Can a Racial Equity Training Reshape the Mindsets of Organization Leaders?

Jenna Aurand Scott

Building racial equity in workplaces and communities is an essential step as the nation confronts the systemic racism woven into its culture. But can a racial equity training reshape the mindset of organization and community leaders to create internal changes that ensure racially equitable climates and outcomes? This is the question that the Racial Equity Action Leadership (REAL) program asked Westat to study last year.

Karen Gray-Adams

“The REAL program was created by Leadership Montgomery, a Maryland-based organization that works with Montgomery County leaders to build racially equitable organizations and communities,” explains Jenna Aurand Scott, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director who co-directed the study of REAL’s first year with Karen Gray-Adams, M.A., also a Westat Senior Study Director. “This 8-session training is designed to help participants develop the awareness, skills, and structures needed to identify and implement organizational practices leading to racially equitable outcomes,” continues Dr. Scott. 

In the training, participants learn to build relationships and empathy across race, culture, and power divides; understand the impact of racial inequity on an organization’s goals; and use frameworks to examine practices and policies obstructing racially equitable outcomes, explains Ms. Gray-Adams. “Later, they learn how to develop a racial equity action plan, including ways to assess its implementation and sustainability,” she says.

Looking at Program Outcomes

Westat’s study of the REAL program was designed to analyze and share outcomes of the program to see if the goals of shifting mindsets, building capacity, and providing tools for organization leaders were met in Year 1. “To design the study, we used Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the conceptual framework,” says Dr. Scott. “CRT centers the role of racism to better understand how systems are structured to oppress people of color. We chose this framework not only because it’s part of our expertise but also because the REAL program is about achieving racial equity, and CRT positions race and racism as central to understanding the social world.”

“Our study looked at the experiences of 27 participants representing the racial diversity of Montgomery County and its organizations,” says Ms. Gray-Adams. “We chose both quantitative and qualitative methods to obtain data, which included surveys, personal narratives, a case study, and participant observations.”

Study Challenges

“While most of the classes were in person, when the pandemic hit, Leadership Montgomery had to switch from in-person to virtual training,” says Dr. Scott. “The consulting team that designed the course, quickly developed the platform for virtual training—creating a safe space for participants. As it happened, the pandemic brought to light many racial equity issues, and the training leaders were able to incorporate these lived experiences into meaningful dialogue.”

Westat delivered the study’s findings in a report to the Leadership Montgomery Board in January 2021. “We found that the goals of the program were well met,” says Ms. Gray-Adams. “Overall, cohort participants were eager to obtain skills to improve racial equity within their organizations. And case study participants said the program ‘shaped and sharpened’ their racial equity mindset and served as a mechanism for developing better programs to address racial equity issues.” “Our focus on participants’ lived experiences and changes in how they experienced racism lent to the power of the report’s findings,” Dr. Scott adds.

Westat is now conducting a study of the REAL program’s 2nd year, which is all virtual and will be completed in April.

Learn more: A Preliminary Study of Leadership Montgomery’s Racial Equity Action Leadership Program (PDF)

Our focus on participants’ lived experiences and changes in how they experienced racism lent to the power of the report’s findings.

- Jenna Aurand Scott, Ph.D., a Senior Study Director, Education Studies

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