Disruptive Resolutions for 2022

A pen hovers over notebook paper that reads "Resolutions..."

As I mentioned last year, I’m hesitant to declare New Year’s resolutions. One reason is because setting goals during so much uncertainty feels like throwing darts at an unknown target. That being said, I appreciate a good anti-resolution, especially if it aligns with changing processes that will benefit everyone.  

 

Through Minerva’s ongoing equity journey, we’ve explored tenets of white supremacy culture as laid out by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun in “From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups.” In 2019, I wrote a piece in which I owned up to my unexamined biases resulting from racist conditioning and, years later, I’m still trying to root out the ways that white supremacy culture shows up in my work and life—it’s a lifelong journey.  

 

While I can recognize how I perpetuate harmful practices, a few of these core tenets stand out within my work experience. Below, I’ll highlight these tenets, describe how they show up for me, and propose some ways that those of us who struggle with similar issues can resolve to do better.  

 

Sense of Urgency 

When we operate with a sense of urgency, we often skip the processes and collaboration that promote equity. For example, I was recently working on a production with a tight timeline. We needed another story for the piece to publish on our desired date, so I suggested that I write up a short blurb using the notes another colleague had taken about a project the organization was running. Despite not being part of the original conversation, I drafted up the story and sent it over for review, proud of myself for “getting s**t done.” 

 

While my intention was to relieve my colleague of the task and get the piece out on time, what I wrote cut out the key role a Black staff member had played in the project. His name didn’t show up in the notes because the interviewer had planned to write the piece himself and knew who the key players were. While the project team understood our intentions were not to sideline any team members, they rightly pointed out the flaws in our process and suggested that if we want to write stories on their work in the future, we had to provide more time to ensure all voices could be heard.    

It takes time for more people to meaningfully contribute. That may mean we move more slowly, or at least consider what we’re risking with speed, and mitigate those losses when we agree that speed is necessary. According to Jones and Okun, as leaders, we need to set realistic timelines and anticipate things will take longer than we expect. We also need to ask for feedback on the feasibility of these timelines from those doing the work. We should not punish people for not meeting unrealistic expectations, especially if they had no say in setting them. As staff, we need to do what the team did in my example – point out how my process didn’t allow for the time to ensure the right voices were heard and ask for better. 

 

Quantity Over Quality  

Let’s talk metrics. I like them. I create them. They’re important. But, like urgency, “hitting our target” can be prioritized in ways that work against our ultimate goals 

 

“Systems change,” for example, is necessary to get to the heart of some of our more challenging issues in education, healthcare, economic inequality, or the democratic process. However, systems change is difficult to measure, requiring cross-organization collaboration and long-term effort. Short funding cycles and the demands funders put on their grantee partners to perform and report back are not conducive to this type of collaborative change. If the goal is to prove impact in two years, organizations are forced to address things they can move in two years, whether these things move the needle on the root causes of the challenge.  

 

Our colleagues at Shift are experts at systems change to create more equitable outcomes. They have run improvement networks in healthcare, education, global health, and other social services. Their philosophy on measurement is one that we should all adopt, namely “measurement for learning, not judgment.” We must look for measures that help to better understand the impact – intended or not – of the work and tell us if we are moving closer or farther from our aim. Deciding which measures to track is not about what is easiest to measure or what will help us prove our value, but instead, often show what is not working so that we can improve. This mindset shift is necessary to change our focus from endpoint to the effectiveness of our processes.  

 

Individualism  

I’ve been celebrated for being independent by those close to me. I resisted working with other people in a “real job” for a long time, and I always thought that I’d work for myself until Minerva found me. While a certain amount of independence and individualism is great – we should think for ourselves, come up with our own opinions, and be able to express our preferences – too much leads to personal and professional challenges and reinforces dominant culture narratives that devalue collaboration.  

 

One of my biggest professional development goals in the New Year is to delegate more substantive responsibilities. My independence stems from the fact that I have a hard time trusting that other people will show up when I need them. We can dig deep into where this belief came from – and, believe me, I have – but regardless of origin, it often means that giving people even small responsibilities is scary. It’s difficult for me to trust that they’re going to care about it as much as I do.  

 

This, of course, leads to over-work, micromanagement, burnout, and a sense among my colleagues that I don’t trust them to do a good job. I take on tasks that I should assign to others with the justification that it will “take less time to do it myself” or not wanting to “burden anyone.” I’m happy to say that just recognizing these patterns of not wanting to depend on others has already shifted the way I work. I still feel the seizing in my body when I give over responsibility, but it helps that every time I do – and I’m clear in my expectations – my team has come through beautifully and done a better job on the task than I could have.  

 

Are there other tenets of white supremacy culture that you recognize regularly in your work? If so, I’d love to hear about them at sara@minervastrategies.com. If we’re going to resolve to do anything this year – and the rest of our lives – uncovering and disrupting the ways these harmful tenets show up in our workplaces, lives, and communities is worth the effort.

About The Author

Sara Veltkamp

Sara Veltkamp

Vice President

Sara lives in New Orleans, Louisiana and is Minerva's vice president. She takes a lead role in all aspects of Minerva Strategies’ smart communication strategies and implementation. She loves a challenge and is obsessed with learning new things, from how to use new platforms and tools for storytelling to languages like Amharic, French, or Farsi to mastering a difficult yoga pose. She applies this energy and curiosity to all clients’ communication challenges. Learn more about Sara.