First published on LinkedIn.
When former President Trump issued the Executive Order in September 2020 banning all diversity and inclusion training for federal agencies and its subcontractors, I was disappointed and immediately felt defeated. As a JDEIB practitioner, I was excited that REAL courageous conversations about race relations and its impact on employees were starting to take place inside the walls of federal agencies and Corporate America for the first time. I facilitated numerous Town Halls and Listening Sessions for companies across multiple industries, where Black employees bared their souls for the first time in the workplace. They shared their struggles, barriers to entry and experiences with racial discrimination with company leaders and their peers like never before. I was honored to help create and facilitate these safe spaces for all employees to listen and learn together. And although the Executive Order did not directly impact Corporate America, I noticed a slowing down and hesitancy in some CEOs to continue these discussions.
So...I did some research and learned that the Executive Order was originally targeting trainings on Critical Race Theory (CRT), and that white employees expressed feelings of discrimination, racism and division as a direct result of the teachings in these training sessions. I was able to view videos of a few consultants conducting CRT trainings, and I have to admit that as a JDEI professional, I was taken aback by what I witnessed. I can honestly say if I was an attendee in that training, I would have been concerned about how my white peers and colleagues were feeling in that moment.
So...I did some more research and I learned that the type of CRT training being conducted by several of the consultants were reportedly not aligned with the original purpose or intent of the theory. In my opinion, it appeared to me that some of these consultants took a very personal approach, they also took some liberties and also took some of the material out of context. Additionally, the training was conducted in a way that did not build a bridge of understanding across races and other social categories. Instead, it was very accusatory in nature. This, of course, resulted in white employees feeling targeted and not knowing how to respond, or in some cases, how to look their Black colleagues in the eye after the training sessions were over. Thus leaving them feeling embarrassed...guilty...and yes...angry!
In February 2021, The Coca-Cola Company came under attack for presenting a "Confronting Racism" course for staff as part of their anti-racism training. The course included images and video clips from a previous interview conducted by Robin DeAngelo, author of "White Fragility." The course was hosted on the LinkedIn Learning platform, but has since been removed. Robin has also spoken out and stated that the images used were not from her standard trainings and she did not give approval for them to be used by a third party.
The Coca-Cola Company course instructed employees to be "less white, less arrogant, less certain, less defensive, less ignorant and more humble," and stated that "in the U.S. and other Western nations, white people are socialized to feel that they are inherently superior because they are white," and it claimed that children as young as 3 "understand that it is better to be white." A whistleblower shared images from the training and it went viral on social media. This course should have been properly vetted prior to offering it to Coca-Cola employees. There should be been a diverse group of decision-makers responsible for determining which courses they wanted to offer employees, ensuring that the trainings aligned with their DEI goals and company culture of inclusion and belonging. This was a huge "miss" on their part.
Coca-Cola also recently admitted that all of the DEI work they were mandated to do since their multi-million dollar discrimination lawsuit in the 1990s have all but disappeared. In summary, their efforts have failed and they are now reestablishing what DEI will look like for the company. Part of this effort was offering new DEI and anti-racism training. This course was part of that strategy, which is now categorized as another failure. I'm left with wondering how will they rebuild trust with their employees while on this renewed DEI journey.
How To Properly Vet A JDEI Training Consultant:
Have the consultant meet with the senior leadership team to confirm their desired outcome for the training based on their culture and current DEI journey.
Confirm how long the consultant has been conducting DEI training and ask how do they keep their material fresh and relevant.
Confirm the consultant's credentials beyond their website. Ask to SPEAK (not email) with former clients to learn about their DEI approach in their training.
Ask the consultant how will they respond to provocative questions from attendees (i.e., racial, political, religious, social).
Ask the consultant to share a difficult situation they experienced in a previous training and how did they handle it.
Empathy and compassion will go a long way with DEI training. Ask the consultant what their philosophy is as it relates to sensitive DEI subject matters.
What Is Critical Race Theory Anyway?
Below is an excerpt from a September 29, 2020 Time Magazine article to give some context on the origins and a proper example of CRT. When presented properly, I'm convinced Critical Race Theory can help to inform all employees about the ways institutional and systemic racism disproportionately impacts marginalized groups in negative ways. I believe CRT can prove to be a great way to build empathy and understanding, and ultimately create allies in new communities across intersecting social categories. Is CRT provocative in nature and concept? Yes, but it has to be done correctly and with the right understanding and intentions. If not, CRT will continue to receive negative reviews and backlash, which I'm certain was not the intent of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda and Stephanie Phillips, the founding scholars.
Critical race theory has been used to examine how institutional racism manifests in instances like housing segregation, bank lending, discriminatory labor practices and access to education. It has also helped to develop themes and language to address racism and inequality, such as white privilege, intersectionality and microaggressions, among others.
Here’s a specific current example: consider the fact that a disproportionate amount of people from Black and Latinx communities are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, Black and Latinx people are twice as likely to die from the virus as white people. A person considering that stat in a vacuum might assume that genetic or biological factors are to blame—a false conclusion that insinuates that there is something inherently wrong with Black and Latinx bodies. However, a person applying a Critical Race Theory framework to this issue would also ask how historical racism—which manifests today in everything from access to clean air to treatment by medical professionals—might be influencing this statistic, and would thus arrive at a much more complete and nuanced explanation.