Black Lives Matter, Social Identities and Leading in Times of Uncertainty
Black Lives Matter
Once again, we have all been called to action to examine how we collectively and individually contribute to the systemic racism that has driven people into the streets to demand change.
The murder of yet another black man, George Floyd, has ignited a long-smoldering wound, and every one of us has a responsibility to listen, to seek to understand and to act when and where we can affect change.
The task feels daunting and the issues so embedded that it is difficult to know where to begin. I can only begin with ‘self.’ As the leader of a young adult mental health program, I must look at my own biases and prejudices which influence the organizational culture of which I’ve been part of creating.
Do we have a culture where black lives matter? Is it one of diversity, equity and inclusion?
I’ve not been blind. I work in a field that is predominately white in terms of students served and employees hired. I’m an advocate for change and a social worker, and although our program, Dragonfly Transitions, has a reputation of acceptance and inclusivity, it is not enough and we cannot stop there. I am stepping forward to say I want to be part of the change. I will learn, I will listen, I will be receptive and I will use my privilege with intention. I will not always have the right actions or words and I may do this poorly, but I will keep trying.
I welcome direct communication and conversation. Only together and with vulnerability will we be better: [email protected]
In order to address deeply rooted systemic issues as an organization, we must be aware of and sensitive to an individual’s social identity, such as, gender, generation, language, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, and the list goes on. These identities are fundamental to the self and can either provide a sense of belonging or a sense of separation. It is through the connection and exploration of these identities that we can begin to understand and build a bridge.
Now that Dragonfly Transitions is part of Embark Behavioral Health’s collective of programs, I feel the added responsibility to contribute and double down to increase awareness and change. We cannot underestimate an organization’s role in creating a climate and culture that is conducive to the inclusion and respect of black lives and other disenfranchised social identities. Organizational leaders set the stage for embracing differences because they serve as examples and role models to others.
We can do better and do more.
Ways to Lead in Times of Uncertainty
Effectiveness as a leader means understanding the impact of our own identity on others, as well as creating an environment that empowers others to develop an authentic self of who they are and to feel accepted and appreciated even if not a member of the dominant group.
This needs to be embedded and felt throughout the culture of an organization from CEO to the families and students served.
Embark’s CEO, Alex Stavros, recently issued a call to action. Organizational change starts at the top and needs to move throughout at all levels. As the leader of Embark Behavioral Health, Stavros has committed to start with himself, which includes an analysis of the data, examination of systems at all levels, needs assessment, personal inventory, training and more.
How are we harming? How do we improve? What works? What doesn’t? Where do we excel?
This will begin with hiring an external consultant to facilitate the process, step by step. Simultaneously, individual programs and an Embark Diversity and Inclusion Committee will begin the long journey of seeking to understand and to hold one another accountable to not lose momentum.
Where the Embark Diversity and Inclusion Committee Will Begin
Embark Behavioral Health recognizes the long-term commitment that transformational change entails. This takes the development of an intentional action plan, reflection and time.
As a national organization and a leader within mental health treatment, we recognize the need to do better to address:
- Access to care
- Ongoing training
- Recruitment and retainment at all levels
- Quality mental health treatment for students of diversity.
Transparency is a step toward accountability. With that in mind, Embark is currently comprised of the following.
In a Director, Manager or Senior position, not including therapists or any supervisory positions:
- 64% Female
- 36% Male
Overall employee breakdown:
- 70% Female
- 30% Male
- 26% Ethnic Minority
- 74% White (Non-Hispanic)
We can always (and should) be better, and are committed to an internal and systemic process of growth.
Systems and Quality Director of Dragonfly, Sia Lewis, shares her thoughts on how we can actively engage with Embark core values to find a path forward:
“Listen to those who have a different lived experience than you. Listen without judgment. Listen to how it feels to move through the world like them. And, without shaming yourself, think about how any part of your life may have contributed to pieces of what they are describing.”
“Acknowledge that there is work to be done. There is room to grow. If we don’t acknowledge that there is room to grow, then we will never be able to. “I didn’t know that racism was still a big problem” is the opposite of this acknowledgment. This type of acknowledgment is hard and often shameful. But it is the antidote.”
“Results are possible. Change can happen. Results can be a confusing concept because it feels so final. We don’t have to know the answer when we step foot on the path. Results are part of the journey and the journey is never-ending. Let’s keep the conversation going.”
“The act of listening will help you identify how you can bring acts of service. Having a well-rounded understanding of someone else’s experience will help you understand and identify where you fit into their story. One-sided service is fine and well but serving someone in a way that they need to be served is service on a whole other level. That is the kind that breeds gratitude. Listening will also help you understand where it is that you are already being served by others. This equals increased gratitude.”
“This is the foundation. Growth cannot happen without trust. Growth is hard and takes courage and while it can happen in any space, it is expedited in a safe space. Trust yourself to articulate your own experience authentically. Your experience matters. Trust others to hear you without judgment. Trust that they heard you and that their service to you is genuine. This is the scariest part for me as a black woman.”