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Permission or Purpose?

Updated: May 31, 2023

Taking action to be more inclusive and just, and working to create belonging does not require permission (or for that matter forgiveness, sorry Grace Hopper).

In my coaching and consulting work around leadership and action to advance DEI and belonging, we assess: do we really need permission for this? What is the role of the board/CEO/boss person in this process or decision? What can we control or influence?

A formidable challenge that the culture of white supremacy presents is the myth that to do the ethical work of liberation, the oppressors must first give permission. We often start with the top of the hierarchy because we've been taught that change comes from the top, from "leaders" of a certain kind with certain kinds of titles and that only with permission can we change, innovate and be bold.


What is purposeful to collective liberation and justice?
Then, we sort out how to get there?

Do we sometimes need permission? Of course. Power structures and authority function as gatekeepers to measure the pace, kind and benefits of change. We must know how to engage and influence that. It is ok to be strategic.

But engaging is very different than asking for permission.

There are tools and strategies to engage, influence and manage power. There are ways to move people alongside the process of change. But we need a new starting point that is not about power and permission.

Instead, focus on you; on the space and people here with you and on the opportunity in front of you. Ask, “What is most purposeful in service to collective change and progress?”

Consider, in the space you occupy - what can I do today, right now? The opportunity to take action is often more available than we see.

What is purposeful?

Starting with a different question allows us to understand that we are already powerful.

In our own day-to-day work we can challenge our own biases, reach out to folks who are marginalized and regularly silenced or dismissed and we can choose to lean into the work of more humanizing and belonging. We can choose to use language that is rooted in justice and inclusion. We can choose to inquire about why we do things the way we do; investigating the status quo more rigorously. The opportunities for change within the grasp of our own hands and vision are immense. This is how systems change when we change.

Purpose First.


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