Race & Diversity Professor came to speak at her school about how to create space in the classroom where all children can feel seen and included. After the discussion, a teacher shared that they felt they were not qualified to have conversations about equality. Looking forlorn, the Professor responded, “Why does it always have to be me? I’m tired of it always being me, and I need help.” It brings me to a quote from Beverly Daniel Tatum, in her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” She describes the “ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. [...] Unless [we] are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt, unless they are actively anti-racist, they will find themselves carried along with the others.”
Both of these references encourage me to create the space to have conversations I was never taught to lead. I think about that UW Professor whenever I feel I’m not in my element, that it shouldn’t have to be people of color leading all conversations about Equality. I reflect on how easy it is to perpetuate systemic racism and decide daily that if it’s not something I am willing to be apart of, I need to move in the opposite direction. We can create an inclusive environment to have brave, authentic conversations when we ourselves are brave and authentic. When someone else’s experience or someone else’s starting line looks different from our own — our reaction should be to educate ourselves, listen, and understand that privilege is a reality and being an active advocate is the only pathway to change.