Inequity, characterized by disparities in the distribution of access and opportunity, is a major concern that impacts individuals, communities, and institutions. Recognizing the critical importance of overcoming inequities in their various manifestations, United Way Worldwide, in collaboration with the Dow Company, have partnered to develop a 7-week Racial Equity Challenge to address racial inequities in both our work environment and personal lives.
The challenge, which concluded on July 8th, was divided into seven sections that took place each Monday over a 7-week course. 348 Dow employees took part in the challenge, choosing the activities they wanted to partake in and dedicating 15 minutes of their day to them.
“It has been a fantastic collaboration between Dow and United Way to bring the Equity Challenge to our region. Our region has so much to learn and actions to take if we truly want equity for all. This 7-week challenge has helped to highlight the gaps but also the great work that is taking place already to drive change. I hope we can do this again even though my wish is it is not needed in the future” – Johanna West, Dow Senior Commercial Excellence Director and Member of the Global African Affinity Network (GAAN) EMEAI Steering Committee.
The challenge was designed to build and nurture more effective social justice habits, particularly those pertaining to issues of race, power, privilege, and leadership. The weekly prompts helped raise awareness and shift the way people think and behave.
Week 1 revolved around personal racial identity, privilege, levels of racism and its impact on health and education. Through an open discussion, the day began by first defining the concept of race, what it means to participants, as well as whether it is science-based or socially constructed. In addition, participants were asked how race impacts them on day-to-day basis and whether they recall any unique events that have occurred to them exclusively on the basis of their race. These questions allowed participants to examine closely the inequities that are deeply rooted in systems and institutions that govern them. Moreover, they raised awareness among participants and empowered them to strive to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to succeed regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and identity.
Week 2 addressed the issue of white privilege in society, and the ways in which it can be deconstructed on four levels where it manifests itself strongly: Internalized, interpersonal, institutions, and structural. How racism manifests itself on an interpersonal level is more observable than how it functions on a structural level. The task was to demonstrate and reveal how racism functions on all levels, particularly the structural level because of its greater impact.
Week 3 tackled how race affects health by examining the wealth-health gap. Socioeconomic status and institutional racism lead to disparities in living conditions, limit access to quality health care, and contribute to chronic stress. These factors lead to shorter life spans and a higher likelihood of adverse health outcomes for people living in poverty, particularly for people of color.
Week 4 explored racialized outcomes in education. People of color often find themselves starting behind the starting line when it comes to their education as a result of continued stigmatization. Creating equitable outcomes requires that we change the way we think about members of our community, focusing on their aspirations rather than their challenges. In practice, this is called “asset-framing” and uses narratives to change the unconscious associations ingrained in our society.
Week 5 examined adverse childhood experiences. Poverty, trauma, and inadequate treatment are three factors that have been shown to have a sustained, negative impact on children’s social-emotional skills and mental health. For children to meet developmental milestones, learn, grow, and lead productive lives, it is critical that they are healthy. Good social-emotional skills and mental health are key components of children’s healthy development.
Week 6 discussed building a race equity culture. Every person within an organization, group, and community contributes to the culture of that network. Building an equitable culture within our businesses, friendly associations, family structures, and community interactions requires active efforts from each member to move forward.
Week 7 revolved around being an ally. An ally seeks to understand what it feels like for another person or group to be oppressed, and despite knowing he/she will never fully understand how it feels, is committed to valuing and supporting people who are marginalized.
The Equity Challenge was a powerful opportunity for participants to develop a deeper understanding of how inequity and racism affect our lives and our communities. United Way Worldwide has been a leading force in achieving equity and social justice through diversity. It has implemented several programs in a number of countries to address the issue.
If you wish to find out more about and support our equity work, please click here!