This Is Equity Fluent: How One Haasie Rejected Inaction and Found his Voice

I can honestly say that Dr. Kellie McElhaney’s Equity Fluent Leadership (EFL) class has been the highlight of my Berkeley experience thus far. Through EFL, I’ve developed my active allyship (or I should say, “co-conspiracy”) strategy, and have come away with a whole new sense of purpose. Funny thing is, I wasn’t even supposed to be in the class.

With a career in professional services and a background in data science, you could definitely say I was more analyst than activist. I believed in the principles of fairness and inclusion, and had a vague notion of wanting to be a better ally, but I lacked the awareness and courage to commit myself to action. When your social identity doubles as the ultimate privilege checklist, it’s easy to shy away from the uncomfortable truths of white supremacy and systemic racism.

But last summer, when George Floyd was coldly murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin, I realized that I couldn’t remain a concerned onlooker any longer. The more I listened and the more I learned (yes, I bought all the books), the clearer it became that people like me, especially people like me, needed to participate in the fight against discrimination in all its terrible forms, and start advocating for a more equitable world.

Now that I had the resolve, I just needed to figure out where the hell to begin. Fortunately, as luck would have it, my original elective got cancelled, and there is a whole course at Haas committed to training future leaders to be champions for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

From the very first week, Dr. McElhaney’s EFL course was a revelation. During the four-month course, I started uncovering my blind spots and recognizing discrimination in seemingly innocuous, yet insidious, standard business practices. Every week, my amazing, passionate classmates and I engaged in meaningful discussions about inequities in society and using our platforms to bring about change. The class taught me to challenge narratives and my own comfort, and to commit to accountability and growth, even when I inevitably screwed up. I even got to try my hand as an entertainer, writing and performing a “hit” R&B parody for my final assignment.

Most importantly, the EFL course has inspired me to become a more active ally in all areas of my life, including at work, where advancing DEI has instilled within me a whole new sense of meaning for my career. For example, when my team was engaged to assist with a COVID-19 economic recovery project last summer for a large college town, I researched the significant economic and public health disparities that Black and brown members of the community faced. I took ownership of the proposal to ensure that the community didn’t just “return to normal’, but prioritized greater representation of, and prosperity for, its marginalized residents going forward.

To my amazement, as I’ve become more outspoken at work about equity and inclusion, I’ve uncovered new opportunities to incorporate these principles into my “day job.” Recently, I developed a proposal to apply analytical techniques to support equitable professional outcomes and measure progress towards a more inclusive culture at a large government organization. Thanks to the tools and lessons learned from Dr. McElhaney, the proposal really resonated with the client, who was also passionate about promoting DEI.

One last thing I’ll mention: last summer, a colleague and I started co-leading a monthly anti-racism conversation series with our team, educating them about the effects of systemic racism and creating a brave space for the discussion of difficult topics. This series is still going strong and is even starting to get attention from other parts of the company. It’s been so rewarding to be able to transfer the knowledge I gained through EFL and help others get started on their own allyship journeys. As an “analytical person”, it’s been a huge joy to discover a new passion for facilitating meaningful conversations and encouraging others to become more inclusive leaders. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I recently facilitated a conversation on race for Berkeley’s “Dialogues Over Dinner” series, and would love to have another go (if they’ll have me).

As someone who had hoped to magically discover a sense of purpose at Berkeley, I’m so grateful to have stumbled across Dr. McElhaney’s incredible EFL course. Although I still have a lot to learn and plenty of room to grow, I am excited to continue making an impact.

All of this is to say, no matter your starting point on your journey towards becoming an Equity Fluent Leader, the most important thing is refusing inaction and taking the first step. Even though I got a late start, now that I am firmly on the path of advancing fairness, equity, and justice in the world, I have no intention of turning back.

At the heart of UC Berkeley's Business School, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership educates equity-fluent leaders to ignite and accelerate change.

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