I recently had the opportunity to reengage as a school board superintendent for three months after several years of retirement. In that work, I interacted daily with school and board administrators at a very large school board (60,000 students) in Ontario.
During my time on the board, I was impressed by the capacity of so many caring leaders to learn, adapt, pivot, set direction, support teachers, guide the instructional program, and work with school communities. And to do all this through a pandemic that fundamentally redefined the work of school boards was, to say the least, inspiring.
Above all else, I was impacted by the continued commitment and development of the board’s orchestrated effort to address Indigenous, equity, and human rights. This evolution has included:
- the articulation and documentation of clear guidelines and a strategic plan;
- a demonstrable shift from viewing equity as an important element in the organization’s life to actually utilizing an equity framework as a lens through which all work is viewed;
- dedicated budget, resources, and personnel committed to the work;
- clear targets, policies, meaningful data collection, and an accountability framework;
- training and support for educators, administrators, and operations personnel;
- senior leadership and the board of trustees demonstrating commitment and accountability and “walking the talk.”
It is in the best interests of your organization to create a culture where workers feel safe, respected, fairly treated, and enabled and motivated to flourish.
The culture has literally shifted. They have arrived at a tipping point where not utilizing an equity and human rights framework or lens to do leadership work would look out of place. More and more frequently, those who are impacted by issues of racism or inequity are able to find their voice, speak to their experiences, and see support, remediation, and justice. It quickly became apparent that I simply would not have been able to participate in leadership if I was not deeply committed to the obvious direction of the board.
That school board has a monumental opportunity to chart a new and exciting path in order to actualize the commitment and vision of those who have worked hard over many years to get to this day.
As I think about how all of this translates to leaders in other contexts (or to those who feel like they have neither the time, resources, or adequate training to make equity a priority), I would suggest that consideration at least be given to the following:
1. Acknowledge that you simply can’t afford not to make equity a priority.
You are in a leadership position for a reason. As such, an opportunity has been handed to you to influence or direct the culture, tone, priorities, and direction of those you serve. You also have the chance to laterally impact leadership and others who influence direction (board of directors, CEO, related provincial organizations or associations). It is in the best interests of your organization to create a culture where workers feel safe, respected, fairly treated, and enabled and motivated to flourish. Not only is this good for business – it is also the right thing to do.
2. Set your sights on leading . . . not just compliance.
In terms of managing risk, there is a minimum standard expectation for leaders as they protect the rights of all workers and ensure an environment that is free from discrimination. In Canada, all organizations operate under the umbrella of a legislative framework that outlines labour standards and protects worker rights and safety. Minimal legal compliance is your duty, but you can also do better – seek to gain a reputation as a great employer where every person can feel safe. Be an organization where inequities are talked about and addressed and where all employees like coming to work.
If your workforce lacks visible diversity, ask why, find answers, and commit to solving the problem.
3. Be open to learning about matters of equity.
Acknowledge that we are all on a journey of growing in our understanding of equity, social justice, and human rights at work. This is particularly important for those who lack lived experience of being impacted by oppression, racism, inequity, or workplace harassment. This journey never ends, so it is worth starting with an assumption that “I don’t know what I don’t know” and seeking ways to expand your understanding of how you can do better. Create a work environment where there is opportunity for feedback and honest reflection. If your workforce lacks visible diversity, ask why, find answers, and commit to solving the problem.
4. Establish an equity and inclusion working group.
Create a working group to initiate an equity audit and then inform, develop, implement, and monitor an equity and human rights strategy for your organization. Make the group matter to the life of your organization – provide resources, support, and time for them to meet on a regular basis during work hours. Roll up your sleeves and participate in this work.
5. Set targets, collect data, and create an accountability framework.
Ultimately, words have to translate into meaningful, positive action that produces results. The tone must be set at the top by senior leaders in the organization. They must “walk the talk” and actually set targets, collect data, measure progress and impact, keep the topic top-of-mind, and make it matter across the entire organization – every day, throughout every department, and in every interaction.
At the very core of ACHIEVE’s existence is the aspiration to see “a world where everyone likes where they work.” This simply can’t and won’t happen unless we all lean into the work of eradicating oppression, racism, and inequity. As a leader in your organization, you have an incredible opportunity to make a difference and build a culture that will not turn a blind eye. You have the power to make your workplace safe and help create a world where everyone can like where they work.
For more FREE RESOURCES, visit our resources page.