In Defense of Black Staff in the Political Sector

A readout from Inclusv Members & a 6-Step Guide for Managers

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Image: Erik McGregor

Inclusv is a Black and brown founded and led initiative that launched 5 years ago. It is managed by Alida Garcia and Malik Hubbard who have a combined 35 years of political campaign experience working across issue and electoral organizations and campaigns at the national/state/local level, and within labor, government, candidate campaigns, and nonprofits.

Over the last 5 years Inclusv has challenged the political sector to improve its recruitment, hiring, training, retaining, and promoting of talent of color. In the day-to-day we service our membership, which now comprises of thousands of people who self identify as a person of color looking for their first or next job in politics. Part of helping our members includes helping our employer partners increase the number of talented Black, Indigenous, and other people of color able to access their job descriptions. Inclusv is currently in the middle of an organizational transformation to help even more members reach more employers to continue building a sector reflective of our values, and are excited to share these updates in the coming weeks. If you are an employer looking to do more than issue a statement that says Black Lives Matter, we encourage you to reach out to partnerships@inclusv.com to work with us for longer work ahead to build stronger campaigns, organizations, and companies.

Inclusv exists because the political sector has a long way to go in valuing its talent of color. We’ve been honored and proud to play a leadership role in successfully moving the needle in norms and culture around diversity in politics but there are still many miles to go. It’s been clear to us that our membership is grieving and frustrated right now. As such, we decided to survey our membership about what they are feeling and what they need. Unfortunately, even in a sector that is often romanticized as a career space where you work to build a better world, far too often Black staff, Indigenous staff and staff of color can be penalized as “difficult” or “having an agenda” when they surface inequities in the workplace to push our organizations, campaigns, and companies to better internally align around a collective vision that combats anti-Blackness and racism. We are proud to speak up with our members who trusted us with this information and publish the results of this survey synthesizing their passion, expertise, care, pain, and stripping identifiers to protect them. We thank them for this gift to the entire sector.

To that end, we surveyed our membership 5 simple questions:

  • What I Wish My Employer Understood and/or Would Do Internally for Staff During This Time

The respondents of this survey identified as 46% Black, 4% Indigenous, & 50% Non-Black Non-Indigenous Person of Color. We thought this was important to include as this moment is about the needs of Black staff & defending Black lives. Our results are synthesized for trends, but where there are quotes, they are the verbatim words of our members. We have provided check-lists for managers/employers in each section to at a minimum ask the question of yourself and your leadership, recognizing that everything requires context, not all organizations are the same, but that we feel confident in stating that anti-Blackness shows up everywhere in this sector, and we all have work to do, us included. To our members, we hope this may be a tool for you to provide your manager, President, or HR Director so that you feel less alone.

WHAT WE ARE HEARING & STEPS TO TAKE:

1. Say Something! But The Statement Isn’t Enough. Do the Work & Ask What We Need.

“Avoidance makes the wound a little deeper.”

Say Black Lives Matter

Saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ isn’t enough

Stop being performative and ask Black employees how they can be supportive.”

Make tangible commitments to measure our progress over time. Instead of empty thought pieces.”

Make donations to Black organizers, Black led organizations, at the very least issue a statement and match employee contributions.”

I’m feeling guilt and shame about working in this sector during this moment, seeing current and past employers release rehearsed statements but not take further concrete, material, financial action. I’m speaking up to current and past employers, but I’m sometimes met with vague, frustrating responses. It feels all the more shameful because current and past employers have benefited so tremendously from Black employees. I think sometimes, employers give themselves so much credit for developing programs, and don’t necessarily acknowledge that without Black employees, their programs would be ineffective or even harmful.”

Some staff are harmed by the silence of their organizations. Some staff have watched their organizations issue statements and graphics but not have a single conversation internally or checked in with their Black staff. WAY too many staff answered “nothing” or “lol absolutely nothing” to the question of what their employer has done that has been helpful. Ultimately, there is a call to action for employers to “speak out” to their stakeholders that valuing Black life is in their values & “speak in,” in that valuing Black life includes the needs of the staff internally within the organization. Additionally, members are frustrated with the limited nature of external communications especially in organizations who may view themselves as not focusing on institutional racism in their messaging. There is a call for organizations to push themselves to be more intersectional in their message frames. A call that recognizing that all campaigns and all issues impact Black people, and to question where and whether that has been invisibilized in the systems and communications of the organizations to-date.

Inclusv Check-list for Employers:

  • Have you issued a statement in solidarity of the efforts of Black organizers to defend Black lives?

2. Give Staff Paid Time Off for Wellness, Mental Health and/or Protest, Provide Wellness Opportunities

I’m the director of a program and I get that I can’t take a week off or anything, but I want to go to a rally and be with my people. I can’t do that when I’m in campaign mode 24/7 and it’s draining to be putting this candidate over my community right now.”

I’m fucking tired.”

Tell Black staff to take time off and that they won’t be penalized for it.”

“White co-workers don’t understand my pain or grief.”

“My experience as a black staffer has been absolutely horrible. The pandemic and the events surrounding George Floyd are painful. My white male manager microaggressions toward me is like a brick falling from a 50-story building on top of my head.”

People are tired & that is not being recognized. People need rest and joy, both which come in many forms. This uprising has occurred in the middle of a pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black, indigenous, and people of color. Many staff were already feeling the immense economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on their families. Many of our sector’s workplaces, while mission-oriented, don’t provide the racial diversity needed to serve as sanctuaries during this time. Work is feeling less meaningful because there is an international call-to-action that is bigger than any one organization’s work. Black staff need time to recharge, be that with wellness opportunities, in community in protest, or otherwise. Many organizations believe themselves to be “in the good fight, too” and therefore not having to work on this, but in many ways, that is de-centering & an excuse. We’re in a generational moment that requires everyone showing up in what feels most authentic, empowering and healing for them — and for Black staff that means many want to show up as a Black person for Black people. People need space to do that and that space is most likely not in your organization, regardless of your mission.

Inclusv Check-list for Employers:

  • Have you provided Black staff and/or other police-violence/criminal legal system impacted staff with wellness PTO?

3. Check-in, Listen & Create Space Without Taking It Up

A simple conversation was something that was needed, but did not occur.”

Provide safe space for their employees to let their feelings out and acknowledge what’s going on.”

I’m checking in on my team, but the CM/candidate above me have not asked once how I am.”

Understand that space is needed to openly express and be critical of the structural internal work needed.”

White staff should step back and listen, and not burden POC with their guilt

Call out white supremacy and acknowledge the role this plays into everyday lives and the organization

I wish my employer would understand my constant fear and discomfort working in a white space.”

My direct supervisor hasn’t had direct check in or team meetings.

I think my employer has an adequate informal culture of acknowledging how traumatizing this time is for Black employees by encouraging more time off, redistributing work, etc, but I would like to see this become a more formal culture. It would be great if there was more of a mandate to non-Black staff to interrogate how they’re showing up in this moment for their Black coworkers.”

I am glad that my employer has been creating spaces to talk internally about police brutality, white supremacy, and concrete action items to take. (Granted, I am a non-Black POC and don’t wish to speak for Black coworkers on whether these spaces have actually been helpful.)

Forced conversations without facilitation support. Last week we went around asking folks what they learned about racial inequity this week…Black folks were like….um my whole life?!?

READ THE ROOM!”

There are varying experiences where many staff have had literally no conversations internally, and some are holding conversations but the conversations are being executed in cringeworthy ways. It is clear that many Black staff want to be heard, and a part of what they want to be heard on is not just talking about the current events happening in the outside world, but how anti-Blackness shows up in their own campaigns and organizations. Additionally, some BIPOC managers are being asked to carry the work of holding space for the remainder of their staff while their white peers out of fear of saying or doing something wrong and/or white privilege, don’t perform the same labor, and it is exhausting the managers of color. Some organizations have tried to split up convening spaces to make things feel safer for different cohorts, but for Black staff in some instances that is landing as white staff being too scared to hear directly what internally needs to change.

Inclusv Check-list for Employers:

  • Have you convened a dialogue internally? If yes, did you get feedback & do you need another one?

4. Reflect On Hiring Practices, Compensation Practices, & Why There Aren’t Black People in Management

“reflect on their hiring and management practices”

“provide professional development and guidance on how to progress in my career”

“This sector needs to change drastically. Many of these companies are MAKING MONEY from our communities. It is unacceptable and irresponsible to remain the same. Make room for people of color. Don’t just hire a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion person, make your entire leadership more diverse. Don’t act like hiring a single Black woman to run all of HR is helpful, if anything, it’s so much more work for her.”

“Recognize the lack of black male mid-management and upper management within the State of California And do something.”

“Recognize most aren’t managed by Black managers & give us a career path to become one”

“seeing other people who look like me in my office and in leadership roles is important”

“We need pay equity & transparency”

“Attempting to use me as a prop; only call on me when you need a Black staffer; pay me less than my white colleagues; depreciate my value; fail to mentor me like white staff; fail to recognize that white staffers are your friends, but Black staff like myself are never included in that inner circle

“progressive organizations are predominantly led by white people trying to tell people of color how they should take action. that’s a problem.”

“I work for a citywide elected official. There are no Black men in leadership posts in our office, senior aides have used phrases like “the race card” (but I can’t speak up because I would lose my job).”

Our membership is experiencing the frustration of watching their organizations say Black Lives Matter, but seeing that at their organizations, Black people are not managers, in leadership, or aren’t valued as the experts and contributors they are. This dissonance is enraging for many and a call to action for employers to look inward at this moment and make commitments to improve. In our sector, Black staff are most often not managed by Black staff, which is problematic for a multitude of reasons, but also means that right now the person giving assignments and feedback at work inherently doesn’t get what their direct report is experiencing. One illustrative example of this to help crystalize the point: when police kill Black people, it is more likely that the volume of death on the social media timelines of Black staff is exponentially greater than what a white manager is seeing, if they’re even seeing anything at all. The lived experiences of those two staffers that day are dramatically different even if they take place in the same office. Inclusv is intimately aware of these norms and challenges in staffing and leadership development within the political sector — it’s why we were founded. We “call in” more employers in this moment to leverage our expertise to make their organizations healthier.

Inclusv Check-list for Employers:

  • Do you have an annual subscription with Inclusv to expand the pool of applicants of color who can access your job listings? (e-mail partnerships@inclusv.com)

5. Mandate Implicit Bias Training Across the Organization

“I wish they would mandate professional implicit bias training”

“Provide further training on: racial disparities; meaning of white supremacy, and white privilege”

“Acknowledge that it’s more than reading on your own, we need training as a group”

Staff are concerned that this is a fleeting moment that will demonstrate itself in the form of an Instagram graphic or press statement but not do the work of building stronger human beings dedicated to combating anti-Blackness. Standard industry practice (or should be), and also the bare minimum, includes ensuring that your organization is regularly trained in implicit bias. And yes, we’ve seen this, and lol’d too — our experience is that it depends on the trainer, and that so many people in our sector really are starting at 0.

Inclusv Check-list for Employers:

  • Have you conducted an implicit bias training in the last year?

6. Don’t Make Decisions On This Topic Without Us. But Also Acknowledge When It’s Our Idea, Or That Our Expertise is Needed, But That It’s Not Always Our Job To Do.

“It isn’t my job to coach them or teach them about their biases; I have only so much emotional/mental capacity as a Black aide to cope in these situations.”

“I’ve also felt tokenized in my role — I’ve been asked more than once to take on responsibilities or projects beyond the scope of my job/department because of my identity and have had to gently push for my employer to hire people to address those needs.”

“They put more work on me by making me the QA for their conversations about this topic.”

“Though I appreciate the need for me in the room as a gut check on his public statements, I don’t appreciate this moment being leveraged for political while not properly acknowledging the burden of All OF THIS on your black staff. You cannot have it both ways and it’s almost more frustrating to have an almost woke boss since they’re treating everyone else right but not you.”

[Harmful when they] “reappropriate my ideas as if they were his/her own.”

“Give credit where credit is due.”

There is a balance that is proving a challenge where there’s a need for Black staff expertise, but how that expertise is solicited has been tokenizing, extractive, appropriative, or laborious. Many staff felt harm when their organizations moved responses forward to the uprising that didn’t include their input and expertise. Other staff feel harm that there is an expectation that they perform this labor, but their expertise is not solicited in other moments on the organization’s strategic direction. Why are they only valued for input on Black needs? There were numerous comments seeking acknowledgement and gratitude from leadership that they are aware when their Black staff are performing tasks outside of their job description, and for some staff, they would have preferred the expectation to perform those tasks communicated as optional.

Inclusv Check-list for Employers:

  • Are you seeking the input of Black staff in how you are responding organizationally to the uprising?

CONCLUSION

We wrote this guide as questions versus concrete recommendations because we think organizations are at different places in their journey but in moments of crisis and speed —which oftentimes in our industry feels like all of the time — we can all get real sloppy focusing on getting the right message out the door, but not taking the time to think, reflect, and ask questions about what all of this means for our teams, organizational health, or how employees should be a part of that process. Some of these questions have pretty easy answers that would go a long way to show Black, Indigenous, and other people of color in your organization that you care and want to improve. If your answer to most of these questions is “no” it’s not too late to start. This document is by no means a full assessment of the scope of the problems within our sector or an exhaustive list of questions to interrogate. This is a quick check-in on what is going on based on what we’re hearing, that we thought could be a decent tool right now. Ultimately, doing the work well beyond this moment and document is a daily practice and the more you build it into your values and systems over time, the better for everyone.

We are here as a resource to Black, Indigenous, and other persons of color and the organizations, campaigns, governments, and companies that employ them. To our membership: thank you for your bravery in speaking up.

Employers in nonprofit, government, campaigns, labor, gov-tech, political companies, please reach out to work with us if you need help on hiring practices, distribution & amplification of job opportunities to our membership, training, staff off-boarding support, or other DEI consultation: partnerships@inclusv.com

If you identify as a Black, Indigenous, or a person of color from another community become an Inclusv member for free by uploading your resume at www.Inclusv.com.

In Solidarity & Gratitude for Black Staff in the Political Sector,

Alida Garcia & Malik Hubbard

Inclusv

Written by

The mission of Inclusv is to ensure staff of color are found at every professional level within the political sector.

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