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  • Writer's pictureEi Ei Samai

Designing for fragility: how to literally budget for slowdowns and stalls caused by​ supremacy rxns

My shared insights assume that you are operationally familiar with fragility. My ideas are for professionals whose work is to shift the conditions that are barriers to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. If you are not yet familiar with the workings of White Fragility (which also applies to other institutionally advantaged identities) and Robin DiAngelo's book isn't readily available to you, this article written by the author is a good start:

I remember asking my business mentor about how he balanced work and life as a consultant when he was still working. He LOL'd. He was probably thinking how naïve I was. He was not in the business of DEI work but he sure was right about the time strains and drains that most often come from clients, not the project itself.

I still find it curious that a client would hire me for DEI work, then be surprised when things got uncomfortable. I am then predictably asked to redirect my time and energy from the agreed scope, time for which they are paying hundreds of dollars an hour, to help make the fragility displaying person(FDP) feel less uncomfortable. (Note that I work in the social sector so these funds come from tax payers, student tuitions, donors and so on.)

Once or twice, I have been lectured on what I call How to Coddle Fragility but cloaked in blanket phrases such as, How to better work with executives/governments/administrators."

This analysis from secondary parties, usually matching some or all of the demographics of the FDP, that the friction is coming from my lack of experience or tact (a whole other can of worms because I am a young looking WOC burdened with visual and verbal code switching to be deemed "professional") is itself a sign of the inimical ignorance that exists in that web of invisible social contracts.

The ask typically portrays careful consideration of the specific ways and means the FDP could have been made "more willing" or "less confronted." I am suggested extra meetings to add to my schedule or spending existing meetings debriefing, discussing, designing for the expectedly outspoken FDPs.

That doesn't include the work I have to do on my own to reflect on my role, which a good facilitator always does, and processing with colleagues/husband/therapist. I haven't figured it all out and I still find myself wondering if I was going to make $10/hr or come out in the red at the end of it because good therapists cost $$$, but I have figured out a few tricks that help.

TOC: “My truth is that I don’t want a chair at the table or even three or even half. I want the table to be rebuilt in my likeness.” I am considering making this quote by Ava DuVernay a Samai Group swag I give to clients at the start of our relationship. I might add that Up-power* folks used to tables built in their likeness leave them to join people in kitchens, classrooms, buses, clinics, shelters, and corner stores. Bringing folks to the table in the form of add-and-stir culture initiatives, input surveys that assume linear and individualistic thinking from the survey taker, information sessions during work hours, public meetings with no childcare, and funding with no community compensation line, etc. will continue to get the same homogenous, exclusive, inequitable results. The TOC (Theory of Change) has to be the first point of shift. Sometimes facilitating this shift can be built into the assessment phase. Sometimes it has to be recovered elsewhere.

PHASES: I like to make proposals in phases; going to the next phase depends on indicators of success in the previous phase. This allows for funds from later phases for be repurposed if we are stuck or slowed in a phase because of predictable fragility.

READINESS: Every client says they're ready because there are things they don't know they don't know (#JohariWindow). I haven't found a readiness survey that truly lifts the fragility in the systems I am being hired to shift, but starting with a compensated internal readiness assessment creates room to have the conversations about what to expect and how leaders can respond when predictable scenarios play out.

COACHING: One thing that works for me is to add a pocket of coaching hours to a DEI contract where the client asked only for training (I know!) or a similar one-off service designed to fail. The extra meetings then come out of this buffer rather than diverting funds from community facing hours. As the Permaculture principle goes, "The problem is the solution!"

ROLE PLAYS: This works well inside coaching sessions or planning meetings. It looks like asking the client or lead team What If questions prior to team engagements. For example, What if a senior leader invalidates the experience of POC team members in the middle of a training? What is your message as the Director to this person? How will you deliver the message to invite courage and minimize shame?

CURIOSITY: This is a super power I learned from many mentors, including Jon Young, who taught me the concept of being "Habitually Curious." Whenever I can, I budget for planning and debrief meetings where I can model curiosity to clients and make space for the fragility to come out in a smaller group meeting than a larger team facili-training.

RATES: I haven't tried this yet but it surfaced as I was writing this. (Giving is receiving!) I will change my current scale based on two questions added to my client intake: latest diversity report (or lack thereof) and capacity building the specific group I will be working with has done around DEI. Asking for what the organization has done doesn't work well in the social sector because of the high turnover of board members and staff. If the organization doesn't have a diversity report or the top 2 tiers of leaders haven't done basic power and privilege work, I will use a higher hourly rate or add one of the aforementioned features in the proposal.

That's all I have to offer for now. I'd love to hear what you do to be like water as Bruce Lee said, in the face of fragility.

*Up-power = Those in the UP side of the differential in any of the 5 power formation types according to Right Use of Power Institute. Up-power people are 150% responsible for creating healthy relationship conditions, whereas down-power people are 100% responsible.

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