Last summer, institutions across sectors were called to account for their failure to address systemic racism. Many organizational leaders addressed the backlash by requesting trainings and consultations from professionals like myself in the field of racial equity. Unfortunately, many of these same leaders failed to recognize that hosting a training series on anti-racism or producing a set of public-facing DEI statements and benchmarks were not enough to address the root causes of systemic and structural racism at work in their organization. In the early stages of change, preparing staff members to engage productively in conversations about racism and developing policies and practices that uproot racial inequity is important work. But without a culture of accountability, any effort to prevent racial harm or provide proper redress when it occurs will fall short of accomplishing repairing harm and deepen distrust and disconnection among staff.

Imagine this scenario: Two coworkers, a white man (let’s call him Jonathan) and a Black woman (let’s call her Melissa), collaborate on a project, which they present at an all-staff meeting. At the end of their presentation, the company’s CEO, also a white man, praises their work, and then announces to the entire room to direct any suggestions or questions about this new initiative to Jonathan. “Great work, Jonathan,” he adds, before leaving the room. Some people miss the slight, while others realize that the CEO failed to acknowledge Melissa’s work. As people leave the meeting, they talk among themselves about what they just witnessed, feeling uncertain about how to address it. Melissa speaks with her supervisor and expresses her shock about what just happened. That supervisor, a member of the senior leadership team, brings her concerns to the CEO. While he acknowledges that it was wrong to disregard Melissa’s contributions, he justifies this oversight by saying that he just knows Jonathan better. In the end, he emails an apology to Melissa. But nothing else happens. This was a racial microaggression witnessed by the entire organization. Colleagues continue to discuss what happened in order to make sense of it, and, as time passes, tension continues to build. Staff members begin taking sides: Some make excuses for his behavior, while others cite it as an example of organizational racism.

Read the full article about building a culture of accountability by Piper Anderson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.