Are you about to go public with your racial equity initiative? Develop these 7 capacities first.

Organizations that jump right into public action waving their racial equity or “We are anti-racist” banner tend to make big mistakes. Based on my experience, there are seven capacities that organizations need to do effective, sustainable equity work. These capacities should be in place before making public proclamations. Do the internal work before going public.


Where is your organization in building these capacities?


A racial equity framework. You need to adopt a framework. What is your organization’s explanation of why racial equity matters? Your framework should include a historical and place-based analysis that names structural racism, how your work disrupts it, and your connection to the community. (Here’s an excellent example from Funders Together to End Homelessness.)


Look inward as a practice. By looking inward, I mean managers, directors, and those with decision-making power need to actively examine their behavior. To look inward means asking for feedback from staff and then actively addressing their concerns by creating policies, systems and procedures to resolve racial conflict. It also means be who you say you are. Does your organization have the capacity to handle equity issues like micro and macro aggressions, advancement pathways, and wage disparities? Systematic use of racial equity tools can help. 


A debrief culture. A precursor to looking inward is debriefing. Do you regularly debrief work? Debriefing is a critical practice to build within teams. In essence, at a project’s completion, come together and discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and where can improvements be made in the strategy, process, and final product (or outcome). Debriefing, as a practice, builds important organizational muscle for harder conversations about where, when, and how to incorporate racial equity as a practice in your work.

Build These 7 Capacities Before Going Public

Ability to adapt to change. There is an entire body of literature on adaptive leadership, but in short, adopting a racial equity perspective requires change. It is an adaptive challenge in that it “requires new learning, innovation, and new behavior.”


A learning culture. Continuous learning is an important expectation to create among staff members, mainly when there is an expectation of staff to change the way they work. Building a learning culture isn’t necessarily learning “together.” There is a place for shared learning — absolutely, but there is also personal learning that is often needed for equity work. We all have work to do in this space.


Time. This work takes time. There is no way around that. Staff often need time to build critical relationships, to learn, and to practice applying a racial equity perspective to their work. Equity as a practice will always get pushed off the table due to time constraints. Always. Organizations that work at a faster pace –as a norm– can hardwire equity-centered practice into their decision-making processes.


Money. Equity work requires resources. Compensate staff who are leading equity-centered projects. Although my start in diversity, equity and inclusion work was an “other duties as assigned,” situation, it isn’t. Effective racial equity leadership requires its own set of skills and compensation. Sometimes staff need professional development, coaching, books, and other resources to do their jobs from an equity perspective. Other times, you’ll need a consultant to help chart a pathway forward. All of this takes resources and not just for the programmatic work but for all of the capacities mentioned here.

Of these capacities, where might your organization need to do intentional work before going public? Get to it. There’s not one minute to waste.

Author: Joanna Shoffner Scott
Dr. Joanna Shoffner Scott is an experienced management consultant specializing in helping organizations realize their racial equity aspirations. She has consulted with more than 50 organizations in the public and private sectors. Clients and former clients include organizations from workforce development, research, public policy, social services, place-based community sector collaboratives, government agencies, and philanthropies. She is the founder and Principal of Stamey Street Consulting Group. Joanna helps organizations move forward who are stuck in their racial equity journey.