New Report: Leadership Programs Can Help Solve Racial Inequalities in Communities Across the Country – Key Methods and Recommendations

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First Report to Analyze the Link between Major Philanthropy Investments in the Racial Equity and Leadership Development Fields

Leadership and Race Report Cover

This is an important report that proactively addresses the impact of structural racism on leadership development. (Dr. Gail C. Christopher, W.K. Kellogg Foundation)

Leadership programs can help solve racial inequalities in access to education, healthcare, income and wealth, but many current approaches to leadership development actually maintain and promote racial inequalities, according to a new report released today by the Leadership Learning Community and other thought leaders in the leadership development and racial equity fields.

The report, How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice, suggests that a large number of leadership programs associate leadership with equal opportunity and individualism. This thinking does not recognize that current systems (i.e. policy, culture and institutional practices) can cause racial identity to limit one’s access to life opportunities. It also focuses too narrowly on changing the behavior of individual leaders. Instead, leadership programs should: 1) make their programs more accessible for people of color; 2) help participants understand how race limits access to opportunities – in other words, the impact of structural racism; and 3) promote collective leadership. This approach will help participants work together to tackle the systems that maintain racial inequalities.

“This report offers strategies and positive examples to inform and inspire the thousands of leadership programs in the U.S. to redefine their approach,” noted Deborah Meehan, Executive Director at the Leadership Learning Community and one of the authors. “One example of a program leveraging collective leadership to address educational success, an area where there are significant racial disparities, is the Leadership in Action Program (LAP) by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. LAP brings together 25-40 leaders from public, private and community organizations to collaborate across multiple sectors to reach a common goal: increase the number of children prepared to learn when entering school in the city of Baltimore, MD. Between 2001 and 2009, the school readiness of Baltimore city kindergartners increased from 28% to 64%.”

According to PolicyLink, supporting people of color to take on leadership roles within their communities is a prerequisite for reducing poverty and disparities. There is an opportunity to increase the access that people of color have to leadership roles by improving the current approach to leadership development. Leadership programs need to be more accessible to people of color who have been excluded from many opportunities and give them access to training, resources and networks. Also, program training should help participants understand how policies, culture and institutions are part of a complex system that maintains racial inequalities. Finally, the trainings need to promote collective leadership that connects participants across organizations and sectors to change the system.

The Greenlining Institute’s Academy Director, Danielle Trimiew, said, “In our leadership development work, we are always striving to implement best practices. This report offers compelling evidence for the need to incorporate a structural racism framework into our leadership training. Moving forward, we are going to emphasize systems thinking and analysis in our curriculum so that participants can learn strategies to address structural racism. This knowledge is going to help us train our participants to better serve low-income communities.”

With appropriate support, people of color will have influence at policy tables and be better equipped to create solutions for their communities.

Other recommendations include:

  • Open Conversation about Race: Provide time and space for participants to talk about race and their racial identity. This gives participants an opportunity to transform their thoughts and feelings about race and how it impacts their work.
  • Training: Incorporate elements of racial justice training, i.e. an analysis of structural racism. This is different from diversity training, which focuses on interpersonal relations and cultural awareness.
  • Tracking: Monitor changes in whether or not people of color have increased access to leadership in communities and organizations, and more of an impact on policy making. Track the changes over the long term.
  • Funding: Provide adequate funding to leadership programs that promote racial justice. Programs should also help participants understand how to access resources.

“We have a rich history in community leadership development and we know the criticality of addressing structural racism and promoting racial healing to remove barriers to opportunity,” said Dr. Gail C. Christopher, Vice President–Program Strategy with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “We are excited because this is an important report that proactively addresses the impact of structural racism on leadership development.”

The publication is based on conversations with more than 150 individuals and organizations running and funding leadership programs across the nation, and an extensive review of existing literature in both racial equity and leadership development.

A free PDF of the report and a list of resources are available at http://bit.ly/LeadershipRaceForm and http://bit.ly/LeadershipRaceInfo .

The publication is co-authored by: Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center (ARC); Sally Leiderman, Center for Assessment and Policy Development (CAPD); Deborah Meehan, Leadership Learning Community (LLC); Elissa Perry, Think.Do.Repeat.; Maggie Potapchuk, MP Associates; Professor john a. powell, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University; and Hanh Cao Yu, Ph.D., Social Policy Research Associates (SPR).

This report is the first in a series of publications, the Leadership for a New Era Series, launched by the Leadership Learning Community in 2009 to promote inclusive, networked and collective leadership approaches. The series is funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, The California Endowment, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, Kansas Leadership Center, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Funding for printing and distributing this publication, the first in the series, was provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. More information about Leadership for a New Era: http://www.leadershipforanewera.org .

The following individuals are available for interviews:

  •     Terry Keleher, Midwest Director, Applied Research Center (co-author)
  •     Deborah Meehan, Executive Director, Leadership Learning Community (co-author)
  •     Carmen Morgan, Program Director, Leadership Development in Interethnic Relations
  •     Christopher Perrius, Director of Development and Communications, The National Equity Project
  •     john a. powell, Executive Director, Kirwan Institute (co-author)
  •     Danielle Trimiew, Academy Director, Greenlining Institute

About the Leadership Learning Community
We are a national nonprofit organization transforming the way leadership development work is conceived, conducted and evaluated, primarily within the nonprofit sector. We focus on leveraging leadership as a means to create a more just and equitable society. We combine our expertise in identifying, evaluating and applying cutting-edge ideas and promising practices in the leadership development field, with access to our engaged national network of hundreds of experienced funders, consultants and leadership development programs, to drive the innovation and collaboration needed to make leadership more effective. We also offer the following consulting services to help programs and foundations optimize their leadership investment strategy: scans, evaluations and network development. For more information please visit http://www.leadershiplearning.org.

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Natalia Castaneda
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