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Thoughts on trying to achieve anti-racist leadership

Thoughts on trying to achieve anti-racist leadership

By Connie Clement Connie Clement on March 27, 2019

Connie Clement wrote this post as scientific director and also as a white woman of significant privilege. The current set of blogs follow on earlier blogs in 2018 and 2017.


Tool for organizational self-assessment related to racial equity (2014)

When I last blogged about our organizational initiative back in March 2018, I mentioned that our staff workgroup would be undertaking a rapid organizational audit and designing a strategy to become more intentionally anti-racist. For the assessment, we adapted the Coalition for Communities of Colour and All Hands Raised’s Tool for organizational self-assessment related to racial equity [1] to look at six domains.

  1. Organizational commitment, leadership and governance
  2. Racial equity policies and implementation practices
  3. Organizational climate, culture and commitments
  4. Service-based equity
  5. Service-user voice and influence
  6. Workforce composition and quality

Assessing our progress

As part of the assessment, analysis was undertaken by the members of our staff anti-racism workgroup comprising our program manager, senior knowledge translation specialist and research assistant. They met together to share impressions and achieve agreement. We integrated considerations of Francophone issues alongside racial equity and Indigenous reconciliation. A participatory exercise with all staff served to inform and validate the workgroup’s assessment.

The workgroup is currently refining its analysis of our anti-racism action, identifying areas where:

  • we haven’t yet started;
  • we have done some planning;
  • we have established systems and
  • we have routine practices and model for others.

Our next steps — to be documented later — are to identify and prioritize practical actions based on what will have greater impact, what’s doable within our resources and what we will defer or leave as is.

Making headway

Not feeling the need to entirely wait until we’d completed our assessment-based strategy, we’ve made some headway in all six domains listed above.

By way of example, in house, we’ve made changes in our recruitment processes (see the blog post titled “Integrating equity into employment”). We developed Indigenous land commitments that we’re using in written products, communications and events. We’ve expanded the use of small group processes that encourage all staff to “have voice” in meetings and training sessions. In September, during our annual all-staff Team Days, we reviewed progress made.

Informally, observing our team, I notice that our program manager consistently asks if a plan or a project is adequately integrating attention to racism. I notice staff more often analyzing racism structurally and doing this together. One of our quietest staff members, a woman of colour who speaks English as a second language, is speaking up more and reading to incorporate her childhood experiences of racism and her immigrant experiences in Canada.

Really importantly, I see racial equity in our work with public health workers. Racialized and white knowledge translation specialists are jointly delivering a set of workshops that demonstrate racial equity as a lens through which to understand and practice the NCCDH’s four public health roles to advance health equity. We’re asked to join workgroups, offer advice and help public health practitioners think through public health action to address racism as a determinant of health and inequity.

More work to do

Our next step organizationally will be to use our assessment findings to prioritize further improvements. For instance, we will need to decide how best to make our commitment to racial equity, as one facet of health equity, more explicit in staff training, contracting consultants, board orientation, on our website and with partners. We will become more consistent regarding selecting speakers, knowledge sources, knowledge translation approaches, case examples and partners.

Having said this, we’ve done this work alongside our user-oriented activities. Few organizations prioritize organizational change, so it’s not surprising that we’ve often done this work from the corner of our desks and that the pace of change has been frustratingly slow.

My perception is that, as a team and organizationally, we very much still struggle to build an anti-racist culture. We haven’t yet normalized racial equity practices and systems. Like learning a new language, I — and I’m guessing other white staff — don’t yet think and dream in anti-racism. Our conversations about race remain “hesitant,” “measured” and we “hold back,” in the words of staff. We are figuring out what some of us don’t know and we’ve acknowledged — with great discomfort — that racism is still at play at the NCCDH. In January 2019, a white staff named “institutionalizing discomfort” as part of our task. (See the companion blog titled "Insights from the NCCDH’s racial equity journey" that describes some of the challenges we’ve encountered.)

An ‘equally fierce’ counterforce

I’ve tacked above my desk and posted on the fridge in the office kitchen a quote from the Racial Equity Institute that I read recently when accessing resources about creating racially equitable organizations and systems.

Racism is a fierce, ever-present, challenging force, one which has structured the thinking, behavior, and actions of individuals and institutions …. To understand racism and effectively begin dismantling it requires an equally fierce, consistent, and committed effort. [2]

I hope that by seeing it often that our team will become more ‘fierce, consistent and committed’ to becoming skillfully anti-racist, anti-oppressive and able to advance health equity.


Photo credit: Ashim D’Silva



[1] Coalition of Communities of Color, All Hands Raised. Tool for organizational self-assessment related to racial equity [Internet]. Portland (U.S.): 2014 [cited 2019 Feb 22]. 18 p. Available from:

[2] The Racial Equity Institute [Internet]. Greensboro (U.S.): [date unknown] [cited 2019 Feb 22];[about 4 screens]. Available from:


Organizational capacityRacism/racializationRacial equity at the NCCDH