After George Floyd: Addressing Racism at Work (Blog Post)
Like many organizations, Catalyst redoubled its commitment to antiracism. This is the story of our Expanding Dialogues initiative.
Rocked with a range of emotions after the horrific murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the Catalyst staff came together for a town hall meeting. “The world was in a state of dismay,” recalls Terrence Underwood, EdD, Vice President, Leading for Equity and Inclusion. “Several people shared their very moving experiences. I could appreciate people being vulnerable enough to express their emotions.”
Together with Dnika Travis, PhD, and Mirae Baik, Underwood created and led an initiative, Expanding Dialogues, as an advisory team to Catalyst President & CEO Lorraine Hariton at her request on issues of race and ethnicity. At the town hall, they put out the call for staff to participate. Thirty-five people, 30% of Catalyst staff, volunteered.
“That was my proudest Catalyst moment—to see so many people with the passion for change, both internally and externally,” says Underwood.
A year later, Expanding Dialogues was renewed to create widespread opportunities within Catalyst for learning, collaboration, and conversations. Expanding Dialogues has spearheaded small-group conversations to help members of the Catalyst community learn, connect, and contribute. Groups engage in a range of activities from sharing personal stories, reading articles or books, self-reflecting, and providing space for conversations that otherwise may not happen. In addition, Expanding Dialogues helps Catalyst link our internal initiatives and organizational mission to our work on Lead for Equity and Inclusion.
Three members of the initiative share their thoughts.
Building on Reflection and Allyship
Terrence Underwood, EdD, Vice President, Leading for Equity and Inclusion
At the town hall, it dawned on me that we had a total of three Black men, myself included, in the organization, but no one had thought to ask any of us how we felt. In that instance, I sent a chat message saying, “To the other two Black males, I hope you are doing well. I’m here if you need to talk.”
I felt like that moment empowered people to look past their emotions and reflect on how to be a better ally in times of pain. Our Expanding Dialogues work builds on the idea of reflection and allyship. Expanding Dialogues has brought more awareness to how we use our tools and research to make internal Catalyst a more inclusive culture—and how we respond as an organization to atrocities stemming from the race and ethnic hate crimes.
One year later, I see the members of Expanding Dialogues as internal partners for Catalyst staff, doing work that is similar to our Leading for Equity and Inclusion work with organizations to transform how they drive equity, fairness, and inclusion in the workplace in countries across the world.
Inspiring Community Activism
Erin Davis, Director, Corporate Engagement, Western Canada
The call to action through Expanding Dialogues allowed me to find confidence to amplify the marginalized voices of community members in the city where I live—Edmonton. I took a chance and applied to be a part of the Edmonton Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force. The mandate for this task force is to create actionable recommendations, grounded in antiracism, for the Edmonton City Council regarding the future of community safety and well-being in the city.
Throughout our time together as a task force, we had many difficult conversations. This sentiment formed what we wrote in our final report—”a forum where all voices were given equal weight and where all voices mattered… where people could speak their minds freely, share their perspectives safely, and call things as they saw them.” We approached our work using the same foundation that Catalyst has prioritized: to expand dialogue in an inclusive way. (I wrote more about my experience on LinkedIn.)
I recognize that this work will not go seamlessly. I know that our unconscious (or conscious) biases will get in the way. I know we will make steps forward, and undoubtedly take steps backwards—we are, after all, human. But if there is one lesson that I now know to be true, we can truly accomplish greatness when we come together, inclusively, and give space to hear the voices of others.
Opportunity to Express Empathy
Sunita Mahtani, Director, Corporate Engagement
When I joined Expanding Dialogues, I was happy to see it was diverse. There were colleagues from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and genders as well as people across different levels of the organization, all who joined to process racism and to be vulnerable with each other. I’ve had the opportunity to meet colleagues that I would not be able to connect with in my role otherwise. In this space, I am able to connect and feel heard.
We talk about our own experiences of prejudice and racism, we listen to each other, and we connect with one another. Hearing some of the stories has been painful, like a colleague telling us about when he suspected doctors were ignoring his father during a hospital visit because he was Black. We process these stories together. And recently, we met before and after the Chauvin verdict came out and supported one another.
The point is to dialogue. But I also think about what’s next. My hope is we can work together with the goal of dismantling racism in our broader society.
Our ultimate objective is to transform our shared experiences into action—to live out what Catalyst research shows is crucial—to become true allies to one another.
Call to Action
Does your organization want to commit to antiracism? These Catalyst resources can help.
- Register for our CatalystX course, Facing Racism and Emotional Tax in the Workplace.
- Sign up for our Leading for Equity and Inclusion workshops.
- Read and share these resources to address racism in the workplace:
- Allyship and Curiosity Drive Inclusion for People of Color at Work (Report)
- So You Want to Learn About Race & Racism (E-Learning)
- Overcoming Conversation Roadblocks (E-learning)
- 14 Racial Equity Terms You Should Know (Blog Post)
- Research, Reading, and Resources for the Antiracist (Ask Catalyst Express)