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From the Desk Of: Always Lead With Race

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Dismantling systematically prejudiced mindsets in business, Denisha Jenkins provides insights on racial equity in Austin.

By Denisha Jenkins, Photo courtesy of Madeline Harper Photography

As with most professional Black women, Denisha Jenkins has dealt with microaggressions that perpetuate a culture of complacency and silence. She manifested her calling to bring people together with concrete ideas. She earned her master’s degree in intercultural relations from Lesley University, then took her experiences and degree and founded Kardia Advisory Group in 2018. Kardia opens the conversation around earnest acts of diversifying work environments for businesses that might not have seriously considered it or simply lacked the knowledge to reimagine more inclusive spaces.

With over 15 years of working within centuries-old systems rooted in racial prejudice, Jenkins has insight into the true meaning of “inclusivity and equity.” Austin continues to pick away at the vestiges of its own issues with racial equality. Just as she does with businesses who seek her services, here Jenkins provides a blueprint for Austin businesses to build a foundation rooted in true equity.

Accept that equity does not equate to “sameness.”

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Fairness is only attainable when we acknowledge that not all humans are perceived or have been treated equally. Austin businesses (small and large) have to reconcile that the scales will not balance with a few good intentions, but through a commitment to reinvesting, resourcing, innovating and implementing differently. Equity is the fair treatment, access and advancement of all people, while intentionally eliminating barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. That means opportunities, resources, services and products have to be distributed based on specific and greatest needs. We must do work to disrupt barriers that create those gaps.

Always lead with race.

How is your business/industry impacting Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx/Hispanic, people of color? Within every system and industry, we can find disparities due to race and ethnicity. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge that every institution has roots in racism and every individual holds racialized bias. But we will not dismantle social inequities without being explicit in our discussions and anchoring interventions for change in race. Every day, I force leaders to address the elephant in the room. Racism lingers in the very air we breathe. The more we avoid it, the more harm we do. Hold your business accountable by setting and evaluating goals using equity-driven indicators that measure the impact you have within communities, especially markets of color.

Assess your operations for bias.

Complete audits of your daily practices and decision-making processes to identify opportunities for bias to run rampant. Oftentimes, business leaders are unaware of how they perpetuate the exclusion of certain groups of people. Take an honest look at power dynamics within your business. Evaluate who makes decisions and how they are held accountable. Pay attention to hiring, compensation and promotion decisions. Get real about why your workforce is homogenous, why certain social groups are not attracted to your business or services and do something about it. Invest in workforce training, create more accountability for management/leadership and track data regularly.

Authentically invest in historically marginalized communities.

Establish mutually beneficial relationships with organizations and businesses led by people from historically marginalized groups. When expanding your network or markets, look for opportunities to also add value and not just take. Regularly market and sponsor programs or events, grants, invest in development funds, hire minority- and women-owned businesses, swap in-kind services that help close the gaps in access and build a stronger, more sustainable pipeline for wealth and talent across the city.

Assess your power and leverage your voice.

Devote ongoing time recognizing and unlearning internalized bias. Study the ways your industry/sector and business have participated in the exclusion of social groups to avoid repeating the cycle. Part of creating fairness is advocating for public policies that improve conditions and opportunities for communities collectively. Use your sphere of influence and power to disrupt norms of invisibility and exclusion. Speak out on issues of discrimination based on race; collaborate with groups that also value social equity and are finding solutions that benefit everyone in our community. To bring equity, Austin business leaders must get comfortable with being uncomfortable, going first and, yes, stumbling. Equity is a journey. It’s about listening to those burdened by the status quo, owning our incompetence, getting over desires to be “perfect” and getting to work.


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