As part of my work at the Gandhi Institute, I’m tasked with and encouraged to spend some of my working hours learning. I feel grateful for that, and know that I’m privileged to work for an organization that prioritizes my personal development, and that knows that anytime a member of our team is growing, that the rest of the team will be impacted by that learning also. Learning about race, gender, identity, and social justice requires time, energy, and support to learn about, and then to create, actions that work to build relationships and more equity into the groups we inhabit. I’ve written about some of my experience participating in a Rochester-based professional development program below:
Over six months in 2018, I participated in the Leadership Coaching Certificate Program (LCCP) which was full of opportunities for building new awareness and skills. One of the most impactful learnings came via my small group, or Learning Support Group, work. During a group exercise, a colleague shared the importance of taking time to build relationships, and how this was especially important to her as the only woman of color in our group. In our focus on the task, our group didn’t pause to acknowledge what was shared. While this was occurring, my intuition was telling me to do just that, but instead I stayed in my head: doubting my experience and thinking about how interjecting might cause discomfort in the group. By not acknowledging my colleague’s statement, I was part of invalidating her experience. Afterwards, I felt ashamed for not speaking up in alignment with my values of equity and inclusion.
I was able to use peer coaching sessions to examine my hesitation, and thereby not stay stuck in my shame about my inaction. Later, by debriefing the situation with my other group members, we used the experience from the conflict to inform how we’d work together moving forward. We decided to integrate a relationship building component into our group agreement which helped us to build connection and support each other as challenges came up throughout the program. In doing so, we built trust and efficiency into our process and saw that replicated in our group projects.
My group experience helped solidify for me that oftentimes during conflicts, it’s the unexpressed shame I hold on to that discourages me from re-entering difficult conversations. By having the support from LCCP staff and my small group to work through my feelings, I was able to reflect and re-engage in conversation with my group. Through this process, I increased my self awareness, my confidence in using my white and male privileges as voice for equity, and my abilities to have uncomfortable conversations. This experience and my time in LCCP continue to inform how I think about myself as person and a leader. As a result, I would encourage others who are looking do the same to participate in the program.