Leading Forward: Chris Harrington’s Equity Lens
I recently spoke with Chris Harrington, president and CEO of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, about the importance of using an equity lens as a leader.
Q. What are the consequences when a leader doesn’t know the difference between equity and equality?
When leaders don’t understand the difference between the two, the consequences can be significant, impeding progress and in cases taking quantum leaps backward. All leaders and companies are on a journey in the DEI space, and goals and intended outcomes around equity may vary. However, it’s important to acknowledge where you are, and where you’d like to be, and have clarity and a shared understanding of what this ultimately means for your company to make meaningful progress and to sustain the momentum.
Some of the systemic issues that exist in our companies are often not viewed through an equity lens, and our efforts to address them can be heavily impacted by and connected to fear—almost like it’s a zero-sum game. It’s a hot button topic in our world today, and we keep spinning the narrative that in order to achieve equity, quality will be compromised or someone has to lose. This is short-sighted and doesn’t have to be the case, and when done right, equity can create tremendous value within our companies.
Q. Have you witnessed leaders get it right? Have you witnessed leaders fumble the ball? Any advice for the leaders that are missing the mark?
Yes, while I’ve seen leaders fumble and conflate equality and equity–including myself, in some instances, since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve seen some leaders make more intentional efforts to get it right. That is, at least, learning about the history and how we arrived here and ultimately how to address systemic issues that maintain the status quo.
I’ve also noticed that leaders whose organizations are unapologetic about their work around EDI are making significant progress. Leaders who are committed, willing to admit what they don’t know, and surround themselves with thought partners and experts to help them advance this work are paving the way for greater inclusion.
We’re all on a journey with our work around EDI. Ultimately, it’s incumbent upon leaders to commit to continuous learning and doing their homework, as the world around us is constantly evolving. Leaders don’t have to have all of the answers and articulate everything perfectly, but we must commit on a personal level first and address gaps in our knowledge and be willing to engage in conversation with colleagues even if it means putting ourselves in a vulnerable or uncomfortable position. That’s typically where truth growth, learning, and understanding lie.
We also cannot allow the recent Affirmative Action ruling and other policies around education to create confusion and fear around prioritizing the work. Now is not the time to scale back. Now is the time to push forward.