How Do You Address Systemic Oppression in Your Spheres of Influence?

This week, I met with a small group of other Unitarian Universalist leaders to address our current UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations) election processes. All of our UU congregations vote on whom we want to be our President, Moderator, and Board. Are our current processes conducive to finding the best possible leaders, or are there systemic barriers that keep some qualified leaders out of the process? We felt our election practices still need some improvement, so we worked hard to make recommendations of needed changes — these will be public, soon.

Now, I turn this same kind of question over to you. First, what are your spheres of influence? You probably have more than you think. Just think of work, with community organizations, children’s activities, and of course, at church.

How do each of those groups address inherent biases in choosing leaders, programs, and rules? Are there questions you could ask of current leaders, about efforts to more widely include the concerns, and people, who have often been marginalized?

Being on the UUA’s presidential search committee taught me that it is not sufficient to simply say, “All are welcome to apply” or “Everyone should make their voice heard.” Many people too often have had the experience of being encouraged to apply, only to yet again see an able-bodied, or white, or cisgender person be chosen. It is a fact of life that hiring committees love being able to say that they had diversity in the candidates they looked at, even if some of those candidates were never seriously considered.

Last week, I talked about how one of the main things our intern, Kiya, should be doing is asking “WHY do you do things the way you do?” But thinking about it, this is great advice for all of us. And not just here at church. At your HOA meeting, ask the uncomfortable questions. “How many HOA presidents have we had that are people of color?” Make suggestions, “If we want more diversity in our leadership, it may not be enough to just say ‘anyone can apply.’ We may need to be deliberate about our recruitment.” And that will be how we can take down some of the barriers that keep us from getting the best person for the job.