In it Together: Reflections on Building Inclusive Spaces

November 20, 2018

As facilitators, our job is to help environmental and conservation leaders have tough conversations, build consensus, and together explore ways to end inequalities and foster stronger teams. Those candid conversations have given rise to some newly imagined steps and “experiments” that individuals and groups are willing to try out to create change. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to facilitate powerful and illuminating conversations about implicit bias with environmental leaders at the Land Trust Alliance Rally in Pittsburgh and the Chesapeake Bay Forum in Shepherdstown.

Time and time again, we are awed by the empathy, compassion, and vulnerability that arise when people show up for each other and for a world they believe is possible. And we’ve witnessed how saying difficult truths that are hard to speak to each other or even to ourselves creates space for growth and healing. As Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

As we have been supporting folks through their work – and doing our own – to address injustice and bias, we wanted to share some thoughts that have helped us and might help you, too:

  • Acknowledging power is powerful. One of the most pivotal ways to shape a space is by recognizing that privilege and oppression are real. We bring all of our identities with us wherever we go, including those that give us “blinders” to others’ experiences and have an impact regardless of our intentions. When power is named, we can begin to create inclusive, courageous spaces where groups can work together to address conflict. (For more on the practice of “brave space,” check out this helpful research article – while it focuses on classrooms, it offers useful context and relatable tips.)
  • It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Working to create change and address inequalities is hard, and it will feel uncomfortable. That’s totally normal! In fact, it’s usually a sign that growth and change (the good stuff) is really happening.
  • We will make mistakes. Aiming for perfection is a sure bet for disappointment. Everyone is not going to get it right all the time – even facilitators! The more important question is, are we moving in the right direction? And when we mess up, can we practice the resilience needed to try again?
  • Take a breather. If we are going to make it in this marathon, we aren’t going to be able to sprint the whole way. We are constantly relearning the lesson of how important it is to pause and take a step back – a bigger impact is only possible when we rest and recover for the long journey ahead of us.

Our commitment to collaboration means a commitment to ensuring all voices are heard, working across differences, and acknowledging when we are wrong. It means creating opportunities to empathize, to listen, and to learn as we take action. And it means being clear that we don’t have all the answers – we too are growing, learning, failing, and trying again.

We are so grateful for another impactful year of working with networks, groups, organizations, and leaders across the country. Thank you for your hardiness and will to bring about change – you inspire us.

With gratitude and deep appreciation,

The ICL team

P.S. In case you missed it, the Land Trust Alliance’s fall magazine focused on gender bias in conservation issues…and it features our own Dianne Russell!