Sincerely, Leaders of Color: A self-improvement buddy system for leaders
How we’re holding each other accountable for our 2022 commitments.
Commitments, Not Predictions: As we start 2022, Sincerely, Leaders of Color asked our fellow leaders, allies, and rebels — of all colors — to make commitments and promises for the year ahead, and how they’ll contribute to making safer, healthier newsrooms for all journalists of color. Here’s what they said. This special series is presented with support from The American Press Institute.
Hannah Wise and John Davidow, co-founders of Media Bridge Partners (a new consultancy that helps media organizations with their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging goals), discuss their personal/professional commitments for 2022.
The following is an edited version of their conversation on accountability, empathy, seeking out new perspectives and like all good journalists, continuing to be curious, ask questions and really listen:
Commitment #1: Recruit Accountability Partners
Hannah: John, neither of us made any New Year resolutions this year. But, Kim and Emma would like us to go public with our commitments for ‘22. For me, the big difference between resolutions and commitments is accountability.
Accountability comes up a lot in our work at Media Bridge Partners (full disclosure, Emma is one of our partners). Our mission at Media Bridge is to support and improve news organizations’ efforts to be just, equitable, and diverse workplaces. John, the first commitment you are making is to build a team around you that will hold you accountable to achieve the goals you set for yourself this year.
John: I’ve learned that I’m most effective when I’m collaborating with a trusted colleague or friend. During the pandemic, I started scheduling regular check-ins with three close colleagues who I refer to as my accountability partners. I meet with these partners on a monthly basis to share my progress and the challenges I face. As a relatively newly minted consultant, it’s an enormous help to have someone I can count on for unwavering support and constructive feedback.
Hannah, as one of my accountability partners, I am counting on you to help me be more empathic and aware of the emotional toll involved in our work. It’s something I’ve always admired about you. I know that’s one of your commitments for this year.
Commitment #2: Prioritize Empathy
Hannah: The conversations we facilitate in our work can be emotionally taxing, especially for the folks with historically marginalized backgrounds. That’s why we always say that we prioritize the psychological safety of the marginalized. I also recognize that this work can be deeply unsettling for people with privilege, especially White, cisgender folks. Having empathy for everyone I work with (both clients and partners alike) underpins my approach and I think enables me to build trust and connection. It is why I’m committed to helping keep you accountable for keeping this in mind (although you’re starting from a pretty advanced spot!).
Part of this is also understanding others’ perspectives. As a team, we’re always sharing what we’re reading or watching, especially when it relates to our work. And the last couple of years has catalyzed a long due reckoning in journalism. How has that influenced you when it comes to your commitments?
Commitment #3: Objectivity And Inclusivity
John: This year I am committed to listening to people’s stories, not through my lens, but theirs. No one made this point better than ONA’s Irving Washington and the Maynard Institute’s Martin Reynolds. They launched a model rocket with the word objectivity on it out to space at SRCCON. By literally, jettisoning objectivity to the great beyond, these two journalists reinforced the need for me to question my own biases in appreciating and understanding others’ truths.
Another area I need to improve is building my fluency using correct personal pronouns. Sure my email signature and Zoom nametag include he/him/his. It’s a small concession to demonstrate my awareness of gender diversity. But Hannah, you know that I struggle with how and when to use “they.” I can’t write it off as a generational habit. I appreciate your gentle reminders when I screw up. I need to do better and I will. For anyone else who needs to work on this, I found NPR’s LIfe Kit’s guide to gender identity terms really helpful.
Commitment #4: Don’t Take Space, Make Space
Hannah: On a personal note, I think one way you and I relate well together is our shared cultural background (Ashkenazi North American diaspora Jews). We also share the gift of the gab and I think I can speak for both of us that we each can be a bit of an interrupter at times! As my kids learned in kindergarten: “interrupting is very disrupting!” I’ll be working on being more aware of this bad habit, and expect a digital kick under the table when we catch each other doing it! Doing this work requires vulnerability from everyone involved and I think it’s critical to stay extremely present and aware of others and their needs to be heard. I like the old adage: you have two ears and one mouth — so do twice the amount of listening as talking. Connected with empathy and holding space for others and their experiences is making space. So this year I’m committing to being better at making space for others who lack the privilege I have. What this looks like will vary depending on the setting, but it can be taking a pause before chiming in during a meeting to give others a chance to speak before I do; it might look like referring someone else for a speaking engagement or calling out an event organizer if a panel is all-White.
John: Notice how I didn’t interrupt you? That’s progress already!
Commitment #5: Dare To Ask
John: One last commitment I’d like to insist we both make is steeped in our inherent curiosity as journalists. We need to recommit ourselves to the journalistic adage, dare to ask.
Dare to ask, means more than asking tough questions. In this case, it means how the two of us can use our privilege to interrogate the underlying inequality and racism that exists in many newsrooms, root it out so that they can better serve an open and just society for all.
Are you good with that?
Hannah: Absolutely, and I’m going to hold us to it in the year ahead!
Hannah Wise and John Davidow
Media Bridge Partners
This is a guest column, solicited by P. Kim Bui and Emma Carew Grovum and edited by Emma. We want to make sure to include voices from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. If you’re interested in guest writing, or have someone you’d love to hear from, let us know here.
John Davidow is a co-founder of Media Bridge Partners, a consulting firm dedicated to supporting news organizations in their efforts to build diverse, inclusive, and equitable newsrooms. John is an executive coach for leaders committed to digital and cultural transformation.
Hannah Wise is a certified solution-focused coach with strong interest in positive psychology and mindfulness. She is a co-founder of Media Bridge Partners where her work is centered on making journalism a fulfilling and healthy career option for everyone. Hannah is the News Partnerships Lead at the Brown Institute’s Local News Lab and previously led the interactives team for CBCNews in Toronto.