List #7: Six Reasons to Read DeColonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva

Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate a book club discussion on DeColonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva. The discussion was with alumni from ProInspire, an organization dedicated to developing social sector leaders and advancing equity in the field, so we benefitted from people working in a variety of contexts and with different lived experiences.  All of us had several impactful takeaways from the book.  Below are my reasons that you should dig into it.

  1. Villanueva challenges us to think differently about money. Money, he writes, can be used for healing.  This was particularly challenging (in a good way) for me, someone who had grown up feeling that money was something used to make people who had it feel superior and people who didn’t have it feel unworthy.
  2. It is a call to value and develop authentic connection.  Connection is one of my core values, and Villanueva insightfully wove this value throughout his core narrative.  He explains that colonizers tended to view “themselves as separate from the rest of the natural world.”  This combative mentality led to the exploitation of both natural resources and people.  The reverse of this is connection – something Villanueva highlights as an indigenous value – notably contrasting the separation worldview that in many ways led to trauma experienced by generations of people of color.
  3. Villanueva shares some eye-opening information.  In addition to referencing some statistics on white supremacy culture from White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, the book details some shocking data on the field of philanthropy.  Villanueva writes that “[in] 2014, only 7.4 percent of all philanthropy… was given for people of color,” and goes on to explain that according to U.S. tax law, foundations are only required to pay out 5% of their total assets, which means that they are sitting on the majority of their collective $800 billion.  Often, these assets are invested in the kind of companies that undo the work of the nonprofits that the same foundations fund.  In other words, as Jennifer and Peter Buffett write in their Foreword to the book, “these rooms full of wealthy and powerful white men… were searching for answers with their right hand to problems that they had created or contributed to with their left.”
  4. Villanueva elevates the voices of people of color who work in the field.  The stories in the narrative illustrate some of the more pressing – and sometimes, for someone who doesn’t work in the field, shocking – issues.  Villanueva’s interviewees illustrate problems with giving short-term grants to fund programs that are trying to alleviate centuries-long issues caused by still-present systems of inequity.  One interview highlights the irony of a common story: an organization hires a person of color in the name of diversity, only to not trust their insight on how to fix problems, hire external consultants to find solutions, and then adopt the solutions that the person of color recommended months (and dollars) ago.  And Villanueva’s own story is illustrative of the challenges that someone who is genuinely dedicated to making an impact faces when working with money that has been hoarded by people from the dominant culture who are hesitant to pursue real change.
  5. The book is full of mic drops.  I love when I read a book and experience a “mic drop” moment.  These are moments where you stop reading, look up, and go, “Whoa.”  This book is full of them.  Some of my favorites:
    “[Having] a seat at the table is not the same as feeling free to speak in your own voice, to offer your own divergent ideas, to bring your full self to bear on the work.”
    “Poverty is the product of public policy and theft, facilitated by white supremacy.”
    “The basis of traditional philanthropy is to preserve wealth and, all too often, that wealth is fundamentally money that’s been twice stolen, once through the colonial-style exploitation of natural resources and cheap labor, and the second time through tax evasion.”
  6. Villanueva offers hope of the Healing to come.  In Part Two of his book, Villanueva shares some steps to heal the ills that face philanthropy today.  He details a framework to allow people and organizations to grieve, apologize, listen, relate, represent, invest, and repair.  These steps left me excited for what’s to come from Villanueva and his groundbreaking work: to learn about how, five and ten years from now, funders and communities are collaborating to put these steps into action and truly use money to heal rather than hurt.

List #6: Eight Reasons to Read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

This morning, seconds after my son and I left our house, we were hit by a sudden downpour.  We laughed about it, walked as quickly as we could to his school, and arrived just as the hail started coming down.  We laughed as we got in; despite having umbrellas, we were both soaked up to our thighs.  The wind had blown the rain so hard in our direction that it was as though we had been wading through a stream.

I helped him into his classroom, changed his clothes, and ran back home to change my clothes and get him a different pair of shoes.  When I realized that if I wanted to stay dry, I’d need to drive, I drove the half block to his school. I waved at the security guard, brought in his other shoes, and then drove a few blocks to park closer to my favorite coffee shop.

This is what privilege looks like.

  1. When I walked in, no one gave us the side-eye, though we were both filthy and soaking.  No one judged my almost-sheer maternity leggings that I will #nevergiveup on.
  2. My son had a second pair of shoes that were right around the corner.
  3. When I returned to school to give him his shoes, the security guard didn’t ask any questions.
  4. And when I realized that I wanted to keep my second pair of maternity leggings dry, I drove to a spot that I didn’t have to pay for because I have the “right” parking pass, and then sat down to enjoy my $3.50 macchiato.

As a white woman, I walk in privilege every day.  I have all of my life.  However, I didn’t fully understand what this meant until I read the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.  This is one of those rare books that I listened to on Audible and then purchased the physical copy of.

If you are white, you should read this book.  Below are the reasons why.

  1. DiAngelo dispels unhelpful half-truths.  Specifically, one of the foundations of her book refutes the idea that because a person exhibits problematic racial behavior, the are inherently an evil person.  This is not to say that racism isn’t wrong; it is.  DiAngelo’s point is that an easy way for white people to dismiss racism as “not a problem I need to worry about” is to associate it solely with radicals and murderers.
  2. She challenges the idea that Western culture is the best culture.  This one is particularly helpful if you find yourself as a patriotic white citizen of the United States.  DiAngelo writes, “We make sense of our perceptions and experiences through our particular lens.  This lens is neither universal nor objective…”  While some may claim that the United States is the greatest country on earth (where everyone can make it if they only try!) and that we can be bias-free if we’d all just shut up and be friends, DiAngelo focuses on the error in these assumptions by naming them.  Individualism and objectivity are not universally accepted truths.  We are collectively influenced by the negative aspects of the dominant Western culture that is all around us from the day we are born; we are therefore not independent, rogue actors and cannot claim to be bias-free.  The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can get to the work of solving some of society’s most pressing problems.
  3. She takes the time to clearly define core concepts.  DiAngelo makes crucial distinctions between terms such as prejudice, discrimination, and racism.  Most white people lump these into the part of their brains reserved for “things I don’t want to think about,” so it’s helpful to think about them and understand what they are – and what they are not.  She also takes time to explain why “reverse racism” is a nonsensical term… and I’ll let you read through that explanation on your own (page 20).
  4. She asserts that white folks cannot be immune to the influences of the system of racism… while acknowledging that “stating that racism privileges whites does not mean that individual white people do not struggle or face barriers.”  That’s worth repeating.  No one is saying that because you are white you do not suffer.  But this book isn’t about white suffering, so try to move on from that so that you can focus on her points.
  5. She states the oft-refuted obvious in ways that are very difficult to refute.  For white people who feel threatened by those who are different from you, DiAngelo reminds us that “Whites control all major institutions of society and set the policies and practices that others must live by.”  She then cites statistic after statistic proving white dominance.  As of her writing, the ten most wealthy Americans are white, the U.S. Congress is 90% white, all of the top military advisors are white, and many of the people who control the media we consume are white.  In a country as diverse as ours, this is a problem, and it also refutes the idea that we are a post-racial society.
  6. She asks you to embrace the spectrum of possibilities.  In a chapter that I found particularly helpful called “The Good / Bad Binary,” DiAngelo writes quotes that she often hears from white folks and then proceeds to explain why they are illogical or unhelpful.  Most of the statements are the result of white people using logical extremes (which any therapist will tell you is an unproductive way to live.)  For example, one of the quotes that DiAngelo hears the most is, “I marched in the sixties [therefore I can’t be racist.]”  Participating in a march 50 years ago does not make you error-free today; there are always more opportunities to learn and grow.
  7. She acknowledges that she is on her own learning journey.  DiAngelo accepts her own status as a learner. She writes, “Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.”  She also relates stories that show that she is still learning, and calls for others to continue reading, talking, and trying to be better.
  8. She reminds us that guilt is not a useful emotion.  In a training I did with the Center for Equity and Inclusion, I learned about the Cycle of White Empowerment.  One of the earlier stages in this Cycle is Guilt.  If you’re like me, you’ve certainly felt guilty.  If you’re like me, you’ve also probably heard that guilt is not a useful emotion.  DiAngelo writes about white guilt toward the end of her book, stating, “When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction.”

For me, this book was a call to action.  I hope you’ll join me in reading it, talking about it, and being open to learning more.

Quote from Robin DiAngelo's book on White Fragility.  "When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction."

List #4: The Interconnectedness of Process, Inclusion, and Strategy

I recently finished adrienne maree brown’s amazing book, Emergent Strategy. The book is part facilitation instruction manual, part celebration of all things nerd-dom, and part glorious celebration of the interconnectedness and mutual dependence of our shared existence.  brown weaves a beautiful narrative, defying genres and yet somehow successfully fulfilling the needs of people hoping to explore some pretty specific genres.

brown defines emergent strategy as, “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”  What initially struck me in that definition was the word intentional.  Throughout the book, brown describes adaptation and change as being responsive and purposeful.  She isn’t talking about change for change’s sake – or, as Chris McGoff references in his book The Primes, distraction through “bright and shiny objects.”  She’s talking about change informed by relationships, experience, and living purposefully in the process.

Process is one of my favorite topics to mull over on sleepless nights.  More specifically, I find myself thinking about the connectedness of process, inclusion, and strategy.  Below is a list in which I articulate their interconnectedness and how it plays out in the workplace.

  1. By definition, process is “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end.”  A business process is “a collection of related, structured activities or tasks… which in a specific sequence produce a service or product (serves a particular business goal) for a particular customer or customers.” Process, by definition, is task-oriented, concrete, and in service of something else. 
    Pay attention to the way I phrased the last clause: “in service of something else.”  In my experience, because process involves service, it is often viewed as inferior to other aspects of an organization’s work, particularly when mentioned alongside strategy.  Intentionality, planning, thoroughness – though these characteristics are essential to the success of organizational strategy, they are inexplicably seen as the antithesis of vision, strategic thinking, and innovation.  Process is something that most aspirational leaders prefer to delegate to others – especially women – and a distaste for process is often touted as a sign of one’s leadership capabilities.  More on this in a bit.
  2. Simultaneously, leaders have [finally and rightfully] sounded the call for more inclusion in the workplace.  The irony is this: you cannot be inclusive if you ignore process.  Process helps us create the tools that execute our intention to uphold our stated values.  In order to execute on our shared values, we need to ensure that we create processes that maximize the involvement of diverse stakeholders.  If we say that we value inclusion, but we do not provide time and space to plan for how we will be inclusive, our words are empty.  If we say we value inclusion, but we don’t create plans that allow for the full, authentic participation of diverse stakeholders, we will never create inclusive spaces.
    Let’s say that a team leader has a new idea and they want to roll it out at the next leadership meeting.  The leader has some choices to make.  They could go through the steps to build a structure around their idea on their own, but most leaders know that they won’t get traction if it’s just their ideas that are being presented.
    The leader could also build out their idea collaboratively.  Here is where process comes in.  The easy way to build out an idea collaboratively would be to present it to a select few individuals when it’s convenient.  Typically, this would be during one-on-ones or other pre-scheduled opportunities.  The more time-consuming and process-oriented method to build out an idea would look and feel different.  It would not be convenient, because it would involve actively seeking out divergent thoughts and opinions – in other words, it would require that the leader be inclusive of perspectives that differ from their own.
    Intentional inclusion would require the leader to focus on process.  How will they ensure that they are getting different perspectives?  How will they provide space for all voices to be heard?  How long will it take to lift up all of these voices?  How long will it take to even get all of these people at the same table?  What are the steps needed  to get the people at the table?  What will they do once they get all of these people together?  What will follow up be like?  How will they allow for people to give feedback after the meeting is done?
    Let’s go back to the concept that I mentioned earlier – process as inferior to strategy.  If you view process as inherently boring or inferior, chances are you didn’t make it through two of the questions from the list in the preceding paragraph.  If you didn’t make it through two of those questions, how can you allow for sufficient time and space to create an inclusive process to support your “bright and shiny” idea?  Similarly, if you view process as inferior to other forms of work – or if you, like many male leaders, outsource it to females – how can you ensure that what you create is inclusive of multiple perspectives – male and female, leadership and junior staff, introvert and extrovert?  And a lack of process isn’t always intentionally exclusive.  Sometimes – and almost always with excuses related to time or other priorities – it unintentionally falls by the wayside.  But if you are too disinterested or too busy to plan for and participate in an inclusive process, how will your efforts create inclusion in your workplace?
    If we say that we value inclusion, but we do not provide time and space to plan for how we will be inclusive, our words are empty.
  3. Relatedly, if you are not inclusive through intentional process, how will any of your efforts be strategic?  When we go back to brown’s definition of emergent strategy – “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for” – we now note two other striking words: “we” and “grow.”  Truly liberating strategy only emerges when our “we” is inclusive – when we are brave and wise enough to intentionally involve colleagues whose ideas may differ from our own so that we may adapt, emerge, and truly “grow” together.*
    Involving divergent ideas through intentional process is a strategic decision.  Indeed, it is the only way that an organization can create impactful strategy – a shared strategy, an emergent strategy that comes from honest relationships with others.  These relationships develop slowly, mindfully, through moments of shared mundanity and brilliance.
    Let’s pretend that in the example mentioned above the leader with the bright and shiny idea decided that process was an unnecessary burden.  Rather than thinking about who to include, how to include them, and how to put input into action, the leader decided that they had enough input from their closest supporters and then moved forward with selling and implementing their initiative.  Their idea may be doable, but would implementing the initiative be strategic?  In other words, the initiative didn’t consider all perspectives that were gathered through an inclusive, emergent process – so where is the “we” and the “grow”?
    I’m reminded of a story that I heard when I participated in a training at the Center for Equity & Inclusion in Portland.  We learned about a well-intentioned (and well-heeled) philanthropy that decided that one of the communities it was serving really needed a particular service.  They spent tens of thousands of dollars creating the service, putting the infrastructure in place to deliver it, advertising the initiative… and ultimately, asking members of the community why no one was using it.  What the philanthropy discovered was that the community didn’t really want the service; their needs were being met in other ways, and the service didn’t take into account their values or priorities.  To the community, because the philanthropy had eschewed an inclusive process, their new and shiny idea was neither visionary, nor strategic, nor innovative.  It’s as though the philanthropy had the brilliant idea to create a down coat for a goose, only to discover that they should have asked the goose if he needed it.  Perhaps if they had spoken to the goose, they would have had the chance to learn, grow, and emerge as a more strategic organization.

Careful process isn’t inferior work; it’s work that builds community and creates growth.  Giving space for process allows organizations to hear divergent voices.  Elevating all voices gives colleagues the chance to intentionally co-create, and this leads to truly innovative strategy.

If you’re interested in chatting about the connectivity between process, inclusion, and strategy, or if you just want to discuss your favorite nerdy outlet, use the Contact form.

*Here, I will make my own nerdy reference, to an episode of Dr. Who.  When I think about being willing to learn through growth and change, I am reminded of the following scene.  A character says to Dr. Who, “I will not change my mind,” to which he responds, “Then you will die stupid.”  Better to admit you’re wrong, grow, and become a little bit smarter/more strategic, than to die stupid.

List #3: Five Surprising Measures to Support Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Your Workplace

We’ve all heard that what’s measured gets done.  When striving for equity, we have to balance two things: the need to accomplish what we’ve set out to accomplish and the recognition that measurement alone is insufficient* and is often used – particularly by white people – to check off boxes so that we can be more comfortable by claiming that we did what we set out to do and then move on to other priorities.

I say all of this so that we understand that extensive measurement is not a replacement for authentic listening, an open mind, and a willingness to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them.  Simultaneously, when we measure the right things in the right way – by allowing our measures to emerge through collaboration with the people who know what matters – numbers can support a holistic effort to create a more just society.When we measure the right things in the right way, numbers can support a holistic effort to create a more just society.

With this in mind, I’d like to share List #3: Five Surprising Measures to Support Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Your Workplace.

  1. Caregiver status. I recently read a blog post by Mindful Return, a website that helps new parents return to work mindfully.  The post recommends tracking and reporting caregiver status in the optional field of the EEO-1 form.  Numerous authors – such as Anne-Marie Slaughter – have asserted that caregiving is not limited to new mothers, nor is it limited to new parents.  Caregiving more broadly defined includes the care of family and loved ones, whether old, young, or in-between.  Caregiver status is often unreported and undervalued, and – based on personal experience – misunderstood.  Caregiving takes more than time; it takes emotional energy and impacts how you show up at work.  Tracking caregiver status would help employers understand the extent to which supports (or a lack thereof) are ensuring that caregivers are getting the same opportunities to thrive and advance in their careers as non-caregivers.
  2. Meeting Agendas.  As a former qualitative researcher, I’ve seen the value in reviewing pages of qualitative data.  In equity work, one untapped resource is the meeting agenda.  I’ll write elsewhere about the importance of process to equity, but here I’ll focus on the idea that simply building out the agenda in a way that gives everyone the chance to participate is critical to ensuring equity.  Think about it; we’ve all been in meetings where the agenda was created five minutes beforehand and the creator of the agenda – typically the person with the most power in the room – has booked themselves the most time to talk down to their employees.  Sometimes, everyone gets a tiny slot set aside to talk; other times, only the people with the second-most power in the room are allotted a tiny bit of time.  Where does that leave everyone else?  Simply sitting and listening – or not.  Gathering team meeting agendas and analyzing them as a whole body is one way to discover the extent to which power dynamics are denying people opportunity to contribute.
  3.  Meeting Participation.  Sometimes, despite efforts to lay out an equitable process, agendas are ignored.  I’ve often heard women complain about being talked over, looked over, or simply ignored in the workplace.  I’ve witnessed men take over a meeting, knowingly speaking until the end of the allotted meeting time despite the fact that female colleagues come after them on the agenda.  However, data around this phenomenon are rarely collected by employers.  If an organization is truly interested in ensuring that everyone has a voice – not just a seat – at the table, employers could measure minutes.  Rotating volunteers could sit in on other teams’ meetings to audit the extent to which the voices of people of color and women are being elevated – or shut out.  In our current culture, it’s hard to argue with bar graphs that show that individuals from the dominant culture are overtaking meetings, while the ideas and contributions of their colleagues aren’t getting any air time.
  4. Calendar / Time Spent Analysis.  Many of us have analyzed our time spent in order to assess efficiency.  What if we analyzed time spent in order to assess equity?  This is particularly important for people who manage more than one person.  Collecting data over the course of a month can give managers and senior leaders insight into who is getting time with their managers, and what those individuals have in common.  Bias in time spent is often completely unintentional; some people simply connect more quickly and enjoy each other’s company more.  However, if managers are interested in equity, they will learn from analyses such as this, particularly if the organization facilitates conversations around the deeper meaning of disparities in time spent. Are disparities reflective of underlying fears or biases?  Might there be an opportunity to give this precious resource – time – more equitably and intentionally across the team?
  5. Task v. Strategy Allocation.  Most professionals are savvy enough to not use the term, “woman’s work.”  However, if we step outside our roles and observe the tasks of our colleagues, we often notice a two trends.  First, women and people of color are disproportionately taking on tasks for which they won’t be credited in a performance reviews.  Think of how often you see the women and people of color in your workplace setting up for convenings, cleaning up, taking notes during meetings, or scheduling meetings on the calendar for themselves and their peers.  This is in part due to a desire to help the organization, and in part due to the fact that managers assign and/or praise women and people of color when they take on these tasks.  Second, notice how often men – particularly white men – are pulled aside to “strategize.”  This typically involves brainstorming, coffee meetings, diagramming, or meeting up after work for drinks.  Just as we are acknowledging that we need to praise young girls for things besides their looks, we need to praise colleagues from traditionally marginalized communities for their higher-level contributions.  Women and people of color can do more than execute tasks, and it’s time we start praising and assigning accordingly.

Like I said, there’s more to come!  If you’re interested in learning more about the services we offer at RenaissanceLista, check out my services or contact us.

*I love the book Decolonizing Wealth, in which Edgar Villanueva writes, “Diversity statistics that get held up as a sole measure of progress are an insufficient measure, because we need to go beyond mere representation, to access to power and ownership.”

List #2: Six Small Businesses to Support this Holiday Season

It’s been over a week since Small Business Saturday, but if you’re like me, you’re not done with your holiday shopping yet.  That’s good news!  There’s still time to put your money into small businesses owned by women and people of color.  Below is a list of my favorites, all of which are walkable to me – i.e., in northeast D.C.  However, note that there are large lists of businesses owned by women and POC for folks living in the DMV area here and here, and that there’s a listing of relevant state information here.

  1. Souk – Start your day off at Souk, owned by Dr. Winette McIntosh Ambrose.  Souk has amazing coffees, teas, and pastries, as well as a variety of spices and beautiful kitchen supplies that are sure to please the foodie in your life.  For a preview, follow Souk on Instagram… and then dash right there to energize your shopping excursion with an inventive Green Tea or Golden Milk croissant.
  2. Hill’s Kitchen – Speaking of foodies, Hill’s Kitchen, owned by Leah Daniels and recently celebrating its tenth anniversary, is a must-see.  It’s a great place to get both little details to make your holiday special, and to purchase larger items to build out your kitchen collection.  They also have gift cards, which are perfect for folks celebrating milestones like moves, weddings, or births.
  3. HunnyBunny Boutique – Self-care is essential during the holidays, and HunnyBunny Boutique helps you do it in a healthy and holistic way.  Owners Nya & Zuri, two young women who have already won awards for their innovative work, collaborate with their parents to create beautiful soaps, scrubs, bath bombs, lotions, and other wellness essentials.
  4. East Side Yoga – Wellness for all is essential to the philosophy of East Side Yoga, which Alia J. Khan created to share the benefits of the “life-changing practice” of yoga.  East Side Yoga offers a variety of courses for all levels at different times of the day, so a stop there is easy to fit into your holiday shopping.  East Side Yoga also offers retreats, custom parties, and yoga gear, and periodic events for its members.  Yoga/cello/wine?  Kitten yoga?  They’ve got it!  With their gift cards, you can let the yogi in your life choose their own adventure.
  5. Sweet Lobby – This is another fantastic business by Souk owner Dr. Winette McIntosh Ambrose.  The award-winning cupcakes and macarons at this bakery are better than any other in D.C. – or, IMHO, anywhere – and they do both local and national delivery.  Take a break from your holiday shopping by grabbing a treat here – or get a dozen or more to share with your friends.
  6. Radici – Let’s end our day at Radici, a lovely eatery and market owned by Bridget Thibodeau Sasso.  Radici is family-friendly – I’ve brought my own kid there since he was a baby – and offers a variety of local and Italian products, including wines, cheeses, pastas, and treats.  If you’re too busy holiday-prepping to cook, Radici offers delicious meals you can eat there or take home as well.

What are your favorite women- and POC-owned businesses, and how do you find them?  Happy holidays!

A coffee mug with a cardinal on it in front of a Christmas tree.

My favorite festive coffee mug from Hill’s Kitchen.