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ATD Blog

Ask a Trainer: How Can I Support Racial Equity Within My Learning Team?

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

In this week’s Ask a Trainer guest post, Megan Torrance and Jessica Jackson provide steps that learning teams can take to begin having conversations and taking action around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Dear Megan and Jessica,

I lead a small learning department of four instructional designers and two trainers. My organization is trying to do more to support diversity, equity, and inclusion, (DEI), and racial justice. As a team lead, I want to ensure that my team is inclusive and equitable and that we’re having conversations about DEI, but I’m not sure how to start having those conversations. Do you have any advice?

Megan: Let’s be honest—these can be hard and awkward conversations. When I was growing up, it wasn’t considered polite to talk about race in my community. We treated everybody based on their merits and to talk about race was considered rude. Then I started realizing that by not talking about race, we’re assuming that we’re all in this fabulous melting pot and we’re all the same. But we aren’t. We all follow the majority culture. If there’s something that we find interesting from another culture, we absorb it and call it our own. And you don’t notice if you are the majority culture, so I didn’t notice it.

As I started to learn more, I began with the unconscious incompetence space. I then moved into an uncomfortable space of conscious incompetence. It was hard to start sometimes. As fired up as I was, I was afraid to make mistakes. I was embarrassed. I had a meeting with Jess and one other team member of ours, and I asked, “What’s your experience been like at this company?” And then I shut my mouth and listened.

Jessica: I think that conversation would have been even more difficult if our culture at TorranceLearning wasn’t one of psychological safety. We had built in the norm that we admit when we mess up or make mistakes. At every staff meeting, we talk about Code Reds. In front of everyone on our team, we talk about when we mess up and receive feedback. That is a normal part of our culture.

So, this conversation with Megan was my chance to give feedback around my experience. One of the points that I made was that I wasn’t sure if I could talk to Megan about race or racial bias. I didn’t know what the processes were or what we were doing in response to racial bias. In that moment, Megan listened, and she said, “This is good feedback. How can we use this? How can we move forward?”

One thing we have done since then is create some physical markers. My advice to any organization attempting to start these conversations is to make sure you have a space that is receptive to feedback and has a sense of psychological safety so that voices are heard. Megan has indicated that she’s listened by having physical symbols in her own office that open up and invite the conversation around racial equity. If you meet with Megan, you’ll see a Black Lives Matter sign in her office. Right there, that signals to me that I can talk about what’s going on or at least that racial equity is being thought about and considered.


We have also developed a book club we use to talk about race. We are a predominantly white organization, but folks are willing to think about their own role and their own stake in creating change. We’re building the competency together, and we are a learning organization.

And third, we’ve started to make some commitments as an organization about how we want to affect communities and what that looks like. We do what we do best, which is training and learning design. This means developing a comprehensive product around racial equity but also committing revenue shares to communities of color from that product line. I think when you start these conversations, you also have to actually get behind what you say your promises are and have that benchmark and those indicators to show you’re doing the work.

Learn more from Megan and Jessica about building racial equity into learning organizations on the Accidental Trainer podcast. Their episode will air on May 5, 2021.


If you have a question for Ask a Trainer, send it to [email protected]. You can find answers to previous questions by visiting the Ask a Trainer hub.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Megan Torrance is the chief energy officer of TorranceLearning, an e-learning design and development firm outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has spent over two decades knee-deep in projects involving change management, instructional design, consulting, and systems deployment. Megan thrives on design excellence and elegant project management. And coffee. She and the TorranceLearning team have developed the LLAMA project management approach, blending Agile with excellent instructional design techniques. TorranceLearning projects have won IELA and Brandon Hall awards, and the 2014 xAPI Hyperdrive contest at DevLearn.

Publications include “A Quick Guide to LLAMA: Agile Project Management for Learning,” and “Agile and LLAMA for ISD Project Management,” a TD at Work. Megan has written for TD magazine several times, including the article, “What Is xAPI?” in the February 2016 issue. 

About the Author

Jessica Jackson brings a background of social justice dialogue facilitation, restorative justice practices, and DEI consulting to instructional design. She is a TEDx speaker and an award-winning educator. She is the xAPI Cohort host and an instructional designer and project manager at TorranceLearning.

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