There’s a reason Glenn Singleton named his consultation agency Courageous Conversation: being bold and leading uncomfortable dialogues about inclusion and equity are key to creating meaningful and lasting change within an organization.
“Allyship is insufficient,” said Singleton during his “Learning to be an ally” discussion at this week’s Ad Age Small Agency Conference. “What we need in our world right now to challenge systemic racism, interpersonal racism, internalized racism is we need people to actually step up and become champions.”
Singleton shared his advice on how agency leaders can become champions of inclusion. Here are our top takeaways:
Allyship isn’t 9-to-5
The work of combating racism starts before entering the office. When team leaders or co-workers practice anti-racism in their personal lives, those acts of inclusion transfer into the office. Like any skills, eyes and ears for challenging racist behavior are trained; they aren't developed by pick-and-choose, but consistently through action and conversation.
Singleton said: “If I'm challenging racism in my family and among my friends and I'm doing things to broaden my circle and experience outside of work, then when I come to work and I see settings and experiences and teams and client relations and all kinds of things that don't go with the flow of my personal work, then I'm going to be able to bring that insight to my workspace. I'm going to know that something is off here.”
Speaking up and holding peers accountable for inappropriate speech or actions isn’t easy. Discomfort is guaranteed, but a necessary trade for ensuring a work community that supports and advances its members. Singleton clarified that “if you're not experiencing discomfort, you're not anti-racist.”
“You might be acting in a non-racist way in the moment, but anti-racism is active. It's a true engagement. You know when you're doing it.”
Conversation means both listening and speaking
The response of many to conversations about diversity and inclusion within the workplace or larger social justice movements is to show up and support silently. But the conversation can’t be conducted in silence. Meaningful change requires vocal participation to identify sectors of an agency that aren’t producing, attracting or including personnel and product that is inclusive and equitable.
And stopping to evaluate and question often attracts attention.
“What you want to hear is you want to hear someone recognizing your anti-racism,” said Singleton. “You want to hear someone calling it out. And that's when you know that that's a part of your persona. If no one has said to you, ‘I admire that anti-racism, your courage,’ that kind of thing, you're not doing enough. It's not noticeable.”
And white people have a responsibility to speak up as well. Singleton expanded that the white ally that commits to only listening isn’t advancing the conversation:
“I need my white friends to engage with the vast majority of white people and raise the level of consciousness and raise the level of skill. Too often, my white friends believe that their conversation needs to be with people of color, that their conversation needs to be about showing people of color that they actually are down with the cause. That they’re allies. That's not the job that I'm looking for of my white friends. I'm looking for my white friends to work with other white people to make sure that white people are also engaging in this experience, expanding their consciousness and their capacity to be anti-racist.”