As the newest Program Director at Lead For Liberation, I’ve begun to settle into my role and the honor of embracing liberation not only as a way of teaching and facilitating to our clients, but truly embodying it as a way of being. What does that look like? For starters, it is a complete departure from our socialization into the workplace where white supremacy thrives and in most places is upheld as the standard of “professionalism.”
As a seasoned HR professional, I’ve challenged this notion for years. This term is laced with prejudice and bias. Who created the standards of professionalism in our society? People in power. Who is oftentimes in positions of power? White-bodied folks. I say that and am also fully aware that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC folks) are also in positions of power across our society. What’s also true is that we all have been conditioned and rewarded for operating and expecting this conformity to societal expectations that disproportionately benefits non-BIPOC individuals. Therefore, in some instances, my mere existence as a college-educated Black woman with natural, big hair that embraces color, flair, and dope nails can be seen as “not professional.” That is an example of white supremacy culture thriving which is the act of oppressing people who are Black, Indigenous, and of color.
I digress, though not by much. This notion of “success” and who has defined “professionalism” are all part of the same complex tapestry of racism in our country and how it shows up in the workplace. Before working at L4L, I was a part of cultures like that, which quite honestly are most workplaces—where we take a stand for DEI, antiracism, proBlackness, and belonging, but we aren’t slowing down to identify how pervasive and deeply systemic white supremacy is ingrained in our bodies, minds, expectations, and of course, thriving in our workplaces—disguised as workplace culture, or “fit.” This naturally is something that comes up a lot within our internal conversations at L4L. Our mission is to support executives and managers within social impact organizations, school districts, and foundations to identify this within their teams and workplace culture and then apply the six conditions of a liberatory culture—as fully defined in our Liberatory Culture Continuum™️, to shift their culture to a more liberatory workplace. But how often do we, at L4L, apply the same critical lens to ourselves?
Love Consciousness (in action): (trusting of yourself in relationship to other people) A state of being that relates to the world as forgiving, nurturing, and supportive and is not dependent on external conditions. Conditions or factors as in the environment or people that may be in our environment. From this place, there is a capacity for instantaneous understanding without resorting to binaries, or rationalizations, however, embracing both/and a feeling of abundance of possibilities.
At L4L, we must not only teach others about what it takes to cultivate a liberatory workplace culture, but we have to also curate an internal liberatory workplace culture that’s rooted in love consciousness* so we too can innovate, thrive, and experience belonging. I recently had a very real experience with this with our CEO, Shayna Renee Hammond. I was designing a session for an upcoming engagement with a client. Shayna mentioned to me multiple times that she trusted my instincts and that I could take the session wherever I thought was best. Yet, I still felt constrained by something. It was fear of failing her and the organization by leaving something critical out of the session since I am still learning and onboarding. This fear I was holding on to was stifling my creativity and fulfillment and is rooted in white supremacy culture. Shayna responded from a place of love consciousness and directly named that I can “let go of the fear of leaving something ‘critical’ out because it will be fine. If there is something that we want the client to know, we have many other opportunities to spiral it back in. It’s okay and will be okay.” At that moment, I felt free. Free from the pressure to “get it right the first time,” free to embrace the learning and growth I could gain from the entire process, free from the fear of disappointing my manager or the organization. The next time I sat down to design the deck, I felt the best I had at work in a long time. I felt free to innovate, I felt I— all of me—belonged. I didn’t have to fully know the L4L curriculum inside and out before adding my thoughts and experiences to enhance our curriculum and approaches. There weren’t unspoken rules or any stated expectations that I have to ask three questions before offering my opinion. I was and am fully welcomed.
Slowing down and taking time to have this conversation unlocked something in me and illuminated something that had been coming up within our organization for several months—the importance of slowing down and checking in with ourselves as individuals and as a collective.
How can we lean more into embodying liberation? By allowing space and time to be fully human. This is my charge to you; slow down and reflect on how the spoken and unspoken expectations in your workplace may be perpetuating a workplace culture that is not suited for everyone to innovate, thrive, or even merely belong. Find ways to replace those expectations with more inclusive practices that support everyone you employ.