The past few weeks have been a painful, challenging, and terrifying time for Arabellans, particularly our Black staff like me. The loss of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, as well as many others, are losses we’re feeling acutely, though for many of us these feelings are all too familiar if no less horrifying. Systemic racism continues to endanger and end Black lives, as it has for hundreds of years, with devastating results for us as individuals, as a sector, and as a country. As our Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I, along with many peers, have struggled personally and professionally with what to do and how to move forward. How can I lead others when I am also suffering, scared, angry? How do I properly allocate energy to the urgency of this moment and keep that sense of urgency in our minds every day? What can I and we influence?
Several months ago, the Arabella team began work on a new DEI statement. Several weeks ago, before this most recent period of racial violence began, we made a plan to release it, through both a video and a blog post discussing what we learned in the participatory process we followed to develop it. The statement centers racial equity, as Arabella aspires to do. You can read it here, and you can watch the co-authors, our Inclusion Leaders at Arabella (ILA) group, read it aloud here.
When this most recent round of police violence against Black people happened, we considered whether we should wait to release it—if it would feel insincere to do so now. We didn’t, and don’t, want anyone to think that our intention is to center Arabella at a time like this. We do, however, feel it is more important than ever that our clients, partners, and the field more broadly understand where we stand and be positioned to help us hold ourselves accountable. We decided that, more than ever, we want you to hear from the Arabellans who wrote this statement and know that the entire team at Arabella is committed to carrying it out. This process reflects the Arabella we are collectively working to be—one that includes voices from different identities, levels, and teams; one that is focused on getting the process right rather than always doing it perfectly or quickly; one that is deeply collaborative; and one that acknowledges the vulnerability, room for growth, and tension inherent in this work.
We also want you to know that our words are meant to support action. Here are some of the actions we’re undertaking internally, several of which are referenced in our statement:
- Assessing and improving our organizational culture so it is proactively self-reflective and inclusive by hosting more small-group, interactive discussions and building reflection opportunities into our learning opportunities
- Identifying and understanding power dynamics in the workplace and in the sector more broadly
- Providing all supervisors with equitable management training and resources, as well as building new standards and expectations around management that reflect these practices
- Embedding and adding DEI into our firm-wide core competencies, which are used in the performance review process for all Arabella employees
- Re-examining and improving our hiring and recruitment processes, including how we write job descriptions and requirements, how we network, and who we partner with to help us find potential employees and to increase the number of people of color at the firm, particularly in senior leadership
- Building a curriculum around DEI rather than relying on one-off trainings
- Continuing to set annual firmwide and team goals related to DEI that are measured and tracked
Following the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests around the world, we are also having all-staff conversations that have served as forums to listen to Black employees, providing resources to staff to read and reflect on, holding racial affinity group conversations, and preparing an organizational financial donation (our first ever) through a process led by our Black employees.
These are important steps, but I believe that a fundamental willingness and commitment to give up and share power in new ways, to recognize that the same forces of racial inequity outside of Arabella are also inside of it (and us) and must be addressed accordingly, and a willingness to engage, make mistakes, unlearn, and relearn are even more crucial. No one training will change the status quo, but my goal is to use every available resource to bring it closer into being. The sense of urgency we have now must continue to drive us forward, which leads to another reason that sharing the statement is important—we want you to know that our commitment to this work is long-term. As we say in the statement:
We hope that you will join us, challenge us, and keep us accountable.
Join us through making your own personal and organizational commitments to learning and taking action against systemic racism. Challenge us by asking us questions and pushing us to keep stretching beyond our current goals. Keep us accountable by asking us how we’ve been doing and reflecting back to us what you’ve experienced when working with us. In the face of the world we live in, if we’re not learning and changing, we remain part of the problem. That’s why we’re working to change.