Collective Mind Community Conversations
Centering equity within networks
by Seema Patel, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind
Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.
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Our April 21, 2021, the Collective Mind Learning Community welcomed Ericka Stallings, Executive Director of Leadership Learning Community, to share her experiences, learnings, and challenges of working with networks to center and operationalize equity within their network practice. Leadership Learning Community is a national learning network that works to transform the way leadership development is understood, practiced, and evaluated in order to advance an equitable and just society, promoting leadership that is equity-based, networked, and collective. The session generated a conversation amongst participants around shared challenges, successes, and experiences based on their efforts to integrate equity within their networks.
Highlights from the conversation
The nature of network practice embodies the principle that a network’s strength is in its diversity. Finding equitable ways to harness that diversity is something most networks strive for. However, equity, both in definition and in practice, is as complex as networks themselves. As highlighted by our co-host’s presentation and through the community conversation, how networks choose to define equity, and how it is moved from concept, theory, and values to embodied and lived actions within a network can be dynamic, difficult, uncomfortable, rewarding, and necessary.
The conversation began with a definition of equity, and an acknowledgment that it was only one of many ways to define equity. Part of that definition — “the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups” — can, in part, be advanced through a network’s commitment to transparency and communication. However, as highlighted by our co-host’s experience, it should be done in a way that prioritizes people’s understanding and bi-directional communication, rather than overwhelming them with data, information, and updates. A perceived lack of transparency and communication by the network can damage trust and reduce participation, both of which are core to building an equity-centered network.
Another learning was the importance of centering and naming equity as a network value and goal and establishing a culture that centers equity. A network’s culture establishes values, norms, attitudes, and practices of the individuals’ and groups’ behaviors that influence their interactions. It maintains the network’s shared purpose and fosters ongoing collaboration, enabling these constructive dynamics and spaces and ensuring they are embodied in all network undertakings. A network culture centered on equity means shifting the network’s norms and dynamics to support and enable equity across its activities and then also asking if the outcomes achieved are in line with the values that were articulated.
Taking steps to move equity from something that is spoken to something that is operationalized can be uncomfortable, messy, and disruptive. However, much like the overall work of a network manager, it’s important to work with the discomfort, rather than against it. The process of operationalizing equity requires investing in relationships, deep listening, innovation, and experimentation. For example, participants described ways in which they had experimented with how to deepen network engagement such as holding space for formal and informal listening sessions, conducting surveys, creating affinity groups, incorporating consent-based decision-making, and integrating trust-based models. Core to this all is for the network to be willing to go through the process of experimentation and learning. In some cases, efforts may be met with failure, and in others, success. However, the ability of a network to create the space and invest in the efforts will ultimately foster trust in its network relationships, which is critical to its productivity and impact. Trust increases participation and collaboration, and it is only through collaboration that the network is able to achieve something greater than the sum of the parts.
How to authentically and meaningfully operationalize equity within a network parallels many aspects of what it means to be an effective network manager. It may look different for each network depending on its goals, breadth of diversity and composition, its mission, and many other factors. Networks, and a network’s culture, are dynamic, shifting constantly in the face of external and internal changes. Just as network managers and leaders must often accustom themselves to messiness, working with it instead of against it, operationalizing equity means disrupting and deconstructing systems and being open to conflict and discomfort. Having clear values and goals at the outset, and constantly questioning, learning, and assessing can help determine if and how a network’s efforts are progressing and if they are creating disruptive opportunities to increase equity. As mentioned by our co-host, if you’re feeling too comfortable, it may mean something has been missed.
Miss the session? View the recording here.
Thanks again to our co-host, Ericka Stallings from Leadership Learning Community!
Have your own experiences with efforts to center equity in network practice? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Join us for the next Community Conversation!
Or email Seema at firstname.lastname@example.org to co-host an upcoming session with us. Learn more about co-hosting here.