Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown leads an organizational development consulting firm, KMB, that partners with leaders and organizations to solve complex organizational and people challenges that interfere with strong, sustainable results and long-term organizational health. Dr. Brown has extensive experience in issues of racial equity, organizational development, and capacity building and has supported numerous organizations that center and prioritize confronting racism, specifically anti-Black racism, in analysis and action.
For more than 20 years, Dr. Brown has facilitated discussions and group learning within progressive, social justice, non-profit, higher education, and Fortune 100 organizations about sensitive topics, such as the intersections of race/racism, gender/sexism, and economic privilege/class, as well as politics, democracy, and other social justice issues.
Tammy Gibson: What led you to a career in racial equity?
Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown: As far back as I can remember, I was committed to understanding the world and developed a deep commitment to putting social justice into practice through an intersectional approach to race, gender, and class. This approach ultimately became a specific area of study, scholarship, and practice for me, including my doctoral research. These, coupled with my life experience in communities on the margins, set the foundation for my trajectory to specialize in the practice of transforming organizations through racial equity.
TG: One of your titles is a cultural architect. Can you expound on what a cultural architect is and does?
KMB: When I think about my work, I think about the aspects of transformations. Some organization transformations are cosmetic, and some transformations require a complete rebuild. When rebuilding, I draw on and put management theory, organizational theory, and social movement theory into practice to construct a multidimensional framework for racial equity and organizational transformation that goes beyond slogans and outdated diversity and inclusion practices toward being highly equitable and highly cohesive. The approach to my work begins by drawing on the complicated connections and complex architecture between local and national politics, racial inequalities, and the myriad of ways these realities manifest in organizations.
TG: Have you experienced racism at the workplace? If so, who did you confront it?
KMB: Since my very first job, there has always been persistent weather I’ve had to manage. Early in my career, I didn’t have the experience or analysis to name it. The lived experience of being required to constantly explain my tone, passion, commitment, ambition, or optics of my work in every single job, organization, sector, and geography I ever worked was definitely racism. In most instances, I figured out a way to provoke the change I wanted to see. Sometimes, that included having a series of difficult conversations, which resulted in me taking my talents elsewhere.
TG: How can a corporation advance racial equity in the workplace?
KMB: The first step a corporation can take is to assess and determine whether there is or isn’t racial equity in their workplace. There is much more than making public statements against racial injustice and commitment statements for racial equity and promises to do better in the future. Many companies did that during the racial uprising in 2020 – post the murder of George Floyd.
Organizational leaders who are committed must hold racial inequity as a principal threat to anything they hope to achieve. Then, the corporation can invest in a process with intention and attention around developing a shared understanding of what they are actually taking on. This can include a deep analysis of the impact of the work that has been or is being done internally; exploring key elements of racism and how it plays out in the organization and the workforce; and clarity around why racial equity and inequity affect everyone.
TG: What are your challenges or joys in the work you do?
KMB: My greatest challenge is that organizations and organizational leaders want transformation around racial injustice or equity to happen at unrealistic speeds, with minimum effort, and everywhere else but within the organization or with the leaders themselves. Racial equity requires organizational and personal transformation. Racism is systemic and has had 500 years to integrate into all systems, institutions, psyches, processes, and will not be undone with a season of protests and corporate commitment statements on a few one-off trainings. What I love about my engagement with clients is facilitating organizations and leaders through impactful and lasting transformations.
TG: With the ongoing racial unrest in this country, do you see more corporations want to confront systemic racism within their organization?
KMB: It’s hard to say if more corporations want to confront it or more are being called to confront it. Many people are demanding that their organizations eliminate and not reinforce the inequitable practices inside the organization that impart harm to the minds, bodies, and spirits of people of color that are experienced outside of the organization. Employees, customers, and other stakeholders are asking that companies go beyond their public statement. These demands have included real investments in engagements of deep equity work, which consists of a formal examination of systems, policies, and practices within and across the organization that consistently advantage some while disadvantaging the majority of others. Hopefully, these types of examinations will enable corporations to develop and deploy strategic and appropriate interventions for lasting impact and ultimately eliminate inequities, not merely treat the symptoms.
TG: How can corporations better support black employees during this time of racial unrest?
KMB: Corporations should have a practice of supporting black employees all the time, not just during times of crisis. Organizations should not assume what we need, engage with us in self-determinate solutions. Ask us what we need and offer it.
TG: What leadership tips would you give to a corporation that wants to invest in the fight against racism from within the company?
KMB: My leadership tip would be for those looking to invest in the fight against racism from within, is don’t do it alone. Get some support from a qualified professional like me and a firm like mine; I invite my clients to call me first, call me often – and they do, to facilitate a structured engagement to determine what the organization’s role and contributions, externally and internally, to ending racism (as long as there is racism) should be.
Follow Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown at https://kerrymitchellbrown.com/.
Tammy Gibson is a black history traveler and author. Find her on social media @SankofaTravelher.