Ideas & Insights Lessons From Our Work on Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial...

Lessons From Our Work on Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity


Apr 20th 2021

In 2020 the US and the world grieved the barbaric murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and so many more people whose names we will never know. A few weeks ago, the rise of anti-Asian violence captured yet again the public opinion, uncovering a year-long swelling of physical and verbal attacks with clear racial hostility against people of Asian descent. These events, along with the disparities laid bare by COVID-19, reignited the fight against longstanding patterns of discrimination, sustained systemic racism, and reduced opportunities for communities of color in the United States.

Many of the organizations we work with have responded boldly and quickly to this cry for change. As a result, our work on the diversity, inclusion, and racial equity space has expanded, leaving us with some lessons on the organizational transformation that is required to tackle racial structural inequalities in their respective spheres of influence. At IMAGO we hope that the following five lessons help boost the courage to kickstart your organization’s work on diversity, inclusion, and racial equity:

1.Start now, do not wait. Don’t let the fear of messing up and saying the wrong thing to employees, board members, funders, clients, etc. paralyze you into inaction. There are no shortcuts. However, putting in the work will further enable your organization to fulfill its mission and will help amplify the strengths and capabilities of a thriving and diverse workforce. Your organization cannot afford not to do this work.

2.Real change starts within. This work and the space where it takes place are both embedded in intrinsically racialized structures. In other words, any interaction between individuals in this process is shaped by, and reflects underlying structures that generate biases even in the absence of racist actors or racist intentions. The first step is creating a safe space for the leadership and staff of organizations to challenge deeply held assumptions, values, practices, and mindsets. This is easier said than done. It requires open communication, suspending judgement, getting comfortable being vulnerable, the development of a common language and, above all, willingness to do the work. Furthermore, it is critical that leaders not put this work on the shoulders of employees of color but rather be visible doing this work themselves and building broad coalitions within the organization to move the process forward.

3.You are going to make mistakes along the way. This process will require everyone involved to stretch themselves. The work is deeply personal and people will make progress at different speeds and with different degrees of success. However, with so many resources available, there is no excuse to be ill equipped. Take time to educate your organization; commit time and resources to staff’s individual learning; allow people to ask questions without tasking others to do the work for them; listen with openness; embrace conflict and lean into the uncomfortable. Understanding and embracing conflict is a requirement for any organizational transformation to take root.

4.Focus on the process. Like most complex challenges, becoming a more diverse, inclusive and racially equitable organization takes time. The work is never really over. Long-term organizational transformation is a daily practice that requires commitment towards gradual shifts, a multi-faceted approach and tolerance to failure. Stay on course by setting up accountability mechanisms, taking time to celebrate small victories and recognizing the need to adapt and pivot.

5.Secure adequate and appropriate funding. Organizations looking to do racial equity work must seek to arm themselves with sources of ongoing funding. Back your intentions with resources. In the past few months, fortune 1000 companies have responded, committing $66 billion to racial-equity initiatives. Institutional funders like the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and have committed hundreds of millions of dollars towards racial equity initiatives. Even religious organizations like the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States pledged to raise $100 million to atone for slave labor. Either by making the case to your board, applying for grants, engaging individual donors, issuing social bonds, etc. there is no excuse.

The level of commitment, openness and collaboration displayed by many of the organizations we work with makes us hopeful of systemic change. It also inspires us to dream of a better future for the many communities we work with. The lessons in this blog are not exhaustive, but are the result of an initial reflection from wide-ranging conversations and the work that we have had the privilege to do with several organizations during the past year. IMAGO will continue to proactively bring together public, private, and social-sector stakeholders to create broad and permanent change on this complex issue.

Fitzhugh, E., Julien, J. P., Noel, N., & Stewart, S. (2020, December 9). It’s time for a new approach to racial equity. McKinsey & Company.