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'Tip #5: Taking a Stand for Higher Moral Ground' from Fierro Consulting: Inspiring People. Growing Organizations. Strengthening Communities.'s Blog

Tip #5: Taking a Stand for Higher Moral Ground

Jun 14, 2016
Category: Racism  Power Dynamics  Participatory Leadership  Leadership  Antiracism  Inclusive Conversations  Tips for inclusive conversations 
Author: Rita Fierro, Ph.D.

When you take a stand, it doesn’t have to be you against the world. Taking a stand can also inspire a group to be the best it can be.

Until now, all the tips on inclusive conversations were about being receptiveasking questions, and listening. Today’s tip switches gears: it’s about taking a clear stand in the presence of flawed process.

Some years ago, I was a member of a committee in a strategic planning process for a larger organization. As is typical in strategic planning, the committee brainstormed goals, prioritized them, and then asked the organization’s membership to vote on them. One of the goals—which I had proposed—was to increase the diversity of our membership, which was predominantly white. Once the wider membership voted on the goals, the diversity goal received fewer votes. Only 60% of the membership voted for more diversity versus the 70% or higher approval of the highest-ranking goals. I realized that the process itself was flawed. The people who most cared about diversity were not present in the organization, therefore could not vote.

In our recent presidential primaries, candidate Bernie Sanders has taken a stand calling out the flawed process.According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, fifty-percent of Americans agree with him and two-thirds want to see the process changed. 


Unemployment rally at local Communist Party on March 5, 1930 to advocate for better labor conditions


As a member of the committee, I chose to take a stand.

“Given our predominantly white membership,” I said to the committee, “I argue that 60% is a high percentage, even if it is not the highest. If we had waited for any social equality goal to be voted upon by a white majority, our country would still be under legal segregation. Majority rule is not an appropriate process for choosing to increase diversity, because, many who might benefit are excluded from our membership and do not have the chance to vote.”

“But what benefits does diversity offer our whole membership?” someone asked. This is such a common question. The hidden privilege behind this question used to infuriate me because it assumes that the majority has to benefit from any action before it gets approved. It basically means “what do I get out of this?” The question no longer infuriates me. I prepare myself for the answer, before it’s even asked.

“There’s an abundance of research about how diversity improves the way people think, helping them think more deeply and creatively. We have much to benefit. I also suggest we keep diversity as a goal to choose, as an organization, the higher moral ground. Let us choose to be intentionally inclusive instead of passively exclusive.”

It worked. The goal was included in the strategic plan.


We Can Do It!' World War 2 poster boosting morale of American women contributing to the war effort created by J. Howard Miller in 1942.


Then we recognized, like many organizations, that we didn’t really know what we were doing to be exclusive. The first objective became to find out why and build partnerships with other, more diverse organizations to grow a more inclusive membership. And it’s working. There is now a committee of people working specifically on the goal. I’ve drifted away from the work, taken by other priorities, but the work is continuing.

But before taking a stand, consider the following reflections:

  1. Check your motives. Are you doing this just to be “right”? What do you want to achieve and for whom?

  2. Check your morale and mental state. Taking a stand can have a negative effect on you. Are you in the best emotional and mental space to take this on?

  3. Check your allies. Are there people in the group you can reach out to support you? Check Tip 3 on the risks of not doing this.

  4. Check the assumptions. Are there assumptions that need to be named to make a more persuasive stance?

  5. Check the benefits to your audience. What does your audience get out of supporting your stance? Get clear about this before you speak up.

  6. Check your patience. Sometimes pushing too hard can have the opposite effect. Make sure to include patience and pauses in your plan. Oftentimes, a pause can build support because people have a chance to reflect.

  7. Check your learning. Try to not shut down when you take a stand. As for any other conversation, keep asking questions and learning from the perspectives of others in the group. The more you listen to others, the more likely you are to be listened to.

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