What Does It Look Like to Work Within the System While Also Disrupting the System?

Earlier this month, the National Fund gathered our site directors for our annual Network meeting during which we had the opportunity to share, collaborate, and engage in tough, but necessary conversations on what it takes to make radical shifts toward racial equity in the workforce. (We also made time for a little fun too!) This year we were excited to welcome several new site directors and staff who joined us for the first time. Among the fresh faces was Mary O’Neill, who recently joined our staff as the National Fund’s new Chief Administrative Officer. Mary is a nonprofit leader with two decades of experience working to build strong and effective organizations focused on social change. I’m delighted to have new folks on board!

As usual, network director Hollie Marston had an excellent two-day convening planned, anchored by sessions that challenged us to tackle big issues workforce practitioners face every day. Such thorny issues like confronting multiple levels of racism baked into workforce systems, disrupting occupational segregation, and replacing the harmful narratives that color how we may see those we purport to help.

Essentially we asked ourselves, “how do we work within the system while also disrupting the system?”

The highlight of our two days together was engaging with Clair Minson, who facilitated a thought-provoking conversation about moving into a space of action to foster racial equity in the workforce. Clair is a consultant who works at the intersection of talent & workforce development and racial equity/racial justice, and she specializes in helping people get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Of course, disrupting systems that you work within is easier said than done, and it’s hard to be okay with operating in a space of discomfort. But if we say the prime imperative for our work is fostering racial equity in the workforce, then we know we must find ways to do it.

We also spent some time freestyling in what Hollie dubbed the “unconference”, where we designed sessions in real-time based on what network members told us were burning questions they wanted to discuss with their peers. These turned out to be dynamic conversations that certainly filled my cup, and I hope everyone involved gained some insight they could use in their own work.

I left Miami feeling especially energized by the way our site directors came together with National Fund staff to roll up our sleeves and dig into these hard conversations. These are the conversations that are necessary for us to radically confront racial disparities in workforce development and stay vigilant in how we address equity.

Amanda Cage

-- President and CEO, National Fund for Workforce Solutions