Our Commitment: Anti-racism Training at SEGD

Read Time: 12 minutes

In keeping with our commitment to our diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion (DEAI) goals SEGD hired Angie Brice Thomas of Brice Consulting Group as consultant and coach for the “hard and heart work” of anti-racism training. We believe that creating a more diverse membership within the organization—and more diverse workplaces within the design community— leads to greater innovation and offers both social and economic benefits. (For reference, take a look at some of the recent DEI studies by McKinsey & Company)

 SEGD sat down with Angie to learn more about the “Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, Access and Inclusion Engagement Plan” for SEGD. Angie’s work with the organization began this past August and will continue through March of 2023. Here’s what she has to say about her philosophy, experience, and approach as a DEI trainer. 

SEGD

Hi Angie!

Can you give readers some context about why DEI training within the workforce is important and perhaps even more important now? 

Angie Brice Thomas

The past year and half in our country has really been about a racial reckoning around the history of systemic racism in our country and unresolved experiences, particularly within communities of color.

More broadly, I think the importance of DEAI and antiracism is a story of America. It is such a beautiful tapestry of what is truly possible when individuals are allowed to create and live their authentic lives. Yet, at the same time, we don't often welcome conversations around what it means to live with a commitment of belonging and ensuring that everybody feels like they belong; that they're valued. 

So, I think the importance of DEAI and antiracism (training) is an opportunity for us, as a broader society, to live out the ideals of what it means to live in a space of belonging and to allow for individuals of different backgrounds and cultures and experiences to feel valued and respected. Everybody has a seat at the American table. We haven't always all had the opportunity to (a) be invited and (b) feel welcomed, even if we have a seat, and I think the work of DEI and the work of anti-racism is the work of ensuring that everybody truly does have a seat at our table.

SEGD

What drew you into DEI work as both a consultant and coach?

Angie

I am the proud daughter of Haitian immigrants, which I think is important to name given the context of what's happening more globally and broadly. Our parents immigrated to this country in search of the American Dream, and they worked incredibly hard for my siblings and me to have access to that. So, that's one piece of what draws me here.

Number 2: Coming out of college, I turned down a lucrative offer on Wall Street to become an educator through Teach for America, the leading provider of first-year teachers to low income communities across the country. I did this because I firmly believe that every kid in this country deserves access to an excellent education regardless of the color of their skin, how much money their parents make, or the zip code they live in. Far too often, these three factors have more predictive power on life outcomes and economic mobility than what's in your head and what's in your heart.

SEGD

And how was your experience working with Teach for America transformative for you?

Angie

I taught in a classroom to a group of incredible 5th-grade students who deserved all of the opportunity in the world, and I felt deeply privileged to have been a part of their stories. My two years in the classroom was completely transformative. I think that experience for me (a) really crystallized what I care about and solidified my path and my desire to commit to social justice work being able to see the depth of inequity in our country. So, I firmly believe in democratizing access to opportunity, and I think that experience for me so defined my commitment to my life's work. So that's how it began to be honest, Franck.

SEGD

And then you continued with Teach for America in a different capacity?

Angie

After I taught, I led the Teach for America recruitment team for a decade, and in that time I had one charge: to help the organization scale and diversify. At that time, less than 10% of the teacher recruits identified as people of color, and yet (Teach for America) was serving 99% communities of color. So, we had some work to do in ensuring that the educators and leaders in our communities reflected the broad diversity of the students served. By the time I left Teach for America, 50% of the incoming core identified as white, and 50% identified as people of color, and 40% were first generation college graduates. And I share that because those were breakthrough results that I'm deeply proud of and worked with an incredible team to make happen.

Angie

So, I think that opened up a world of consulting. (Since then) I’ve had the chance to work with other organizations, and my consulting business took off a few years ago, and it's been an incredible experience.

SEGD

And who have you worked with? What type of clients?

Angie

I’ve had the chance to work with companies and brands across a number sectors and industries. I firmly believe structural inequities (exist) everywhere—it is in Silicon Valley; it is in the museum space; it is in education and academia—and so being “industry agnostic” as a firm has allowed me to deeply understand inequity across a number of different lenses which then allows me to bring some unique value to my clients.

SEGD

And which services do you offer clients?

Angie

We offer three or four key services, DEAI being one of them. We also offer talent diversification, matching work, and executive coaching just to name a few. But I think my time in the classroom really transformed me, and I’m deeply indebted to my students for that.

SEGD

Can you talk about how you approach your clients and how the DEAI process works?

Angie

The proposal for each client looks very different, because at the end of the day it's about customizing and tailoring to the client’s needs. So, it was important for me to seek to deeply understand the SEGD story. What is it that Cybelle (Jones, SEGD CEO) and Aki (Carpenter, RAA, SEGD Board Member and SEGD Racial Justice Commission Chair) and others are trying to achieve? In the first few meetings, I really took a listening posture to better understand what is SEGD? What is our mission? What are our values? Why are we doing this initiative, beyond the fact that everybody else in the world is trying to do this in the wake of the murder of George Floyd? And while that is a starting point, I hope it's not the only reason why folks are (doing DEAI).

But I also wanted to understand what are the opportunities and things that we're proud of. Because I think it probably took a moment in this past 18 months for someone to be like “Wow! We actually are doing something when it comes to DEI, and we should be proud of those things.” At the same time “Wow! We have much more work to do.” I sought to deeply understand that.

Then, I sat down to understand where SEGD is and where SEGD aspires to be. How do I (as the consultant) support SEGD in achieving that outcome? And so I see myself very much as a partner collaborating with them, working in partnership with SEGD.

SEGD

So, in this particular partnership, how do you help SEGD achieve its aspirations?

Angie

I firmly believe in goals. I could be biased because I was an educator, but we measure what we care about from revenue to sales to visitor attendance. Likewise, DEAI needs to be measurable; and when it falls off the wheels or becomes theoretical, it’s because we don't measure it. Our firm measures. We measure the DEAI impact. And, so, what would be a reasonable goal (for SEGD) that would be both ambitious and feasible?

I then sat down and wrote down goals, and I wanted to check these goals with the leadership team. “Based on where we are and what I understand, here are the goals that we are aspiring to hit.” I created a tool to assess where we are. It's what I call a “listening tour” that I administer at the start of every engagement. It's a multipart experience that allows me—through survey data, one-on-one conversations, focus groups, and other things—to understand the SEGD story and say “Hey, this is where we are.” And then we administer the exact same tool at the end of the engagement (to see where we landed).

Angie

Then lastly, it's about the arc of the experience. I want to marry the principles with the practice, and so I think about the experience with the lens of a sociologist and with the lens of a former educator and with the lens of a working adult. And so those three principles are how I think about the crafting of the content. Then I design the content, and it's a multipart experience for SEGD, but we're going to begin with an intro to DEAI and why it matters. I've tested this approach now for the past two to three years, and it's been refined over time based on my experience in the boardroom and the classroom and multiple different spaces. So I have a good sense for how to introduce content in a way that pushes individuals to their discomfort and brings about empathy because I think this work can be hard to talk about, and I think it's important to maintain the humanity and the dignity of every person in this space and also to push the conversation.

SEGD

What does this “content experience” look like for the participants in the training?

Angie

So, the arc of our content considers:

  • How do we introduce material?
  • How do we engage in meaningful dialogue?
  • And how do we wrap up?

I feel very strongly and proud of the arc of learning. What does it mean to embed the principles of learning, so that I’m not talking at people, but engaging in meaningful dialogue and learning is actually taking place.

SEGD

How do you keep the content from becoming too abstract, and instead, more tangible? (One thing I’m thinking about is a recent “Diversity Matters” study by McKinsey and Co that found that companies in the top quartile for racial / ethnic diversity and gender diversity are 35% and 15% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians respectively.)

Angie

Yeah, I think that study is really fascinating, because I think to your point, it can feel very abstract at best or fuzzy and unclear at worse. So, I think the research does show that diverse teams perform stronger. They are more innovative; they have stronger employee satisfaction; higher employee retention; and how do we bring that into all spaces?

SEGD

Tell me more about how you, as a DEAI consultant and coach, get participants to talk about uncomfortable topics such as unconscious biases and implicit bias? How do you get people to realize or be aware that each of us has biases even though they might not recognize them?

Angie

Yeah, I want to say a couple things. Number 1, the way we were socialized we have been socialized to be colorblind and color mute. Colorblind means that we were taught and raised to not see color. “Oh, I don’t see color.” which I think on the surface may sound innocuous and like the right thing to say, but when we say we don't see color, we're basically saying we don't see that other person which does not foster belonging. And then we're often raised to be color mute, so we don't talk about color. So, I think color blindness and color muteness have played a huge role in the discomfort we experience when talking about diversity, equity, access, and inclusion.

The research shows that as early as six months old, children see skin color. They literally can see that this person has a different skin tone than that person. When we grow up in an environment or household, we don't talk about it; they assume that it's bad. It’s actually not and so inviting the space where we talk about race, like we talk about the weather, is important.

But, Number 2, biases. Here's the thing: we all have biases. It’s not so much about “Do I have a bias?” It’s more about “Am I aware of what triggers my bias? and how do I mitigate it?” Our brains are wired to make connections—that's how we became the highly intelligent beings that we are. Our brains are wired to make connections, and there are certain biases that we have that are positive biases and certain biases that we have that are negative biases that are informed by nothing except stereotypes. We make associations in our brain, and I think biases are not necessarily bad, they just become bad when we make negative associations that have negative consequences on somebody else, and I think that often happens along the lines of race in our country.

In this particular (DEAI training) session we talk about how we all have biases, and it has nothing to do with our values. Sometimes our biases are inconsistent with our values. During the session, I administer the Harvard Implicit Bias tests on race. I ask everybody to take that, and I do not ask people to share their results. But I do expect people to reflect on their results in preparation for that session.

Angie

We have been socialized to be color blind and color mute, so that makes it very hard for us to talk about race, and I think we failed to realize we all have biases, and they can be inconsistent with what we value as human beings. I value social justice. I value empathy. I value belonging. And we might be very disappointed the first time we take the (Harvard Implicit Bias) test. And so, I think we have to disassociate that from “It makes us bad people.” It just means that we have some blind spots that we need to explore, and that's what we do in this session

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