Questions for our second roundtable: enabling conversations about Race

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Hopefully, even if you weren’t involved in our first roundtable conversation, reading the questions set out below that will guide our second conversation will be helpful and induce reflection.

Reflecting on the roundtable discussion we had last week, I have formed the following questions to shape a second discussion. I’d very much welcome the same people back for our discussion and would like to involve others too. The questions are.

1. How long will white people remain interested in the subject?

2. How do we increase the chances of the sense of urgency and new found zeal they bring being accepted positively by people for whom navigating injustice has been a life experience?

3.How do we create safe spaces in which people don’t feel that they will be marched to HR if they get it wrong? Should we focus our efforts on creating these safe spaces at an individual or an organisational level?

4.What is the best form for an accountability group to take? Is this the best setting for us to visualise, discuss and practice out loud how we are going to call out and question others?

5.Is setting out your why – what is motivating you - the best way for a white person to start a one to one, relational conversation with a colleague about race - a topic they have not previously not discussed?

6.How do we best prepare senior leaders to have an enabling conversation with the people running the formal networks in their organisation?

Question 1 is rhetorical and included largely for context. However, it is important for individual white people to focus on their why – on what is driving them to get involved. If nothing else because it will help them to frame their conversations with colleagues (as suggested by question 5). 

I’ve had a number of conversations about motivation following our first discussion – in which I suggested kindness as both a motivation and a guide. Integrity, love, Ubuntu and other ideas have been raised. I have also re-watched Bryan Stevenson’s inspiring TED talk – which I would recommend as part of anyone’s learning: ‘the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. [...] we cannot be fully evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. [...] all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone.’

Question 3 and whether safe spaces are best created at an individual or organisational level has been one that has recurred during my career and my inclination is always to see the individual level as the key. For me the role of the organisation and HR is to enable individuals to have the conversations that create those spaces.

Question 4 is about accountability groups. These will probably be informally created with peers you work with or perhaps with people from your wider network. They were a great concrete idea that arose from our first discussion. They can perhaps provide a place for education – based on a book club type model - and also for talking about how you have stepped up, what you have done and what you could do better. They feel like an obvious place where we can all build the intervention muscle by visualising and practicing out loud what we might say.

The final question reflects the fact that we were clear in our first conversation that the formal networks that so many organisations have invested in to date have, on the whole, not achieved what they were set up to do. Now, with the overt support of the senior leaders, those networks have a real opportunity to deliver, to provide the safe spaces and to require change. That change must, however, be delivered by the senior leaders and it’s an important part of the initial conversation that the leader makes that clear and takes responsibility for driving change themself.I look forward to continuing the discussion. 

Our next roundtable will take place at 2pm on Tuesday 30th June. Let us know if you would like an invitation.

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