Last week all of our staff from around the country met in Denver. At one level this was a typical meeting. We discussed best practices, we reviewed our retirement plan and everyone had to sign-off on the updated employee handbook. DOOR is a non-profit company; we are a faith-based organization desiring to expose participants to the heart, passion and call of God. The ministry and faith aspects of what DOOR does also mean that the staff-to-staff relationships are both professional and personal.
One way to make a professional/personal working relationship less complicated is to hire people who believe the same, have similar cultural backgrounds and are of the same gender. DOOR has not taken this route. We young and old; gay and straight; men and women; grandparents, married with children, married expecting children and single; we are white and brown; American, Columbian, Cuban, Canadian, Anglo, and Latino; liberal and conservative.
To be honest, these differences occasionally drive me (and I am pretty sure the rest of the staff) crazy. How do we talk to each other? For that matter how to we hear each other? What do we do about the power differences? What does it mean to be a staff person of color in an organization that is led by a white male (me)?
I like to think that I am open to new ideas, that I am free of sexist and racist tendencies, that I create safe spaces for people to be themselves, but I am not free. I am a white male, and just by being born this way means that I have power. I did not ask for it, but I have it. My maleness and my whiteness make me unsafe, and for good reasons. Some of these I inherited by being white and male, others are my fault alone.
I am writing all of this to provide context for the miracle of last week. It takes faith, grace and courage to open up and be vulnerable when there are people of power in the room. Last week a space was created when our staff was honest with each other and with me. This is a rare space for a white male to be. More people who look like me need to be in spaces like this.
If you are a white male reading this, the first step is to own your power, sexism and racism. It is not helpful to start by saying “I am not a racist or I am not a sexist.” Trust me, you are.
Owning your dark side is the first step towards honesty and freedom.