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Tim Cynova Post by Tim Cynova

By Tim Cynova on January 8th, 2019

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Opportunities to Live Our Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression Values

Big Ideas | Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression | Diversity In Tech | People Operations

[This time of year brings a whole host of looking back, looking forward pieces. Instead of a round-up of the top books or movies, or predictions about what’s to come in 2019, I thought it might be a good time to check in on our anti-racism, anti-oppression journey at Fractured Atlas.]

A number of years ago when Fractured Atlas was beginning in earnest our journey towards becoming an anti-racist, anti-oppressive organization I asked someone working in the space if they could point me in the direction of case studies about other companies with similar complexities to ours who were doing the work well. (When embarking on something new, I often scan the space to see what kind of learning is available that I can leverage and then iterate on in our own work.) The person essentially said, nope, they couldn’t think of any, but that people were watching Fractured Atlas as we embarked on this journey and would be interested to see how we approached it. That was about four years ago.

Lauren, Lisa, and I at TCG’s CultureMakers gatheringLauren, Lisa, and I at TCG’s CultureMakers gathering (Photo: Ryan Bourque)

Increasingly in recent months, my Fractured Atlas colleagues Nicola Carpenter, Courtney Harge, Lauren Ruffin, Jillian Wright, our Board member Lisa Yancey, and I have had opportunities to chat with awesome people around the country about where we are in our organizational journey, and share ideas and experiences around the “how” of operationalizing commitments to creating anti-racist, anti-oppressive (ARAO) teams and organizations.

It’s not uncommon for us to meet with those in predominantly white organizations and find people wanting to do the work, but not sure exactly how to approach it. In the absence of a template, clear path forward, or “buy in” from their board of directors, they remain stuck. And in doing this work, it quickly becomes evident that we’re either moving forward, or we’re falling behind.

There is no neutral. Racism and oppression don’t take days off.

Specific Things We’ve Been Doing

We created the image below as a kind of snapshot of what’s happened over the past few years during our ARAO journey at Fractured Atlas. The graphic (and duplicate list below) includes things we’ve explored and implemented to support the creation of a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace, and some significant milestones that have occurred along the way. The image is the result of a quick, almost stream-of-consciousness round up of the many things we’ve experienced at Fractured Atlas, with many happening in the past two years.

A snapshot of opportunities from the past few years that have allowed us to live our ARAO values at Fractured AtlasA snapshot of opportunities from the past few years that have allowed us to live our ARAO values at Fractured Atlas (Not necessarily listed in chronological order.)

The list is by no means exhaustive. It’s been an incredibly busy couple of years filled with exploration, change, and iteration on many fronts. (Here is a round up of changes we experienced in simply one year alone.) This list also largely omits numerous changes in our programs and services, as well as developments in our software and technology infrastructure — both of which have experienced an entire grid of activity in their own rights — in favor of focusing more on ones firmly intersecting our People Operations work.

What If? How Might We?

Each tile on the grid above reflects opportunities where we asked ourselves a series of questions that usually began with a “What if?” or “How might we?” How might we better live our anti-racism, anti-oppression principles to serve our amazing members? How might we craft an organization that is more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable as we approach this new thing? How might we create a workplace where more of our coworkers can thrive and make their dents in the universe?

Then we got more granular: What if we approached designing an organizational leadership structure that was more reflective of our ARAO values rather than how conventional “wisdom” suggests organization to structure hierarchically? How might [insert item] be an opportunity for us to better reflect our ARAO commitment, support people, and move our organization forward? If we all don’t live and work in the same city, how might we build a unified organizational culture, rather than one that varies depending on where someone is located?

Each item in the grid could have its own blog post, if not a book, delving into the how, the why, the stumbling blocks, and the lessons learned. Fortunately, we *have* written about some of these efforts here, here, here, here, and here. (And have more pieces in development.) Other items we dive into more deeply during our Work. Shouldn’t. Suck. bootcamps, HR Hours, and brown bag lunch chats with various organizations.

Has It Made Any Difference?

Looking at staff composition is one way — but certainly not the *only* way — of seeing how this work, and our journey, has impacted Fractured Atlas. Given that when we began this work we were a white-led organization with only one or two people of color on staff; we primarily worked from one office in New York City; and, we only had white men on our software development team, personnel metrics became a helpful proxy. Below is a snapshot of how those demographics changed over a five-year period.

A few of the metrics we tracked to see how our staff composition changed over 5 years.A few of the metrics we tracked to see how our staff composition changed over 5 years

Moving Forward in Ambiguity

The journey certainly hasn’t been without challenges, as any foray involving change is certain to include. (I wrote an entire piece about the psychological impacts of change here, and we’ve ticked off numerous instances of each during this journey.) We have and continue to struggle in places, and encountered unexpected hiccups in others. We made the best decisions we could at the time and then, importantly, iterated when things didn’t work out as we had hoped. This process continues to this day because, once on this journey, the work never ends.

There’s still no reliable template that I’ve found to do the work of dismantling racism and oppression in the workplace, which often leads to expressions of disappointment when people ask. It all depends really. It depends on where you are as a team and organization. It depends on your available resources. It depends most of all on your joint commitment — staff and board — to do the work, especially when it seems hardest and like you’re not making any progress. We move forward in ambiguity, an old friend of mine used to say, and we keep moving.

Because this work, and world, are ever evolving, we at Fractured Atlas couldn’t even follow the path we took if we were to do it all over again. That’s a liberating thought, though. The work is bespoke. All of us can use our creativity — wherever we find ourselves in our organizations — to move it forward. Simply reflecting on this question can yield helpful ideas: How might the decisions I make right now about [this thing] move us towards a more diverse, inclusive, and/or equitable team and organization? We all have agency, even if it might not initially seem so.

Ideas to Explore

Creating a negative interactions protocol and starting monthly race-based caucusing are great ways to move the work forward. But, depending on where you and your organization are in the journey, there might be other things you want to explore first. Might I suggest a few items for your consideration?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Begin introducing yourself using your gender pronouns, and ask others theirs. List yours in your bio or email signature.
  • Start a staff book club to explore new ideas and skill development. Might I suggest something from the lists here, here, and here.
  • Bring more new ideas and perspectives to your work from outside of your sector through a regular Visiting Professionals Series. #ProTip: Ask your Board chair to be the inaugural guest. Or, ask someone from a group who’s doing diversity, inclusion, and/or equity work to come and share their journey.
  • Strengthen board/staff connections and understanding by having an annual board/staff reception before a board meeting. It doesn’t need to be fancy, the sheer act of getting people together will be appreciated by those in attendance.
  • Take a few minutes to complete the Core Values Exercise Patrick Lencioni details in The Advantage. Why?
  • Learn more about how to create high-performing teams and organizations by listening to Adam Grant’s Work/Life podcast.
  • Are you a White person? Listen to Scene on Radio’s Seeing White series and use the study guide resource to discuss it with other white people. Or explore similar resources.
  • Increase organizational transparency and understanding by circulating your board meeting packet — unredacted — to staff. Then, take questions about the contents during your staff meeting. #ProTip: Use Google Forms to create a way to anonymously accept questions. This is particularly useful for sensitive inquiries or for staff members who might otherwise feel uncomfortable standing up in front of the entire organization to ask a question.
  • Level up that transparency — share the agenda from your leadership team meetings with the entire staff.
  • Recognize that resilience and self-care are a crucial part of this work if we’re to be successful. Check out my suggestions on that work here.
  • Google’s re:Work site offers a wealth of free resources, including for Unbiasing & Strategic Hiring.
  • Speaking of strategic hiring, remove educational requirements from your job postings. Why?
  • Make space for the different ways people process information by introducing a 30-second “Introvert Pause” after asking a question in meetings.
  • Formalize the members of your People Operations team. #ProTip: Members don’t need to focus 100% of their day on People Ops. For instance, the three members of the Fractured Atlas People team — Jillian, Nicola, and I — split our time, in various proportions, over FinPOps (Finance, People, and Operations).

Questions? Want to explore this more? Let’s chat!

If you have questions about how we approached anything on the list above, or other work we’ve done in the area, please ping us for a free HR Hour chat, apply to attend our upcoming Work. Shouldn’t. Suck. bootcamp on February 23 (deadline to apply is January 15), let us know if chatting with your board would be useful, and we also love lunch and brown bag-style conversations with teams too.

More posts by Tim Cynova

About Tim Cynova

Tim wears a multitude of hats, all in service of creating anti-racist workplaces where people can thrive. He currently is co-CEO of Fractured Atlas (an entirely virtual organization with staff spread across multiple states and countries) and a Principal of the consulting group Work. Shouldn't. Suck. He serves on the faculty of Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity and The New School teaching courses in People-Centric Organizational Design; he's a trained mediator, and a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Earlier in his career, Tim was the Executive Director of The Parsons Dance Company and of High 5 Tickets to the Arts in New York City, had a memorable stint with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, was a one-time classical trombonist, musicologist, and for five years in his youth he delivered newspapers for the Evansville, Indiana Courier-Press. Also, during a particularly slow summer, he bicycled 3,902 miles across the United States.