By Jane Larsson, Executive Director, CIS
‘Instills trust’ is one of four foundational competencies for every single one of us who works at CIS. What does it look like in practice?
Gaining the confidence and trust of others through honesty, integrity and authenticity.
Conversations with colleagues center around our ability to instill trust when it doesn’t exist. When we work around colleagues instead of including them or when we don’t take the time to seek stakeholders’ perspectives when building solutions for them, problems emerge. Typically, we have good intentions! We are excited to move forward with a compelling idea—a vision we want to put into action to make an impact. But often the 'putting into action' part doesn’t proceed as effectively as we would hope when the people we need to work with to get it done or the people who are intended to benefit from the project aren’t included early in the process.
Right now, a lack of trust is surfacing as we undertake our work to address racism. I write this as a white woman, someone who holds a position of trust, who is privileged to lead CIS—a diverse learning community—as we strive to elevate the voices and experiences of underrepresented groups and those who have suffered from discrimination and racism. I write to share what we are learning with the hope that it will also help you, whether you are in a position of trust as a leader or whether you are striving to be heard.
Undertaking our organisational self-assessment at CIS
This past June, the CIS Board of Trustees established a Board Committee on Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We intentionally went about assembling a diverse group of stakeholders to serve on the committee including CIS board members and staff, members and volunteers from our school and universities.
In August, we were ready to launch our organizational self-assessment, after researching multiple models used by universities and schools and consulting with experts who are looking deeply into the systems and structures that perpetuate racism. We ended up choosing a model from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and created a plan. We were ready to begin!
Despite our good intentions, questions quickly emerged within the committee we assembled.
- Where did this plan come from and who chose it?
- Are the answers to these questions already being answered?
- Will our answers matter? Will we really be heard?
- Who will make the decisions on the way forward?
At first, I wondered, "Was the process not clearly laid out? Did we not communicate it effectively?"
A blind spot: The assumption of trust
Committee members were frustrated and reached out to signal that we were not all on the same page. Follow-up conversations took place and soon the reality sunk in. A shared sense of trust did not exist among committee members. While we had set out to create an inclusive committee representing all stakeholder groups, one that brings greater diversity in opinion than we present on our staff or board at CIS, I had falsely assumed that joining the committee implied trust—in CIS, in me, in the committee chair and our board. It did not. But, it was only through the broadening of perspectives that I became aware of the lack of trust—that our intent is in question and not everyone believes they will truly be heard as we begin this work together.
So, how will we work to instill trust across a diverse community of stakeholders?
Last week, a Twitter post by a medical doctor in the US provided me with a clue to the way forward.
Let’s be honest.— Brittani Moneé James, MD (@DrBrittaniJ) December 3, 2020
Many Black person will refuse to take this COVID vaccine bc most of us don’t trust that white people or the government mean us any good.
And when that happens, know that the hesitance is not some baseless paranoia. It is completely rational.
Let me explain.
Dr James illustrates through a thread of messages the underlying reasons for the black communities’ hesitance and suspicion of the government, the medical community, and white people. Be sure to read the full thread where you’ll find explanations that help us to understand the fundamental challenges we face as we work to address racism.
She goes on to say:
The normal approach will fail. So how do we do it?
First, we need to admit that white people and the government have little to no credibility in the average Black person’s eyes.
That’s not a debate. That’s a forgone conclusion.
The harsh fact of the matter is...white people simply don’t deserve Black people’s trust.
As we near the end of 2020, let’s make 2021 a year of instilling trust. It won’t be easy.
But the first thing we have to do as white leaders in positions of privilege and power is to recognize our blind spots. To accept sobering realities and to recognise that despite our best intentions we don’t yet have the trust of people who have suffered from racism and we have to figure out how to earn it.
In early 2021 I’ll write again with an update on our efforts—which include instilling trust across the CIS community as a foundational action to decentralise decision making, include more voices and strengthen representation.
We will focus on the message:
Stories can create ladders – to help people who lack trust, to help them develop trust and rise.
… and the messengers.
Use your power, position and privilege to empower the right people to get this done.
2020 has been a year of profound learning for us all
In 2021, our greatest opportunity is to put our learning to good use. As we consider our actions going forward, one definition of leadership helps to show us the way.
Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good..
From all of us at CIS, here’s to 2021!