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. 

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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