Category: Equity-Centered Leadership

Why Communities of Practice Are Essential to Equity Work

“Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to Dance. Equity is allowing you to choose the Music.”― Cynthia Olmedo

Equity — just how important is it to you, to your team, to your organization? In previous posts, I’ve been sharing the deep, introspective work that is required for leaders who want to be guardians of equity. However, it can be frustrating when not everyone shares your sense of urgency on equity.

I had the opportunity to consult with an equity team recently who felt challenged by their sense of urgency. This group of volunteers agreed to take a look at equity issues within their organization and, from this bird’s eye view, make some recommendations. One of their first tasks was to help guide the hiring process of an equity officer. But then they found themselves doing a delicate dance. They needed to balance their own growing passionate perspective for equity while still supporting the new equity director, who would be taking a slower, more corporate approach to change. 

This group didn’t want their passion for equity to burn out so they asked me to come in and consult about how they might continue their work. I shared with them the concept of a Community of Practice and showed them what it could accomplish. They loved the idea, as it gave them permission to continue supporting one another as they worked on their passion while maintaining their distinct role and lens advancing the larger work of the organization.

There is also something incredibly powerful to be gained by doing equity work within a Community of Practice. In Communities of Practice, there are three essential elements: community, domain, and practice. Let’s examine how an intentional adherence to each of these three elements is essential to making lasting change in our equity work.

Community — Share Your Personal History with Equity (or the lack of it!) 

The community element within a Community of Practice is truly about knowing and being known. Think about this in terms of understanding the unique approach each of your team members has when it comes to equity. How well do you know your team members? How well do they know you? Do you understand how their culture and life experiences have influenced their personal definitions of equality, fairness, and equity?

This kind of insight won’t be gained with traditional icebreakers or team games. Rather, Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage, suggests activities that are about personal history sharing. The goal within a Community of Practice should be to know each other and understand each person’s point of view, how that point of view is shaped, and what their values are. I’ve seen that over time, a Community of Practice can grow to a point where each person can speak and act on behalf of another person with full confidence that they are fully representing that person. That’s a powerful moment!

Domain — Commit to Achieving Equity Through a Shared Sense of Purpose 

A domain is that one thing all members have in common, the focus of their work, or the central, organizing principle. If the goal is to enhance equity with the team or organization, dig deeper. What challenges are drawing us together? What is it about equity that impels each of us to work at a higher level to achieve it? What new narrative for equity within our team can we all fully embrace?

This commitment to the domain sets a Community of Practice apart from other teams or groups. If the level of commitment feels wishy-washy, follow Simon Sinek’s advice on starting with your Why. Discussing this frames the conversation fully. Without that “fire in your belly,” without a shared sense of purpose, your team will struggle to affect change as a Community of Practice.  

Practice — Apply What You’re Learning About Equity in Everyday Life

While community and domain are essential, your individual practice, how you do your work, is the cornerstone of a successful Community of Practice. If the only time you think about equity is when you’re meeting with other members, what’s the point? You bring you to your work. That’s essential. When you don’t bring yourself to your work, simply put, you aren’t there. Your commitment wanes, your concern for others is peripheral, your team doesn’t gel. Nothing changes.

However, when you’re out there growing and evolving as a guardian of equity and you’re implementing a new equicentric leadership model in your day-to-day life, you bring this energy with you to your Community of Practice. Of all three elements, this is the one that only you can control. Who do you want to be in your practice, what do you want to contribute through your work, and how are you a contributing member of your team? 

Being the best version of yourself is more than just a Tony Robbins byline, it’s the work ahead of us as we evolve as a species. What difference can we make while we are here? In terms of equity, there is much work to be done! Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

Women Are Ready — But how can we support each other as we move forward?

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Muriel Strode 

Despite the pandemic, I recently had the fantastic opportunity to attend a virtual event sponsored by Conferences for Women and provide the attendees with pro bono coaching. If you know me at all, you know I love talking to women who are passionate about leadership. I got my wish as I met some amazing women dedicated to their companies, their careers, and their growth. 

My big takeaway from this conference: WOMEN ARE READY.


Women are ready to create a new model in the workplace. The traditional hierarchical model of work doesn’t appeal to many women today. Thankfully, more and more workplace systems acknowledge and support the growth of women in the organization. Some women are even fortunate enough to have women’s networks within their company where they can brainstorm and openly discuss the pros and cons of different workplace systems. If that’s not the case for you, keep reading to discover how you can find or create that kind of support.

Women are ready to fully commit when the benefits are reciprocal. Gone are the days of blind, unswerving loyalty to an employer or organization. Good riddance I say! The women I spoke with find immense satisfaction in loyalty to an organization but they are looking for that loyalty to be reciprocated. Without commitment, women are ready to move on to a company that is ready to receive them.

Women are ready NOW, no more waiting. Mostly I heard from women about their eagerness, impatience, readiness, and deep desire to move forward, up, lateral, and most of all towards growth. That looks different for each person, but it requires intense commitment and support from leadership. Organizations and corporations would do well to take a note out of the pages of education. 

Since I work at the Graduate School of Education at Touro University California, I have a front-row seat to the fast-moving work being done on how to personalize learning. Like students, employees need the same type of personalization. They don’t come in a one-size-fits-most container. They have a complex web of life, work, play, aspirations, and tasks they are weaving into a meaningful whole. For most women, meaning-making is essential if you want them fully engaged.

Do you feel ready? Are you a woman who is tired of waiting for others to figure it out, and doesn’t mind blazing her own trail? You can do it, but you’ll do it faster and enjoy the journey more if you gain support from like-minded colleagues.

My specialty is helping people create that kind of support by building their own network or Community of Practice. This community I can help you create is built around a common concern, issue, passion, or sense of purpose. Imagine having a safe place at work where you are heard, understood, and supported and have the latitude you need to blaze those new trails

However, I also work with women that don’t have the opportunity to build their own network or community. Some of them are self-employed, others are in a transitional phase of their life, and others work in environments that are less than supportive of out-of-the-box thinking. For any woman who’s interested in blazing a new trail, my friend and colleague, Maria Connolly, and I started our collaborative network, The Great Circle Community.

Maria and I know that women are ready, with lots of plans for the future, and often are looking for the right network for support. They want to connect with other women who will help them focus on their aspirations and be held accountable to make progress toward them. The Great Circle Community is the perfect blend of my focus on social learning communities and Maria’s work on somatic coaching where integrated bodywork brings forward the intuitive knowing toward the right next step. Could this be the network you’ve been looking for? If you’re interested in joining the Great Circle Community, learn more here. And if you’re interested in developing your own team or network, learn more here.

Transitioning Out of Fear and into Hope with Collaborative Learning

This has been a year of fear and no wonder with an unprecedented pandemic, insurrection at the Capital, growing tribalism, global warming, economic instability. But instead of getting sucked into and trapped by our fears, “remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. 

That’s the next stanza of Margaret Wheatley’s poem, “Turning to One Another.” (To read the entire poem take a look at a previous blog.) I’ve been reflecting on this poem over the last few weeks and it finishes on a much-needed positive note.

Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.

Real listening always brings people closer together.

Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. 

Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

We are stronger together, even with or maybe even especially because of our different opinions, backgrounds, and stories. We each have goodness within us and meaningful conversations with each other can reveal the goodness, the common purpose, and the stories behind what we care about.

In order to leave fear truly behind and find new solutions to our unprecedented challenges, we need to have an entirely new approach to listening and learning. I’ve created the Center for Learning Leaders because I believe that learning never stops, especially for leaders. Even though I work at the Graduate School of Education at Touro University, a center for learning, I’ve come to believe that there’s so much more to learning than transmitting already known facts. As important as that is, I’m far more passionate about learning what is not yet known and I’ve found that often comes from openly listening to people with very different backgrounds and stories than my own.

In their latest book, Learning to Make a Difference, Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner explore “hope for people who care to make a difference, with a practical and rigorous way to get there…” Yes, please! They discuss the need we have to gather with others who care to make a difference and introduce the concept of social learning spaces.

Imagine being part of a social learning space where every participant or team player…

  • Is listened to and respected for holding their own valuable perspective about the things they care about 
  • Is personally invested in the challenge and is genuine about wanting to make a difference
  • Is a team player, fully grounded in the value of the collective focus
  • Is willing to experiment and live with uncertainty to come up with a brand new idea

I believe in this so much, that I realized I just had to create a masterclass on transforming teams into social learning spaces. By turning to one another, understanding what it is we care about, and being willing to engage in a different way than our static meetings and workflow, we can create amazing new differences in our world. 

If you want to join me for my upcoming webinar, please contact me and let me know to add you to my invite list. Or you can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook where I’ll be sharing the details soon.

Equity-Centered Leadership—Change and Self-Care

A team working with equity-centered leadership. “One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” — Robert E. Quinn

Would you like to be viewed as a guardian of equity?  The kind of leader who doesn’t create an environment that’s simply “accommodating,” but is actually brave enough to transform the environment.

This is easier said than done. In order for this to happen, we must transform how we operate and learn to acknowledge everyone’s voice. What’s your situation? Whether it’s a classroom, office environment, community event, or some other location, we all struggle with sustainable change. How can we as leaders play our part?

The answer: become an equity-centered leader. That was the topic of my last two posts, where we covered three steps in the “equicentric” leadership model. There are five processes to this model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. 

Using this model you can become a more adaptable leader. The “equicentric” leadership model was created by Laura Aguada-Hallberg and me with the goal of empowering leaders as they take their journey toward becoming a more equity-centered leader.

Let’s discuss the fourth and fifth steps in this model.  

Step Four in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Commit to Change 

Committing to change in equity-centered leadership.Too often, we’re unknowingly shaped by others in ways that don’t serve our higher purpose. Author Zaretta Hammond, in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, says that we each carry an array of narratives that can act like “software” in our brains. These narratives are in place to tell us how to behave in different contexts. 

According to the book, these narratives are often dominated by what she calls a “master narrative,” that is, society’s idea of how a person should act.  Hammond says that everyone needs to form a counternarrative, based on their personal identity and experiences, that rejects any misconceptions in the “master narrative.”

That’s why, in this step, we ask leaders to construct their own counternarrative that acknowledges how their experiences might inform their actions. At this point, we also ask that they make a commitment to lead with equity as their goal. We check in with the leaders over a six-month period to see how their counternarrative has evolved.

Step Five in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Schedule Self-Care

Self care in equity-centered leadership.It’s impossible to be an equity-centered leader without a consistent schedule of self-care, without it, you will only find yourself frustrated and burnt-out. Do you feel like your health, personal relationships, or workload are unsustainable? If you do, then that’s where you need to start. 

Be sure to schedule a time for self-care in your calendar, and honor that time. It should be non-negotiable: that time is sacred. Finally, you should know that the work that you put into your self-care ensures that you can be there for your community in the long-term. How can you encourage others to believe in their self-worth if you consistently neglect your own?

Moving Foward 

In my experience, leaders are often left with very little time for self-reflection, which leaves them constantly in a reactive state. To my mind, that’s the true value of this model: it forces us to think proactively about equity. 

It’s only when we can learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, even when that discomfort is the awareness of our own biases, that we can begin to challenge, and with any luck change long-standing systemic inequities. It takes time and focused effort to learn how to be an intentional leader. 

Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

As leaders, we all want to play a part in creating sustainable practices that have the power to transform our communities. 


Equity-Centered Leadership—Self-Awareness and Remembrance

A woman thinking about equity-centered leadership. “Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.” – Debbie Ford

Have you ever wondered, “How can I be the type of leader who asks all the tough questions, challenges the status quo, and call out biases, even when it’s uncomfortable?”

The answer: become an equity-centered leader. That was the topic we covered in my last post, where we reviewed the first of five steps in the “equicentric” leadership model. There are five processes that fuel this “equicentric” leadership model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. 

I believe that, through the effective use of this model, you can become a more dynamic and adaptable leader. The “equicentric” leadership model was created by Laura Aguada-Hallberg and me with the goal to empower and support leaders as they take their self-reflective journey toward becoming a more equity-centered leader.

Let’s discuss the second and third steps in this model.  

Step Two in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Activate Self-Awareness 

Self-awareness in equity-centered leadership.There’s an old truism which points out that in order to change the world you first must change yourself. This is something that all effective leaders must understand at some level. However, before there can be change, there must be self-awareness, and that’s where the second step of the model comes in.

In this step, leaders name their biases and reflect on how they affect their power, privilege, and behavior. In order for leaders to transform a system, they must first identify their own biases and assumptions relating to that system. Otherwise, there can be no real change. 

This doesn’t mean that we should feel guilty about the power and privilege we hold, nor is it about feeling sorry for ourselves or pitying others. Self-awareness is an opportunity to recognize and call out experiences we’ve internalized, as well as understand when we move in and out of positions of power. 

When we ask leaders to engage in this step, we have them share an experience where some bias or privilege influenced their behavior. This step can be difficult. Although we all readily admit that we have biases, naming them and exposing their effects can be painful. But unless we push ourselves and experience some discomfort, we can’t move forward.

Step Three in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Remember the Past 

Remember the past in equity-centered leadership.What experiences have shaped your relationship with equity? This step is about looking back to prior experiences to find what insights they give us. For example, have you experienced a moment of stunned silence, vocal anger, a difficult conversation, or some other reaction to inequity that still sits with you today? What, if anything, do you want to do or have already done about it? 

When we look back to gain insight on how our past experiences have shaped us, we become better prepared to build our counternarrative.

The next steps toward becoming a more equity-centered leader are to commit to change and schedule self-care. We’ll be discussing these steps in future posts on equity-centered leadership. Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

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Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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