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September 29, 2020

By Andrew Picard, Chief Programs Officer, San Diego Workforce Partnership

Earlier this month we took a look back at the history of racial equity gaps in San Diego. Today we explore how we can look forward and do more—on both a personal and organizational level.

“What’s Next?”

I am a white man. I am a gay man. I am the Chief Programs Officer of the San Diego Workforce Partnership. And I must—and we must—be doing more on the road to racial justice.  

As the national dialogue continues to fuel the spotlight on racial equity you may, like me, be finding yourself in discussions of race hearing: “We donated to NAACP but what more can we do?” “I believe in equity. I believe in change. What do I do next?” “I’m just one person, how could I have an impact on systemic racism?”

The answer is always: more. A hell of a lot more.

Owning Identity and Privileges

I must mention the seeming contradictions of my own identity. It is not lost on me that I’m writing this with the privileges afforded to me as a cisgender white male and nonprofit executive juxtaposed with my identity as an LGBTQ person.

Received 1166530277048190I want to emphasize that I am not equating the experience of being LGBTQ to that of being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of color). Unlike BIPOCs, whose skin color is apparent, being LGBTQ is not always apparent.

When I apply for jobs my LGBTQ identity is rarely, if ever, obvious to an employer. It is not something that can be perceived through my name on a resume or immediately seen through the color of my skin as I walk into a room. Why does this matter? Because research shows Black sounding names are 50% less likely to get call backs for interviews—even with identical resumes. 

Race, gender and sexual orientation are all part of many identity markers that shape one’s identity and priveleges navigating our workforce. Another example, today a Black man and a white woman make $0.74 and $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, respectively. Black women, faced with multiple forms of oppression, only make $0.64. 

I cannot stand outside my whiteness or exempt myself from its privileges but I can share the unique lens this intersectionality has provided me in grappling with issues of racial justice.

Rights “Victories”

After same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, I heard from many a sentiment that we somehow achieved the gay rights movement and “victory was won!”. And I imagine this was a similar feeling expressed when interracial marriage was legalized in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.

Chalking up a victory with our milestones can create a dangerous complacency and too commonly confuses the battle with the war. Justice is a journey. We know that even after the milestones of the civil rights movement glaring inequalities continued and still exist today, in public policies and in the hearts and minds of our society.

As I straddle communities/identities and experience firsthand discrimination for my gayness while simultaneously holding position, gender and white skin privilege, I am compelled to strike the sounding call for the added responsibility and urgency for us to keep asking: “What’s next? What more can we do?” And to never be satisfied with each step forward we may achieve.

Why Intersectionality Matters for LGBTQ BIPOC

intersectionality diagram

People are often marginalized based on multiple sources of oppression: race, income-level, gender identity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers. Intersectionality acknowledges that these identity markers (e.g. “white straight man” and “black trans woman”) do not exist independently of each other. They exist together and each informs the others, often creating a complex convergence of oppression. To put it simply our solutions must recognize that communities are not monoliths and inequalities are magnified for those experiencing this convergence. It is particularly true for LGBTQ people of color:

  • LGBTQ people of color face higher rates of unemployment, typically double that of the general population, and 5% higher than non-LGBTQ BIPOC
  • Black LGBTQ youth are 48% more likely to experience discrimination at school and 15% more likely to experience physical harassment than non-Black LGBTQ youth 
  • 79% of LGBTQ youth of color report negative interactions with law enforcement 
  • 44% of LGBTQ homeless youth identify as Black and 26% identify as Hispanic or Latino

Organization Action Planning: What More Can We Do?

Many organizations have made their donations. They’ve sent their tweets and hosted town halls. Diversity, equity and inclusion budgets that had disappeared are now back. What’s next?

Meaningful and long-lasting action to create an anti-racist workplace and society requires continual and ongoing strategic vision and intent. While one person may not be able to change the world, you can change yourself and influence your organization. Small actions add up.

Many companies have diversity and inclusion committees that are often employee-led on a volunteer basis. I know firsthand how this can fall short of the productive change your organization may desire. Too often these committees are set up and driven by staff from marginalized communities, which puts the burden of extra work on the few selected staff instead of integrating it as a true strategy across the organization.

Instead, make sure senior management, each department and company resources are dedicated to your strategy. You must also define how you are going to measure success. To do this effectively, first build consensus in your organization about what diversity and equity challenges may or may not exist and build a shared understanding of the issues or accomplishments you are trying to achieve. The Harvard Business Review discusses a five-step framework any organization can take to apply a strategy within their own culture. 

We must shift away from quick fixes or reactionary one-off trainings whenever the topic of diversity surfaces. Long-term solutions require more than treating the symptoms—we must focus on the causes of the disease. Our focus must be inward in our own policies and outward in our vision and intent.

The Workforce Partnership’s Plan for Action

Here are four diversity, equity and inclusion strategies we’re investing our time, talent and funding into:

  1. Using Equity as the Lens to Invest in Workforce Programs for Young Adults

    For the Workforce Partnership this means fostering inclusive business growth and supporting job quality for all by researching our region’s highest needs populations then designing an RFP to invest $5M, our largest youth procurement, in funding designed to meet the education and employment needs of young adults. This includes funding set aside for population-specific interventions in support of:
    • Black youth ages 16–24
    • Refugees, immigrants and English Language Learners
    • Individuals involved in the justice system
    • Individuals experiencing homelessness

  2. Invest Funding and Resources in Organizations that Prioritize Diversity

    Whether releasing a large RFP or making a small purchase, we acknowledge that our spending signals our values. Changing this means proactively funding vendors that prioritize diversity. To facilitate this, the Workforce Partnership has begun using Working Metrics. It’s an online software that helps evaluate vendors in relation to their peers with a rating system that prioritizes diversity, job quality and growth opportunities for their workforce. We are committed to tracking the diversity and demographics of our vendors for all purchases.

    This is not simply a socially conscious decision. There is evidence that “high-road” and diverse businesses result in higher performance and greater ROI. Learn more from the Aspen Institute.

  3. Creating a Diverse Talent Pipeline

    We seek to expand equal opportunity to high-paying careers. Our Workforce Income Share Agreement Fund gives San Diegans the opportunity to pursue careers in Java programming, front-end development, business analytics and digital marketing. Currently, 70% of the participants in this program are BIPOC. TechHire connects San Diegans to internships and career opportunities in tech. So far, 89% of clients are people of color moving into an industry that is overwhelmingly represented by white males.

  4. Rebuilding the Economy Equitably

    We are working with local businesses to develop employee ownership programs at companies that employ mostly workers of color as a first step toward shrinking the wealth gap. Programs like Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP)s can be a great way for businesses to recruit and retain top talent. It also has been shown to reduce layoffs and can be used as a tool to address racial wealth gaps by focusing on majority-minority workforces.

Taking Personal Action Against Systemic Racism

Whilst many of us feel disgust over acts of racism, covert or overt, we may not have had the lived experience of racism directly. Listen, Learn, Act frames our internal and external strategies. Here are a few ideas for things we can all be doing:

  • Listen to Understand: Avoid assumptions of the BIPOC speaking and listen with the intent to understand. Don’t get defensive if someone points out a comment you made is problematic. Listen more and check the lens through which you are listening. Seek out a diverse community and multiple resources from which you’re getting your information.

  • Educate Yourself and Learn Something New: It is not the responsibility of the BIPOC to educate you. Do not fall into the trap of calling “that one Black friend” and asking them to engage you. This topic is already weighing heavy on their shoulders. Instead, seek out celebrated authors on the topic. I recommend: How to be an Anti-Racist, So You Want to Talk About Race, White Fragility and Just Mercy.

  • Take Action: Join your local anti-racist group like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURG) or join a conversation with RISE San Diego. You must have the difficult conversations with your friends, family and children and speak up when you hear people use problematic language. Support candidates and elected leaders who champion diversity and racial justice policies. Look at organizations to volunteer your time or donate to, like the ACLU, Know Your Rights, Race Forward, Equal Justice Initiative or the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition.

Always Ask: What’s Next?

In the words of Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” That in the nutshell is what being an anti-racist is. You are either actively working to dismantle systems of oppression or you’re enabling them. There is no neutral ground. We all have a responsibility to do more. The road to racial justice is a never-ending journey.

Let’s get to work.

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