2020 brought with it a racial reckoning in the United States – national spotlights on the murders of Black men and women by police officers, racism and xenophobia on full display in our highest levels of government, devastating and disparate impacts of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities, a burgeoning Black Lives Matters movement, and persistent and widespread protests against racial injustice. For us at Harder+Company, 2020 has been a call to reflect on systemic racism in this country, our role in it, and how we as a consulting firm can dismantle it. For years our staff have honed our culturally-based consulting practice, acknowledging power and privilege in evaluation and ensuring our research methods and consulting practices were responsive and sensitive to cultural differences. They continued to feel and identify the need to more deeply address equity and inclusion in both internal and external practices, and over the last couple of years, we have focused particularly on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within our own internal processes. However, the events of 2020 have made it clear that our collective efforts to date are not enough.
To be a truly anti-racist organization there is greater work to do. As owners of the company, we must work in collaboration with our staff to take a hard look at our existing models and structures, dismantle elements that are based in white supremacy, and ensure a consulting practice and organizational culture where all staff thrive. We must also strike the right balance between this internal work and our external practice, doing more to fight racial injustice and oppression outside of our workplace by finding new ways to support the creation of a more just system and society.
Taking Immediate Action
We acknowledge that systemic changes to deep-rooted racism and oppression don’t happen overnight and are part of a much larger national context. However, it was important for us to take immediate action to support our communities, clients, and staff now:
- We launched a matching gift challenge focused on racial justice, matching our staff’s donations of up to $250 per person towards civil rights and racial justice organizations. Our staff chose to support a broad spectrum of organizations including: Black Lives Matter, California Black Women’s Health Project, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, NAACP, Okra Project, and Southern Poverty Law Center, among others.
- Our staff reached out to our clients to see if and how they are pivoting their work—and how we could help manage their shifts. For example, we operationalized racial equity principles in the decision-making framework for Mental Health San Francisco’s Implementation Working Group in collaboration with the San Francisco Controller’s Office and San Francisco Department of Public Health Behavioral Health Services.
- We provided paid time to support our staff’s mental health and civic engagement efforts. This gave staff a chance to step back, rest, and recharge as they need to, recognizing that racial violence and the surrounding media coverage can be a source of stress and anxiety and resurface old traumas. This time also allowed staff to personally participate in their own advocacy and activism efforts.
These steps were just the beginning. Our longer-term actions require a deep look at the steps we can take to the ongoing and evergreen process of being an authentic anti-racist organization.
Stepping in the stream of change
Our company was founded nearly 35 years ago, and while we have a rich history of meaningful work, we also have deeply entrenched systems and norms, many of which are white dominated and require close scrutiny. Inspired by ProInspire’s Crisis as a Catalyst, here are the first of many steps we are taking to dismantle white supremacy within our organization:
- We began with discussions of level-setting readings for all staff. This included small group discussions about four grounding articles focused on setting a common language and definitions, manifestation of white supremacy and anti-Blackness, microaggressions, and intersectionality.
- With this level setting in place, all staff are engaging in an anti-racism book club, covering issues ranging from how white supremacy is ingrained in American systems and structures to personal anti-racism work*. Internal book club facilitators are supported by Dr. Victoria Rodriguez, who helps prepare them to address power dynamics, unintended harm, and possible trauma during book club discussions.
- With great gratitude to Dr. Audrey Jordan, we are articulating a set of anti-racism objectives for our organization, focusing on our consulting practice, staff commitment, organizational policies and practice, and accountability structures. We are engaging staff in a participatory process to develop an organizational anti-racism plan that identifies overarching goals for each anti-racism objective, specific activities, preliminary timelines, and necessary resources.
To set us further on the path of becoming an anti-racist organization, we will be looking more closely at our structures, policies, and practices with a racial equity lens, turning to such resources as those from the Race Matters Institute for guidance.
What’s next? An ongoing journey
As we continue on our journey, we will be sharing more about what we and our staff are learning and doing. We will be working with a bench of racial equity consultants to help us constantly pause, reflect, and reassess our thinking and our actions—and be accountable to our commitment and to each other. We must always be asking what else or what more we can do to be an anti-racism organization and support our BIPOC staff and communities. We must listen and learn, but also look forward to doing the work to create lasting change.
*Our reading list includes:
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
- Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds & Ibram X. Kendi
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- The Color of the Law by Richard Rothstein
- Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
- How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi