Junxion President & CEO Mike Rowlands addresses the imperative to encourage equity in our leadership, organizations, and communities. This is the fifth post in our next economy series—a call to brave up and emerge stronger post-COVID.
The work of economic recovery that lies ahead brings a profound opportunity to reshape our economies to serve all stakeholders. We must reflect on the inequities of the past and uphold social justice and collective well-being as we co-create the future.
Over the past few years, uprisings for race equity have been enormous and lasting, making international headlines, catching leaders’ attention, and changing the way we think about work, wealth, community, and more. Many of us have been shocked again and again by the violent mistreatment, attacks, and killings of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, particularly at the hands of police.
One of the many things that continues to make posts like this so hard to write is this: these attacks are not shocking for far too many in our communities—the many who experience prejudice, discrimination and violence every day in the very same towns and cities where others feel safe and secure.
As we consider the work to #emergestronger, what work can organizations and their leaders do to encourage equitable access, participation, and benefits for those who have historically been disadvantaged or excluded?
How can you encourage equity in your organization?
Like many of you, we at Junxion have been listening, learning, reading, and talking about what we are doing that upholds systemic discrimination, and what we might do to break down those systems. It is at once important societal work, imperative organizational work, and deeply personal work.
Start Close In. And think at scale. Significant attention has rightly been placed on systemic racism in police forces, public institutions, and business. No analysis of power in society is complete without a careful review of the many divides that marginalize our neighbours and friends: society favours youth over age, the wealthy over the poor, men over women, straight over gay, and so on.
To encourage equity can be deeply personal work, in that it requires us to look at ourselves. Sometimes, we don’t like what we see.
Late last year, during a facilitated session, the Junxion team was encouraged to look at the power structures in our business along gender lines. We’ve acknowledged before that we’re a white-led organization, but I was disappointed in myself not to have been explicit before about acknowledging that we’re also male-led. How has that fact shaped the experiences of my female colleagues? How has it affected the quality of my working relationships with them? How might it have affected the development of our company?
Now that we’ve surfaced that fact explicitly, we can talk about it and act on what we explore in conversation. I made some quick changes, including spending time in one-on-one conversations with colleagues, making efforts to share more openly about decisions I was contemplating, and striving to be more inclusive. Other changes will take longer to define and design. For me—and this is my advice to you, as you consider similar challenges—change starts with a focus on relationships, and a commitment to courageous conversations.
I’m reminded of David Whyte’s Start Close In….
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
This is deeply personal work. Only by engaging one another differently can we change our organizations. From there, we can shift our economy. What is the courageous conversation you need to have? What’s that first step—the one “you don’t want to take?”
Seek first to understand. But accept the limits of empathy. Sadly, none of this work in equity is new. There’s no excuse for any engaged citizen not to understand how systems have conspired or been constructed to thwart the progress of one group in favour of another. And certainly, for those in positions of leadership, public expectations are high and rising. As we #emergestronger, we simply must do the work to understand.
Yet at the same time, no matter how much each of us might want to connect across our differences, we’re limited by the reach of our own experience. Empathy only takes us so far. Try as we might, we can never fully appreciate what it’s like to live in someone else’s skin, to experience life as they do. Wisdom is making space for all our experiences to inform the way the world takes shape. Leadership, then, is the work of making space for more voices and views, so that the best ideas emerge, and the best outcomes for the greatest number are possible.
Amplify the unheard. Listen for the unspoken. Sometimes that space-making work is about amplification. How can you lend your power to others? How can you centre their ideas in the conversations and spaces to which you have access? To amplify another’s voice or idea is to share power. At the simplest level, that might be to call a group’s attention to someone who is being drowned out or ignored. In others, it might be to turn the strength of your position or reputation to the advantage of someone else. Whatever the case, don’t make it about you. You’re not doing someone a favour; you’re righting a structural wrong. Centre them, their voice, their ideas.
Listen, too, for what’s not being said. As you deepen your understanding of social power and how it manifests in relationships, groups, and organizations, you’ll start to notice the people that stay quiet. The subjects that don’t get discussed. What is not being said in your organization? And how might it be harming your colleagues?
Consider our conversation about gender at Junxion. It led quickly to a conversation about salary bands for our team. And that in turn led to a conversation about roles, responsibilities, and delegation of authority. And that in turn led to a conversation about who gets to participate in which internal meetings. And that in turn led to a conversation about transparency and communication. And that in turn…. You get the picture. Mine constantly for what’s not being said, and you’ll find an endless list of ways to improve and improve and improve.
The work to encourage equity is intrapersonal, interpersonal, important, and long. There will always be more to do. Celebrate the little wins along the way. And then keep going.
Author Mike Rowlands, President & CEO at Junxion
If you’d like a confidential space to talk about this work and how it’s affecting you in your leadership, we’re available.