By Kay Knox, CEO at WithinReach
Many things make for good leadership. As leaders, we commit ourselves to ‘leaderly’ practices such as visioning, modeling, mentoring, self-awareness, accountability, transparency and many others. As I approach my 5th anniversary as CEO of WithinReach, there is one practice that has been paramount to my success as an executive leader: The practice of continuous learning.
Whether we serve as board or staff leaders in the nonprofit sector, our ability to stay relevant, engaged and inspiring depends on our commitment to learning. Over the last couple of years, I have been on a deep learning journey about racism, implicit bias, privilege and systemic oppression. I decided to share my journey through a series of blog posts titled: My Year of Waking Up. Taking the time to record and share my learning has been critical for me, as it has helped create an opening for honest and, yes, sometimes uncomfortable conversations.
My learning has taught me that even though I firmly believe that all people are created equal and deserve equal treatment, my life experience and inherent privilege as a white women make it impossible for me to act in complete alignment with my beliefs. This has been an uncomfortable realization for me, and it has also been one of my most important learnings to date.
If we are genuinely interested in increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in our organizations and communities, we must do more than claim our leadership commitment; we must get comfortable being uncomfortable.
At WithinReach we envision healthy, vibrant communities where ALL families in Washington have the opportunity to thrive. If we truly mean ALL families, then we must be willing to listen deeply to those who are furthest from opportunity to understand the barriers they face, including personal, structural and institutional. And, we must be willing to look at our role in undoing systems and structures that oppress the very people we aim to serve.
Thanks to amazing teachers such as Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative; Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk about Race; and Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, I am beginning to understand my role in and response to the racism, white supremacy and inequity that are long-standing and pervasive parts of our nation’s DNA.
I am fortunate to have a staff and Board of Directors at WithinReach who are equally interested in this learning journey, and we invite you to join us. Together, through our leadership in learning, we can help build a world that is not plagued by racism, hate and ‘othering’, but instead one that is sustained by diversity, equity, and ‘belonging’.
Kay Knox is Chief Executive Officer at WithinReach, and she has helped lead the work of WithinReach for more than 19 years. She received her Master’s degree from the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the UW, and has worked in the public health and not-for-profit sectors for many years. Throughout her career, Kay has focused on improving health outcomes in the areas of chronic disease, AIDs and STDs, and Maternal, Child and Family Health. When she’s not working to improve community health, Kay can be found cooking, doing yoga, gardening or looking for the next best campsite. To read more from Kay, visit The CEO Perspective.
WithinReach is a Washington not-for-profit that helps families navigate our complex health and social service systems, and connect to the resources they need to be healthy and safe. To learn more, visit www.withinreachwa.org.