Ep #16: Suggestions for Where to Start

Thriving teams do anti-racist work. 

Good managers aim to create an environment where every member of our team can thrive. But as an industry we’ve spent too long pretending that our Black team members can thrive in the thoughtlessly-racist default culture of American companies. It’s time to change that.

In the next three episodes I’ll share how I’m thinking about this work.

Step 1 is learning. Today I want to highlight the resources that I’ve found particularly valuable in creating clear definitions of racism, anti-racism, and learning to better recognize racist policies in action at work.

If racism isn’t part of your daily lived experience and you’re not already diving in and learning, I’d like to invite you to grab one of the great resources I’ve linked to below and start shifting the lens you view the world through to include acting in deliberately anti-racist ways.


  1. Choose one anti-racism resource and read, listen or watch right now. Once you get started it’s much easier to keep going. If you’ve been putting it off, why?



Suggestions for Where to Start

Thriving teams do anti-racist work. Good managers aim to create an environment where every member of our team can thrive. But as an industry we’ve spent too long pretending that our Black team members can thrive in the thoughtlessly-racist default culture of American companies.

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Welcome to Emotional Leadership, the podcast for high achieving leaders. Because healthier emotional lives means stronger leadership, thriving teams and much bigger results.

George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Oscar Grant. Their lives and so many others have been cut unnecessarily short by horrific murders perpetrated by police officers, people hired to keep our communities safe. And this isn’t new information to anyone. It’s been happening for centuries.

It’s too easy to categorize these tragedies as “senseless violence”. But they’re not. They’re the logical and ongoing outcome of centuries of civic systems that are willing to see some people as more human than others, or more worthy than others. Of centuries of people who want to see some people as less human than themselves or less worthy than themselves. And of centuries of silence by those of us who see the problems but haven’t taken enough action to see them actually fixed.

Two weeks ago I chose not to release my own content to leave more space for black voices, indigenous voices, and others deeply impacted by systemic racism.

Last week I planned to highlight those BIPOC voices. But as I listened to the episode I’d recorded, something felt wrong. It was fueled by guilt and awkwardness. I didn’t want to take up space from that set of emotions.

So today, I want to share with you some resources that have helped me over the last few weeks create mental models for what anti-racism is, how racist and anti-racist policies affect my company and co-workers, and how to use the heavy focus on these topics in our companies right now to create meaningful improvements. I’m focusing on BIPOC voices, but the scaffolded learning list I’m sharing has a number of resources authored by white allies as well.

Next episode I’ll share with you some of my own experiences from the last few weeks in hopes that they’ll help you find the thoughts and emotions you need to to stay engaged – to have the conversations that are uncomfortable, to hold your company’s leaders and your government’s leaders accountable for the long-overdue work of anti-racism, and to commit to the marathon it will take to see real change – not the intermittent sprints of outrage that die down when we get busy with something else.

And two episodes from now I’ll share the understanding that I’m developing of what “good” looks like for managers who want to help every member of their team thrive, and talk about the changes that need to happen in what we hold managers accountable for at our companies.

I’ve spent the last few years turned more inwards than I’d like to admit. I’ve grown tremendously from that work on myself and I’m happy that I took that time to create a sustainable foundation for my leadership and how I live. But now it’s time to take that growth and understanding and use it to fuel meaningful, sustainable action on the changes I think are most important in the world around me.

I hope you stand and do the same work in every part of your life.

This includes, for me, no longer being patient with the slow progress of dismantling racist policies in our national, municipal, and global governments, of ensuring every one of my colleagues has a great experience at work, of increasing the diversity of our tech workforce, and especially its leadership, along so many axes, and with re-building our communities into places where every person in them is set up to thrive.

We are all leaders. And leading means being willing to go first, to set a vision others don’t see or believe fully yet, and to step outside the status quo to bring that vision to life. It means not waiting until we’re 100% sure how what we say will be received.

If, like me, many aspects of your identity come with lots of privilege, I’d encourage you to start by learning from the folks who’ve already been leading the work of dismantling racism for a long time.

As you know, racism hasn’t suddenly been discovered as a new and shocking problem. This isn’t greenfielding. There’s a lot of good groundwork already laid, and most of us need to start by learning more about it. Re-inventing the wheel actually helps us stay in our comfort zones because we get to expand them slowly. They only expand as fast as we can think up new ideas and we’re not getting exposure to a lot of new things. But all that work I did while I was turned inwards the past few years? It set me up for stepping into the wildly uncomfortable. I want you to join me.

It may be very uncomfortable to admit, even to ourselves, that we’ve been silent and disengaged while these atrocities continue. But I know the only way I can make a real contribution is by being continuously willing to face that discomfort, and shame, and guilt. And then moving past them into long-term commitment and work. There are actionable tips for doing just that in the Scaffolded Anti-Racism Resources google doc linked in the shownotes.

I’ve had the standard high level of knowledge of what systemic racism is and how it shows up in my country. But in order to really make a difference we each need to understand it much more deeply. In order to fix the damage it’s created to the fabric of society and to millions of individual lives we need to understand what exactly that damage is and the mechanisms of how it’s perpetuated generation after generation. I hope the resources I share in this episode will help you with that the way they’re helping me. And I hope that you’ll take that knowledge and your own understanding of what good leadership and good management look like and hold the companies and organizations around you to a much higher standard.

I’m going to break these resources down into three categories, I suggest you think about your learning in, because I think having structure is useful (if you haven’t noticed). And I’m going to keep the recommendations short and sweet because I want you to get started instead of spending time deciding where to start.

The first is the definitions of racism and anti-racism. The second is history. And the third is understanding the day-to-day experience of your black co-workers.

For definitions of racism and anti-racism, read Professor Ibram X Kendi’s book How to Be an Anti-Racist.

Two key concepts from it that I want to highlight here:

  • Racist and anti-racist are behaviors, not personality traits. Someone is acting in a racist way if they are acting in a way that supports policies or processes that decrease equality between different racial groups. Even if this is through inaction. Someone is acting in an anti-racist way if they are acting in ways that increase equality between racial groups. This definition was really helpful for me for 2 reasons: one, it helps us phrase feedback in a way that we’ve learned to phrase all the other kinds of feedback we give our team members or the people around us. To talk about the behavior not the person. And in this case we talk about racist and anti-racist behaviors, not racist or anti-racist people. The second thing I really like about it is that it gives such a clear definition. It actually takes intention entirely out of the discussion. The question becomes “Are you acting in a way that supports policies or processes that decrease equality between different racial groups even through inaction?” And when I look at the organizations I’ve been part of, that I’ve worked for, I can see a lot of ways that through inaction I supported policies that if I’d looked at them a little bit more deeply, did not work to increase equity between racial groups either within our company or to ensure that more folks got hired in.
  • The second part of the book that I want to highlight for you – I love Professor Kendi’s analogy that telling someone their behaviour is racist is like giving them a diagnosis with a disease. The disease is treatable, and it’s medical malpractice for a doctor to not tell a patient promptly and clearly what their diagnosis is. I want us all to work in companies where our co-workers can tell us promptly and clearly that a behaviour was racist, and instead of feeling that we’ve been told we’re a bad person we thank them for the feedback and take steps to change those actions. This process doesn’t have to be full of drama and I love the way Professor Kendi explains it to help make that far more understandable.

The other fantastic resource I’d put in this category is the Scaffolded Anti-Racist Resources list I mentioned earlier. It gives clear descriptions of the 7 stages of anti-racism, how to identify where you are right now, and specific recommendations that will help you move from your current stage to the next one.

And finally surgeon Andrew M Ibrahim put together a simple graphic that I’m using as a checklist for ensuring I’m acting in anti-racist ways.

For US history, consider the 1619 Project Podcast. It walked through the history of slavery in the United States.

Activist Kimberly Jones also has a short 7 minute video where she gives a fantastic analogy of how the systemic racism of the past four centuries has put many of today’s black Americans at a massive financial disadvantage.

For learning about the lived experiences of your teammates, I’ve found NPR’s CodeSwitch podcast to be enlightening. It’s one I’ve listened to for a while now and really enjoyed. I think you’ll like it, too. I also found two short articles by Kaya Thomas and Jada Monique to have great reminders about stereotype threat and the “pipeline problem” fallacy.

Finally, articles by Jason Brooks and Bobby Earles have detailed, actionable steps you can take to be a better ally at work. And especially to be an ally that goes beyond talking about why diversity matters to personally driving inclusion and career success for your black and under-represented teammates.

If you have other resources you love, I’d love to hear from you. I look forward to taking this journey together to make our companies truly anti-racist and to make them places where everyone is supported by their leaders to thrive. That’s what this podcast has been about and that’s how it’s going to stay.

See you next week.

If you loved this episode and want to dive deeper into improving your own emotional health so you can feel better and have bigger results at work, you have to join me for a one-on-one call. We’ll talk about where you are, where you want to be, and create a solid plan to get from here to there. Just visit go.exceptional.vision/call. See you there!