A Review of
Moving Toward Racial Equity: The Undoing Racism Workshop and Organizational Change
The Undoing Racism Workshop Enhanced the Understanding, Attitudes, and Engagement of Individuals in Antiracism Work
Participants of the Undoing Racism Workshop exhibited an increase in understanding and attitudes as well as a marked improvement in individual engagement in comparison to organizations that reported mixed progress.
Using a participatory action model, this study assesses the impact of the Undoing RacismTM Workshop (URW) on participants’ attitudes and actions as related to advancing racial equity. The authors examined the impact of the training on participants’ change in knowledge and opinions towards structural racism, involvement in racial equity work at their organizations, and beliefs about their organization’s commitment to racial equity. It also investigated the factors that may influence personal engagement and progress towards organizational change as well as the impact of race on the results of the survey. While participants reported increased awareness and commitment towards addressing structural and systemic racism, they suggested limited tangible improvements made by their organization and instead noted barriers to progress for equity.
The researchers recommend that organizations must use a racial equity lens to design and transform internal structures and processes with the goal to advance racial equity. While most institutions recruit a diverse workforce or institute multicultural and diversity training, the majority of them rarely examine the internal structures and practices that block institutional and systemic change. Since systemic racial inequities are often deeply embedded that they must be revisited and transformed to achieve true systemic organizational change, organizations with leaders and employees invested in racial equity work often perform better on equity metrics.
Dr. Mimi Abramovitz is an activist, author, and Professor of Social Policy at Hunter College at City University of New York. Her research interests include social welfare policy issues, low-income women’s activism, and the impact of neoliberalism on US welfare. Dr. Lisa Blitz is a social worker and Associate Professor of Social Work and Co-Director of the Institute for Multigenerational Studies at Binghamton University. Blitz conducts community-based participatory research with schools to design practices to support students of color and low-income students.
Methods and Findings
The authors emailed 2,673 individuals who attended an Undoing RacismTM Workshop (URW) in the New York City area to administer a survey. The 129 question survey asked respondents to identify attributes of their organizations, and hurdles to instilling equity at the organizational level, among other things. The authors used a research model that emphasizes both participation and action for community participants by requiring them to take part in the workshop as well as implement its learnings in their respective workplaces. Participants were asked questions related to (i) shifts in knowledge and beliefs towards structural racism, (ii) involvement in racial equity activities in their workplace, and (iii) assessments of their institution’s advancement towards goals of racial equity. The researchers examined the respondent’s involvement and engagement to enhance their workplaces and the role of race in their involvement in enhancing racial equity in the workplace.
The survey and consequent research found that:
- Participants of the workshop reported the workshop was useful for them both personally and professionally and resulted in a marked change in their attitudes across all race groups. Further, more than three-quarters of participants shared that the workshop spurred a desire to support racial equity efforts, including in their workplaces.
- Over half the respondents reported contributing to racial equity work at their organizations either through facilitation or participation.
- Prior interest and exposure to racial disparity training and awareness about structural racism resulted in greater engagement.
- An individual’s perception of their organization’s commitment and interest in racial equity work also played a critical role in informing their own participation. Individuals who believed their organization was engaged in racial equity work were also more inclined to participate in the same kind of work.
- The engagement of participants in racial equity work within their organizations was not influenced by the engagement of their co-workers or attendance of executive leaders.
- Engagement in and contribution to racial equity work was greater for individuals receiving financial remuneration for racial equity training.
- Among participants engaged in racial equity work, individuals reported access to more supports than barriers to conducting this crucial work. Some of the supports mentioned include access to decision-makers, peer interest groups, and a sense of job security while insufficient leadership support and resistance from leaders emerge as barriers.
- More than half of the participants tackled issues of racial equity within their organizations and reported that viewing issues from a race lens enabled them to make significant organizational progress.
- The definitions of success for their organization’s progress towards racial equity differed across different individuals.
Abramovitz and Blitz’s study indicates that transformational organizational racial equity change cannot be achieved with one single initiative or action. Individuals and organizations must collectively work to address the institutional and structural racism that is deeply embedded in the policies and practices of an organization.
The authors suggest that while individual respondents reported greater engagement and commitment to addressing structural and systemic racism, only a few organizations executed new initiatives or programs. Although some respondents reported improvements in activities that advance racial equity at the organization, economic uncertainty, like downsizing and questions surrounding job security, emerged as challenges. Organizational leaders who strive towards racial equity should encourage individual participation and engagement, spur systemic transformation, and work to diminish roadblocks. The researchers provide recommendations such as encouraging informal discourse, developing a staff training program, analyzing data on racial disparities, and developing policies and mission statements that reflect the institution’s commitment to racial equity. This line of research encourages organizations and their executive leaders to play an active and pivotal role in advancing racial equity at the individual and organizational level to attain systemic and societal change.
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