I joined the Women’s March again this year in Oakland with 50,000 other women, children and men. I appreciated the call to action with a focus on midterm elections and... I think we need a much deeper conversation about leadership and democracy, who votes, who doesn’t and why (maybe next month). Being part of the march this year also caused me to reflect on an issue I have wanting to write about, #me too. It would probably be more accurate to say I have and haven’t wanted to write about it because it’s complex and emotionally triggering, as you can see from the machinations of my internal dialogue below.
Reasons not to write about #metoo
Reasons to write about #metoo
#metoo has been hijacked by Hollywood
Millions of women experience sexual harassment and violence
Tarana Burke started #metoo specifically to support women of color who survived sexual violence
Intersectionality and solidarity for the disproportional number of women of color experiencing sexual violence
It’s personal and triggering
Our daughters and the next generation
What’s it got to do with leadership?
It has everything to do with leadership
It’s hard for me to believe that most women my age do not have some #metoo stories that range from rude (and humiliating) comments to job repercussions and assault. Occasionally among friends stories are swapped, but I can honestly say that the #metoo conversation has caused me to pause and reckon with the full magnitude of the experience, personally and culturally. Days before I was supposed to graduate from college I learned that one of my professors had failed me. I had done all of the work (and quite well), but declined an invitation to his home for private tutoring (the invite was more overt than that). I went to my mentor who was chair of the department and his response... “oh, it has to be a misunderstanding, Ben and I are good friends. I am sure you can work it out.” It took me 10 years to work it out and get my record corrected and diploma issued. Of course, it was not an isolated incident, I also found myself warding off unpleasant overtures on jobs, in doctors offices, and public places.
I have been in more than one #metoo conversation when to my dismay I hear other women say things like, “I would never let any man get away with those kind of things” or “You have to think about what kind of situation you are putting yourself in.” I have to admit, I found myself uncharacteristically quiet and honestly, I felt a flush of shame wondering how my 18 year old self had been at fault or inept in my response. I am finding my voice and joining the #metoo dialogue because these conversations and the feelings that they trigger remind that we will not alter the culture of white male supremacy without talking about power, oppression and internalized oppression. So, let’s talk about the kinds of situations women are putting themselves into….going to school? to work? I will be the first to acknowledge that as a white middle class girl, not getting my degree or leaving an internship job (yes, a classic) when it got too uncomfortable did not keep me from putting food on the table.
For a lot of women, that is not the case. When I was a labor organizer, hotel and restaurant workers had horrific stories of sexual harassment and assault. Low income women workers have less job protections and less economic freedom to leave unsafe jobs. Women of color, transgender and queer women, and immigrant women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence and have good reason to fear the criminal justice system or mistrust that it will protect us. It’s not about just ‘speaking up’, it is about an abuse of power and silencing culture. I do worry that the Hollywood appropriation of #metoo will draw attention away from the work Tarana Burke has been doing for a decade to support women of color experiencing sexual violence. I hope that in the momentum created we can stand together to lift up the voices of those who are most vulnerable.
And, when I think now about what I put up with, I understand the external and internalized oppression that silenced me. People I tried to talk to at the time, both men and women, shrugged things off as “just the ways things are,” “reading into things,” “overblown and over reacting,” etc. As a young women, I internalized these messages and felt isolated in my experiences. I have talked with my daughters about how we as women should expect to be treated, enough to know that things are not all that different and, of course, the video tapes of our now president confirm this. Maybe if there is something different it is the conversation that Tarana started ten years ago to break our isolation and call out sexual harassment and assaults on women in all of its ugliness and magnitude.
What has this got to do with leadership? Lots of things. As I read about #metoo I was struck by Tarana Burke’s leadership in understanding that we heal together, and by overcoming isolation. Truth and healing are foundational to leadership. Authentic relationships are the substance of leadership. We can’t lead when women are objectified, and when the safety and dignity of women are not the concern of us all. At a meeting recently, Richard Woo, of the Russell Family Foundation told me he had been thinking a lot about #metoo and wanted to talk about what is was like for women in the workplace. I was moved by his question and concern. What a great starting place for understanding all that women are up against as they exercise leadership on the job, in schools, in neighborhoods. I hope these conversations occur in all of the spaces where we lead.
More than once I have heard the complaint that leadership program graduates, excited to apply what they are learning, often find themselves thwarted by others back at work. There are lots of reasons offered, bureaucracy, unsupportive supervisors, or lack of authority. There are also a number of remedies being tried...coaching, sessions on leading from the middle, and the recruitment of teams. These things may help, and yet until we address the most fundamental problem we are setting leadership graduates to fail, especially those from large institutions.
I found myself thinking about this when I was invited to facilitate a conversation about leadership with a department of 40 people in a large government agency of over 7,000 people. The group was dealing with an immediate crisis that was seriously impacting delivery of services. Adding to that, their division of over 400 had been without a director for many months. When invited, I was told that the biggest question plaguing the group was what to do when there is no leadership. My gut answer to what you do when there is no leadership, which of course sounds cliche without elaboration, was ‘lead!’.
I knew some of the people in the group and was scratching my head in wonder that so many people could feel stymied because one position was not filled, and I suspect they might feel the same way if the wrong person was in that position. I thought of leadership program graduates who express a similar sentiment. Why? It’s kind of a ‘catch 22’. Most leadership programs are still based on a ‘leader’ model, developing/training/preparing individuals with the skills to lead others. In the leader/follower model, if you are not the leader you are the follower and many leadership program participants return to professional contexts where others have more authority than they do. Granted most leadership programs acknowledge that leadership is not necessarily ‘positional’ at the same time they are promoting a model that is inherently hierarchical based on leadership ‘over’ others rather than ‘with’ others. LLC’s point of view, which I think bears repeating, is that we need a more expanded understanding of leadership as the process by which many people take action and learn together. I was curious to see what shifts if you reinforce an expanded view of leadership as a process rather than the lone actor.
I began the conversation with the group by sharing a couple of slides to reinforce the shifting leadership paradigm that recognizes the potential for leadership in everyone and the power of connected action. The deck included an example of what an informal network had been able to accomplish in the area of health innovation. Some of the slides are available here, although any reference to the agency has been removed. After a brief presentation, the group was moved into small groups to discuss the crisis and possible actions that they could take based on their connections with each other and with people outside of their division who could be tapped to help. The group was able to generate a lot of creative and actionable solutions that did not require a director or formal channels. What remains to be seen now is who among the group has the agency to step up and move the ideas forward after years of abdicating leadership to the formal positional leader. It is a leadership mindset shift that requires thinking differently about power and networks, and how things get done and about who can lead. These are questions rarely answered through organization charts in large institutions.
Without challenging the dominant individually centered model of leader, leadership programs are subtly preparing graduates to lead over or abdicate their leadership and be led. Instead, leadership programs can be helping individuals and groups understand network leadership to connect and lead with others across a variety of contexts, including bureaucracies.
This past Tuesday, Vigilant Love shared how they’ve built community in Los Angeles to build resilient community. Vigilant Love started as a response Islamophobia after terrorist attacks in the US and here are some key lessons from their final report.
Importance of Creating Healing Spaces by Bridging Communities
In addition to modeling this through their facilitation this week, Vigilant Love creates spaces where the leadership of people of color can take all forms. Vigilant Love holds spaces where everyone can be in a loving community to heal, and to activate their leadership from a place of strength and community. A key leadership competency to do this work is deep listening to create strong and authentic relationships.
Building A Community Consciousness
Vigilant Love began as a response to Islamophobia and to that effect, dismantling Islamaphobia and racism is the ultimate goal. VL works with multi-generations to continue on the arc of the work already done by elders in their community. Towards this, VL leaders remain in constant vigilance in what’s happening that affects communities. To dismantle inequity, leaders have to be aware of the systems and institutions that produce inequity.
Learn more from the Vigilant Love in the video below and join us to learn from the WISE Network this Thursday. The WISE Network works towards creating financial pathways for Black women and their families. Their collective helps Black women learn and practice how to build wealth and businesses within Black communities. Through virtual and in-person trainings, the WISE Network’s trainings dismantle systemic inequity for women in Minnesota and nationwide. Their goal is to address wealth gaps by creating access to opportunity and resources. Their work truly embodies leadership development as they continue to create access for leaders ready to take charge of their own lives and transform their communities for generations to come.
2018.01.16 LLC Webinar Series | Vigilant Love Final Report - Vimeo
Since Creating Space, I have been doing a lot thinking about the ways in which leadership programs often promote leadership models that reinforce the dominant culture. At Creating Space, Design Team Member, Elissa Sloan Perry, Co-Director of Management Assistance Group, shared a presentation on how white supremacist culture shows up in our organizations based on an article by Tema Okun and Kenneth Jones. We focused most of the discussion at Creating Space on organizational culture, which I later realized cannot be separated from leadership culture because after all, most leadership programs are preparing participants to lead in an organizational context.
I strongly recommend their article. They share thirteen characteristics of white supremacist culture, all of which resonated, and for the sake of this article and beginning this discussion, I chose three to share that I think are provocative and reveal leadership characteristics being cultivated in leadership programs that help to reinforce white supremacists culture. (In future articles I will share additional characteristics.)
Individualism: I don’t know how many times I have heard ‘its lonely at the top’ as a way of expressing the problems of being an Executive Director. It’s a telling sentiment. Individualism that is part of the dominant culture has made its way into normative thinking about leadership. People tend to believe (and are often taught) that being a leader means being the one with the vision (answers) who can make things happen. As a result, leaders do not delegate to others because they believe their ideas and abilities are superior. This bias about exceptional individuals causes us to look for the person to credit when something important is achieved and miss the fact that work is often accomplished by many people working together. Looking for credit and individual recognition drives competition and plays out in and across organizations. Leadership programs can bolster this distorted sense of individual importance that elevates the ideas and skills of the individual over the wisdom of the group. More leadership programs are countering this (though not enough programs) by emphasizing humility and listening, by developing team or collaborative programs, by making the individual work of leadership more about self-reflection and ego management rather than a toolkit for managing others.
Paternalism: Paternalism goes hand in hand with individualism. It’s part of the dominant leadership thinking that believes leaders know best and are leaders because of natural skill or even leadership development training, without of course considering access to opportunity afforded them and not others by systemic racism. I know this is a simplification but there are a number of leadership development programs (though far less than there used to be) that are developing leadership as a general skill set divorced from context. It’s something to consider as we professionalize the non-profit sector. In short, the key question becomes who has the best understanding of a problem, a non-profit focused on achievement gaps may be trying to address. The non-profit trained leaders or the kids, parents, teachers and neighbors in the school. Of course a ‘both/and’ response taps diverse resources but sadly, focus is usually on non profit leaders. Some leadership programs recognizing this problem are including processes for community engagement as part of their leadership development activities and encouraging values of listening and humility. A more systemic question though would be why are we trying to teach people to do a better job of listening to community instead of figuring out how to get leadership supports and resources directly to communities. Another example of this problem and the need to address this issue more systemically is that in a survey many years ago (lets hope it has changed) leadership programs serving mid career professionals in the non-profit sector were receiving and investing significantly more (often 10X more) than programs who were supporting grassroots leadership.
Urgency: Talk of ‘burn-out’ and ‘self- care’ are becoming conversation staples in the non-profit sector. Oken and Jones talk about the sense of urgency as a characteristic of white supremacist culture, and I found myself thinking about how urgency and burnout intersect. Leadership programs nurture the passion and commitments of people in the sector, and rightfully so, because we are all working on issues we feel deeply about. We often express this commitment by working long days and long weeks until we are utterly exhausted though we probably don’t use that word. Then the leadership intervention will probably teach us about the importance of self-care offering some frames that help for a time until they become another thing on the long ‘to-do’ lists of the already harried activists. In the industrial age the workforce was pressed into working faster and harder and when people ‘burnout’ there were others to take their place. It’s a mechanistic and oppressive view of people that serves production and has infiltrated the sector; and it’s hard for us to counter when the problems we are tackling, degradation of the planet and the massive incarceration of young people of color, are truly urgent. Still, there is little to suggest that if we just work harder and do more of what we are doing that we will make more progress. Leadership programs need to become the place where we can stop, reflect and build meaningful relationships with others who can help us asking the bigger questions about what is wrong with the system and how to change it.
I felt honored to be part of the Creating Space Design Team with an amazing group of leadership development funders, delivery partners, network and movement builders and racial justice champions. I was eager to learn from the team about how to create an event that would deepen our learning about the ways in which our approaches to supporting leadership for racial justice need to shift. I did not have to wait until me met in New Orleans to begin learning. I was struck by the fact that some of our conversations were filled with questions that people creating leadership development programs should also be asking, e.g. how would we honor the whole person and multiple ways of knowing; what does it mean to assume good intentions and look at impact; how do we hold space for courageous conversations; how are we thinking about power and whose knowledge is privileged; and how do we build authentic community? Hopefully, those of you who attended Creating Space experienced the benefits of the ways in which our inquiry shaped the design for our work together, e.g. storytelling, artistic expression, group commitments, reflection, physical movement, collective meaning making, honest conversation, music, poetry, analytical frameworks, practical lessons, design thinking, flexibility, dancing and ‘open space’ – a participant driven way of generating meeting content in real time. One of my important ‘take a ways’ was that maybe Creating Space was what it looked like to provide leadership support to people working on behalf of social and racial justice, simply put…maybe supporting leadership is really about marshaling our resources to create an equitable and inclusive space where people doing the work can come together and learn.
2017 is quickly coming to a close. In mid January, we first announced our network’s Action Learning Seed Fund to support the leadership of people of color. At the time, LLC hoped that eight of you would be able to join our selection committee to create eligibility criteria. To our humble surprise, 20 of you volunteered your time and went above and beyond, and in a matter of days we had a finalized application process, eligibility criteria, and even a selection and review process.
In the first week of February, the application launched via a webinar. However, word quickly spread, and in a matter of three weeks we had received 130 eligible applications. Overwhelmed by the numbers, we again reached out to you, our network, to help us review and select the final candidates. Our amazing selection committee, again came through and reviewed all the applications received. In addition, 109 of you reviewed the applications and the selection committee finalized the selections. In early April, we announced our finalists: Vigilant Love, the WISE Network, and Black Muslim Youth Rising. As a whole, this effort engaged over 500 people. With a staff of three, LLC could have only been able to do this in a networked way.
The work has continued through the year. We’ve had three of our four communities of practice. We hired Susan Misra from Management Assistance Group to co-host these sessions. Each of the sessions, has been focused on augmenting the leadership of people of color. In August, we shared some of what we learned together in one of our sessions. The grant projects will be completed in the coming days. As the funding comes to a close, and in our next community of practice, we will be reflecting on the next steps for these projects.
In the meantime, we wanted to cordially invite you to join us for final reports! This effort could not have happened without all of your time, support, energy, and your willingness to step up to do this work. From the beginning, LLC felt that we, the staff, were not truly the “funders” but rather that you, the network are truly the philanthropists. The way that you all contributed to these efforts represented that. As such, finals reports will be webinars. You are all invited to hear from each project, learn from their process, and of course, come ask questions. Please add the following dates to your calendars and learn with us about how to support the leadership of people of color on the ground.
Last month June Holley presented on the importance of Network Governance and Structures. We were introduced to a plethora of examples, but did not have much time to dig into some of the models. Join us on December 6th for 90 minutes of hands-on virtual practice where you will be able to talk and get ideas from other networks. June with be accompanied by Tracy Kunkler of Circle Forward Partners and Steve Waddell, who will share some resources about governance models and processes for networks.
As part of registration you will take a short survey so we can all see the range of network governance models in the room, the challenges you are facing and interest in new models. During the session we will break up into groups based on topics you generate where you will have a chance to share with others.
Please plug in your webcams and have earphones ready to roll up your sleeves and practice.
June Holley has been weaving economic and community networks for more than 25 years. In 1981 she discovered complexity science and became intrigued with the process of transformation. How could communities change in ways that would make them good places for everyone?
With others in Appalachian Ohio, she catalyzed cascades of experimentation, observing and documenting the dynamics that enabled many hundreds of people to start and then expand businesses. With these entrepreneurs, she mobilized dozens of area organizations to collaborate, self-organize and create an environment that would help these businesses innovate and work together.
Tracy Kunkler is a professional facilitator, consultant, and co-founder of Circle Forward, a nexus of frameworks and approaches to collaborative governance and decision-making. With years of community development experience, she is responding to her clients’ needs for more adaptive ways of governing how they work together, make decisions, create inclusion, empower leadership, and distribute power – to bring about more effective and equitable results in large scale systems change.
This Giving Tuesday, join us in supporting the advancement of social and racial equity in nonprofit leadership development.
This year, we committed ourselves to building a conversation around the importance of including diverse voices in nonprofit leadership. This looks like making space for leaders of color to thrive both in and outside of work.
We know that voices of color are often sidelined in discussions about leadership that privileges the mainstream dominant culture models. We also know that everyone should be able to join our work, independent of organizational budgets.
That’s why, for Creating Space 2017 (LLC’s national meeting which we held in New Orleans in October) we made it our goal to finance the attendance of people of color and folks with less financial means through our equity fund.
We’re proud to report that because of this intention, we were able to fund 30% of Creating Space 2017’s participants! And most of those recipients were folks of color.
None of this would have been possible without each of your generosity and commitment to ensuring that Creating Space 2017 was an inclusive and equitable space for learning.
We ask for you to continue in supporting the development and inclusion of voices of color in nonprofit spaces by making a donation TODAY!
Studies consistently show that less than 20% of nonprofit executive directors/CEO’s are people of color. The recent Race to Lead report offers a new story for how we think about and address this leadership gap: to increase the number of people of color leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to address the practices and biases of those governing nonprofit organizations.
This shifts the leadership development narrative to one that incorporates transformation at the individual and structural levels in pursuit of racial equity. One model is the California School-Age Consortium’s Leadership Development Institute fellowships. Within the year-long, cohort based model for emerging leaders in the out-of-school time field, power, privilege and oppression are elevated alongside traditional leadership competencies development. The model focuses on the unique experiences of people of color in the out-of-school time field, while simultaneously challenging the environments and structures that create racialized barriers toward advancement. Emerging leaders in the out-of-school time field are positioned to influence policies and practices well beyond the field. Many follow pathways toward teacher and school leadership, policymaking, health and wellness, community organizing, juvenile justice and more. Hear directly from the co-designer and fellow of the program about the model, its challenges, successes and hopes toward racial equity and a more just society.
California School-Age Consortium The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) envisions a future where every child in California — regardless of income, race, or zip code — has access to high quality, affordable out-of-school time programs (such as before school, afterschool and summer learning). CalSAC fosters an out-of-school time workforce that is filled with strong mentors and highly skilled practitioners who reflect the communities they serve. Through collaboration and innovation, the CalSAC network creates ripple effects of opportunity, equity and transformation throughout California, both for professionals and the young people they serve.
Ruth Obel-Jorgensen, Executive Director, CalSAC Ruth Obel-Jorgensen is the Executive Director of the California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC). Since joining CalSAC in 2008, Ruth has championed the only statewide fellowship for emerging leaders of color in the out-of-school time field, sustained the largest training network in the country, grew grassroots advocacy and civic engagement, and launched a campaign to build capacity and professionalism by cultivating a culture of philanthropy in the field. Ruth serves as the Co-Chair of the CA Department of Education Expanded Learning Division Workforce Advisory, the Co-Chair of the CA Afterschool Network Leadership Team, and the CA State Affiliate Leader of the National Afterschool Association. Ruth has a Masters in Social Work from California State University, Fresno with an emphasis in community organizing and advocacy and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. She is also an alum of the LeaderSpring Executive Director Fellowship and the CompassPoint Fundraising Bright Spots Program. Ruth calls the farmlands of Central California home while enjoying her current community in Oakland with her wife and three dogs. In her spare time, she contributes to Maven Youth, a nonprofit empowering LGBT+ youth through career exploration and technology.
Aleah Rosario, Director of Capacity Building Programs, CalSAC Aleah Rosario joined the CalSAC team in 2013. Before this, she worked with afterschool programs in the rural, Central Valley community where she grew up. During this time, Aleah attended a CalSAC event and, immediately drawn to the organization and its values, she jumped at every opportunity to be involved, becoming an endorsed trainer, volunteer and fellow of CalSAC's 2012 inaugural cohort of the Leadership Development Institute for Emerging Leaders of Color. Aleah received her undergraduate degree in Political Science from CSU Stanislaus. In 2014, she was recognized by the National Afterschool Association as Afterschool’s Next Generation of emerging professionals. Aleah has and continues to serve on various strategic implementation committees of the California Department of Education Expanded Learning Division and is a founding member of Sisters Inspiring Change, a group formed in 2015 that aims to increase opportunities in the field for women and girls of color.
Last week, we were honored to spend three days convening with 85 members of the LLC community in New Orleans. We discussed, analyzed, and practiced Freedom to Lead and Leading for Freedom. To hold the container for these conversations, we trusted that the design team and everyone present were all catalysts with stories, strategies, and the capacity to create solutions to dismantle systemic problems. Our time together was focused on sharing and listening to our experiences and holding a container for healing, and strategizing solutions.
Participants were greeted with color pencils, blank journals, and their pictures were immediately taken. We opened with a creativity wall, where those pictures were printed in real time as stickers and could be decorated to showcase those in our space. The tables had many creative outlets, e.g., playdough, and participants were invited to use them to express their ideas. Participants were then challenged to think outside of their preconceived notions, before getting to know a little more about each other in pairs.
It was, at times, emotionally tough holding a space filled with pain and so many questions. At the same time, it was a space filled with hope, compassion, and healing. In this transformational space, where there was both certainty and uncertainty, there was plenty of room for participants to turn to each other for learning opportunities. The container was purposefully created to allow immediate response to the needs of the group to leverage deeper learning. This was evident in day two, where a significant number of participants felt we had not completed a conversation around how we individually/collectively embody racism and pain. Very quickly the design team pivoted, and made space for the room to collectively decide how to proceed and created a process, in real-time, to allow that conversation to take place.
We concluded our days with music, poetry, and ceremony. We incorporated physical movement. We spoke about deeper questions of process and impact. We analyzed how philanthropy and the leadership development field are complicit in creating systems of oppression, and more than that, how we could become change agents in our fields.
We studied the structures of governance around us in our organizations, our government, and industries, and asked ourselves the tough questions about who we are really, how we are complicit, how we are accountable, and how we will transform those structures and systems. We left the space open-ended, humbly acknowledging that we alone cannot undo hundred of years of oppression in three days. Collectively, we made a commitment to continue this work in ourselves and with the youngest in our society, which is what it will take to create that lasting change we all so very much want as we move towards liberation.
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