OKR Chat: Building An Anti Racist Workplace
Recently, What Matters co-hosted a Twitter Chat with Fractured Atlas (@FracturedAtlas), a nonprofit that provides business tools for artists. Joining us from their team were Associate Director of People Operations, Courtney Harge (@Arts_Courtney) and Associate Director of Inbound Marketing, Nicola Carpenter (@colacarp). The topic was how to build an anti-racist workplace.
Here’s what Courtney and Nicole had to say, as well as some of our favorite responses from the community.
@colacarp: We talk a lot about how anti-racism needs to be embedded into an organization instead of being something extra. So with this view, any initiative has the potential to be an anti-racist initiative. That being said, we have found a number of things to help us along on our anti-racism journey. Things like changing our hiring process, starting race-based caucusing, and looking thoroughly at many policies and practices.
@Arts_Courtney: If you recognize that racism and oppression are BUILT INTO every system we engage with, identifying tasks becomes easier. Simply, do what you already know how to do in ways that are less racist or oppressive. This may mean changing how you do something: maybe finding resources in different places or rebuilding a process from the ground up. How can you improve what you’re already doing through an anti-racist lens?
@lshufro: Do you mean finding new sources of talent? any other examples of typical processes where opportunity resides?
@Arts_Courtney: I mean finding new sources for everything. Where do you get your data to support your initiatives? Where do you get your analysis? What tools do you use? It can be helpful to consider that there are multiple options for almost anything.
@lshufro: Truly love this notion that the best foundation for change is in the core of your actions, not around them. It’s both effective and efficient at doing well AND doing good. why settle?
@WhatMattersOKRS: Speaking of policies, here’s a Q submission from our LI page “I’d love to see ex of concrete, actionable #OKRs that make sense to organizations across time and don’t get the one-and-done shoutout.” Do you have any links you can share with us?
@Arts_Courtney: This is difficult to answer without knowing what someone’s specific industry/job duties are. There isn’t one path to being anti-racist: the goal is to identify what is under your control and course-correct it toward equity.
@lshufro: This notion of course-correcting is important. Ideally, an equity lens will not stop your most important initiatives. It will enhance your results. Even successful companies like Apple and Allbirds are actively proving this point.
@lshufro: I bet not everyone starts from the same level of awareness on this. What kind of advice would you give to orgs starting this journey – getting support from folks who may not recognize there’s an issue?
@realgailthomas: Educating myself first, listening to BIPOC and DEI leaders tell their stories. Then looking around my world, listening to the words that are used, then go deeper.
@colacarp: As @Arts_Courtney and I have mentioned, we really think that the emphasis needs to be on looking at all of the work we do with an anti-racism lens. All of the OKRs. So really this can be done in the regular OKR setting process. How are you currently setting OKRs? Are there ways of adding questions related to anti-racism into the process? Is there a way for that to come from all levels of an organization and not just the top? #OKRchats
@asktannia: Curious if these OKRs all need to have a number associated with them? Most companies I see focus on things like “x diversity trainings per year.” Based on what you’re saying about setting every goal with an okr lens, I see how something like this may fall flat!
@Arts_Courtney: While measuring is the foundation of OKRs, I think we can adjust how we gauge success. # of trainings is one measure, but there are other numbers that can be helpful. How about the retention of staff of color? Or # of applicants in a hiring pool?
@colacarp: I think that reframing it as embedded instead of on top of can help address this. If I have a KR related to blog posts, how do those blog posts address racism? Or if I have a KR about an offsite, how is that offsite progressing our anti-racism goals? And both of these are real examples. In our post off site survey last year we asked people if it increased their understanding of how anti-racism was embedded into Fractured Atlas. That wasn’t written in my OKRs, but success of the offsite meeting goals was.
@enrvuk: One of my sweet spots here. “Measure what matters” is rarely more true than in matters of diversity. If you don’t measure it, there is no accountability and frankly it’s just theatre. Number of applicants is useful, people in succession plans are another. Love to hear others.
@heykoan: Companies can make lasting changes when it comes to managing #OKRs through small actions every day, and the same principles can be applied to anti-racism cultural change.
@WhatMattersOKRs: We love the inclusion of “every day” actions. It’s a lifelong practice!
@realgailthomas: Choose worthy, equitable Objectives in areas like hiring, supportive culture, training, external communications and measurable Key Results… And using something like color-based caucuses for accountability and learning.
@Arts_Courtney: It’s important to ask the hard question—do you want to look like you’re doing something or do you want to actually be doing something? Success at this work means fundamentally changing how you and your organization operate.
@colacarp: Asking Qs about what we’re prioritizing can be really helpful, and something that OKRs can help shine a light on. As we talked about, racism can be baked into everything, so look especially hard at priorities that you haven’t looked at with an anti-racism lens.
@realgailthomas: Love that. Look for what is missing to course correct! Wow. Any tips on how to figure out what isn’t there (an absence, that then leads to racist practices)?
@colacarp: So I think that it can be helpful to choose something and try and look at it from a lot of angles. It can be something small. One example we’re looking at is what holidays we close for. In choosing federal holidays what are we missing and who are we excluding? It can help to have some questions like this ready to go anytime a decision is made. Some of these questions will be specific to your organization but sometimes even just asking “what are we missing and who are we excluding” is enough to uncover hidden things.
@WhatMattersOKRS: Here are some Q’s we ask ourselves often: Have you heard from everyone? Who is missing? Have you drafted an O or KR in a way that reinforces something in your culture you need to change? Are you doing the right thing? Does this have a benefit for all?
@Arts_Courtney: Sometimes, it may NOT have a direct benefit for all. Equity is not providing everyone the same thing. Equity is providing people what they need to thrive. It begins with understanding what people need and what your org is able to provide. A more equitable and healthy environment is better for everyone, even if the materials benefits aren’t exactly the same in the immediate term.
@lshufro: Thriving as the baseline goal. Fantastic example of an audacious goal that matters.
@heykoan: We’ve done a lot of introspection and have had many thoughtful discussions internally. We’re regularly identifying ways that we can have more impact, through educating ourselves and listening to others. We want social equity to be part of our business model.
@colacarp: And linking anti-racism to business model/purpose/mission can really help increase buy-in and investment among staff and board! #OKRchats
@colacarp: It can be easy to think that permission is needed to look at work with an anti-racist lens, but for a lot of things it really isn’t. When we’re talking about embedding anti-racism into organizations we really mean that, at every level and team.
@Arts_Courtney: You are in charge of something—that is the definition of a job. If you do anything, you can do it with an anti-racist lens. Sometimes it’s the order of something: whose requests do you prioritize? Sometimes it’s how you do something: do you prioritize written communication over other forms? Do you rush to get things done quickly when you could get more insights in a more inclusive way?
@heykoan: Like OKRs, creating cultural change is a team effort. We’re educating ourselves, encouraging everyone to ask the tough questions and have meaningful discussions.
@WhatMattersOKRs: Exactly this. @perfexcellent recently tweeted that the most successful OKRs are a result of the team sitting down as a team to create, grade, and agree upon successes and failures. Thanks @heykoan!
@realgailthomas: Don’t be afraid to speak up, find allies and help raise consciousness with peers, then management.
@WhatMattersOKRs: Yes - and having a leadership team who emphasizes psychological safety in the workplace can definitely encourage others to speak up without fear of retaliation!
@asktannia: something I’ve learned - you do NOT need permission to wait for the top leaders to make changes. We are all responsible for creating change. Look at what you can control, and take action yourself.
@perfexcellent: You are always in charge of something. Start change from there and let your results (ideally) and social capital expand your circle of influence.
Final Take (From the What Matters Team)
Racism is baked into many of our systems and institutions. To build a truly anti-racist workplace you must be willing to apply an anti-racist lens to all areas of operation, if necessary. Effective anti-racism initiatives can’t be an afterthought. If you’re having trouble starting, a good first-step is to listen to BIPOC and DEI leaders. -Bruce, From the What Matters Team
If you’d like to learn more about Fractured Atlas’ work, here are a few articles that go into greater details about their commitment towards anti-racism.
We’d like to thank Courtney and Nicole for sharing their wisdom with us, as well as everyone who contributed their insights to the conversation. Join the movement @WhatMattersOKRS and tune in for our next Twitter chat!