Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice: that means making issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion more accessible and understandable to everyone. Join us on the Anima Blog as we journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging framed around pop culture, current events, and more.

Episode 20: Inclusive Leadership for Polarizing Times

with Shakil Choduhury and Dawn Menken

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Join Anima Leadership co-founder Shakil Choudhury in conversation with educator, therapist, facilitator and author Dawn Menken.

If there’s one way to describe our current political landscape, it’s polarized. As both sides seem to pull further and further apart, how can we drive action across differences? How can we create the connections and relationships we need to make change? And how can we empower bridge builders to lead us towards a more inclusive future?

Join Anima Leadership co-founder Shakil Choudhury in conversation with educator, therapist, facilitator and author Dawn Menken. Dawn has been working in the field of psychology and facilitator development for over 35 years and has written multiple books focused on improving social discourse and inspiring more meaningful civic engagement. Her latest book Facilitating a More Perfect Union: A Guide for Politicians and Leaders offers practical tips to anyone stepping into a leadership position, and has been read by politicians, government administration and other leaders from around the world.

This Café podcast is perfect for anyone looking to become a more inclusive leader, especially in situations where polarization is becoming more and more powerful. With more than 50 years of experience between them come and get ready to listen to a lively conversation about marginalization, connection, engagement and inclusion.

If after listening to the podcast, you feel ready to develop your conflict competence in this world divided by polarization, don’t miss the chance and enroll in our Brave Conversations course. Bridge divides, foster meaningful engagement and becoming an inclusive leader who drives real change!

How Teachers Can Offer EDI Leadership for Schools

Based on the article “Teachers can help create schools where everyone matters“, published for the Alberta Teacher’s Association, September 25, 2023.

Teachers as EDI Leadership

It seems as though there is more awareness about the need for EDI as student and staff demographics shift while gaps in learning access and opportunity become more widely known. Yet at the same time, we are in a moment in the education system as well as broader society, where we are experiencing a backlash to the recognition that some groups experience unfair barriers:

  • The pushback against “woke” content in educational institutions and workplaces;
  • The banning of books and even language supporting gay, trans and racialized stories;
  • The US Supreme court undoing affirmative action programs and other equity policies;
  • The discrediting of any equity education after the recent suicide of a Toronto principal.

It’s easy in times such as this to step back and shut up: essentially, to avoid upsetting the status quo.  But if we wish education to be equally accessible to ALL students, now is the time that our efforts toward equity are needed more than ever.  Here are three steps any teacher can take to tangibly support efforts toward more representative, accessible and inclusive schools.

Represent all of your students

Collect data, don’t assume.  Send out a survey (or get your principal to) asking students or their guardians to share (if they choose) their culture, holidays celebrated, family members and racial/ ethnic identity…or better yet, complete an organizational audit to make sure you can collect and consider this information over the long term. With this information you can adapt curriculum, use inclusive language and represent student identities often rendered invisible. 

For example: if you know you have two Muslim identifying students in the class, wish them Eid Mubarak, ask them if they would like a space to pray during Ramadan, and/ or share about the Eid holiday in class (perhaps a family member might like to come in).

Initiate conversations with colleagues

Change happens one conversation at a time, eventually accumulating in a tipping point moment.  Suggest trans, Black, Muslim or other marginalized identity speakers for professional development days.  Host a book discussion series with books like Deep Diversity: A Compassionate Scientific Approach to Achieving Racial Equity which break down systemic discrimination into easily understood chunks.

Use challenging moments as case studies to discuss and learn from collectively. For example, if the n-word is used by a couple of students in the school, discuss as a staff what can be done to address it within the school culture as a whole.  All words and behaviour happen in context.

Normalize mistake-making

As educators, we know that any learning process has to involve practice and that making mistakes is a necessary part of the process. Think about teaching algebra to students for the first time! The same applies to learning about students and colleagues who occupy an identity we are less familiar with.  We will say and do awkward things, we may put our foot in our mouths, we may misstep—we need to be accountable for ways we could have done better, and then we need to let it go.  Creating inclusion should feel inclusive not like a prison we fear being locked into.  Compassion is the underpinning of all sustainable change.

What do I do next?

We know that change isn’t predestined: it’s a choice. An inclusive future is one where all students—not just those who are well-off, white and culturally Christian—have equal access to belonging, learning and success (in exactly that order). But teachers don’t have to do it alone.

Anima Leadership has over 15 years of experience working to help schools and other educational become more diverse, inclusive and equitable—and we can help you too.


Anima Leadership CEO Annahid Dashtgard seated looking at the camera in a red blazer.

Annahid Dashtgard

CEO and Co-Founder, Anima Leadership

As a seasoned change-maker and non-fiction author, Annahid has worked with hundreds of organizations and leaders to create more just and equitable futures. She’s a first generation immigrant woman of colour whose inaugural book—Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation documents her journey identifying and healing from racial trauma. Her latest book Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World is a set of poignant, humorous and timely stories translating everyday racism to ordinary life.

Annahid has a Masters in Adult Education and has trained in various psychological modalities to understand the root of systems change in human consciousness. She has spend more than two decades consulting, educating, coaching and writing on EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) issues across both public and private sectors.

Episode 19: Secrets from the EDI Leader Labs: For BIPOC and White Leaders

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Join Annahid Dashtgard, and Emma Lind for a conversation about the Leader Labs and some important takeaways and secrets challenges when addressing race and equity issues.

How do we avoid jumping to conclusions with each other? When is it important to listen versus hold our ground? What does it look like to step into uncomfortable conversations in order to advance equity in our organizations?

BIPOC Leader Lab creator and host Annahid Dashtgard and EDI Lab for White Leaders host Emma Lind discuss the secret challenges and strategies of addressing race and equity issues from the unique perspective of both BIPOC and white leaders. Drawing on lessons learned from the 2023 Leader Labs—one-of-a-kind cohorts bringing together equity leaders from around the world—Annahid and Emma will share impactful and applicable tips and tactics for transforming your own leadership practice.

This Café podcast is perfect for leaders of all identities looking to find a community of other leaders interested in creating a more inclusive and equitable future…with some expert support along the way. Listen now to hear how you can step into greater equity literacy—whatever your racial identity—to help bridge rather than break in these turbulent times.

Listen to this podcast to learn more about this essential reframing of equity, diversity and inclusion work and how to apply it to your own leadership development. This session is part of a series of Fireside Chats, exploring the themes of Deep Diversity with leaders in the field. Pre-order your copy of Deep Diversity here!

Secrets from the EDI Leader Labs

Despite the fact that organizations and teams are becoming increasingly racially diverse, race has become one of the most polarizing topics to discuss, leaving many otherwise competent leaders struggling to respond adequately. Because organizational inclusion efforts can only go so far as leaders themselves are able to go, Anima Leadership created leader labs for BIPOC and white leaders to develop their leadership skills in like-identity environments, recognizing the challenges are different depending on one’s racial identity. The BIPOC Leader Lab meets every week for six months, while the EDI Lab for White Leaders meets monthly for the whole year.  

The conversations from 2023’s labs have been deep, rich and transformative…and full of applicable insights for leaders of all identities. Here are some of the best.

BIPOC Leader Lab Secrets

Most of us feel nervous about sharing our experience

Because of the shared and ongoing experience of not being believed, scapegoated or plain out rejected, leaders of colour are often hesitant about speaking up about the ways in which we experience discriminatory behaviors and policies. The more elite the level of leadership position we occupy—which usually means we’re surrounded by more white leaders—the more likely we are to encounter this pushback. 

We can’t be waiting for the invite to come from white people because white supremacy is not built to issue invitations for people of colour. Instead, we need to develop assertiveness. Finding a way to enter the conversation is an important and innovative skill set to survive and also transform organizational cultures. The more we use our voices, the more we open the door to those coming behind us.

We want diverse and fluid cultural norms (rather than default whiteness norms)

We don’t want to merely inhabit white norms (read: perfectionist, non-relational, quiet, politie) in order to be effective leaders. It’s not about white supremacy culture being inherently bad, but where are the places to give up the stage and allow different norms (ways of doing and being) to also take centre stage?  

We commit to the parts of ourselves which are differently coded and stand up for them: eg. assertiveness, slower pace of doing, listening deeply, etc. The more diverse intelligence is shared, the stronger the whole system becomes.

Code-shifting is a survival tactic

Code shifting from our own authentic way of being and communicating  in our culture of origin to white supremacist culture can feel necessary, but also exhausting. Being unable to show us as our whole selves means that we are also not able to be the best leaders we can be. 

We ask that others who don’t understand our insider cultural norms either ask or respectfully leave us alone. For example, African American vernacular may be something not everyone understand—but it’s also not for everyone.

We struggle with racial and other forms of bias as well

We each have work to do unlearning different forms of racial bias. For example, South Asian and East Asian and Indigenous folks need to name and unlearn anti-Black racial bias. While this came up in our conversations as an edgy topic, it was also powerful to to name in an interracial group. These are not conversations we feel comfortable having in white-dominant space and part of why the BIPOC Leader Lab was so powerful. 

There’s also a common misconception that just because someone is racialized they are racially literate! Life experience is important but does not equal expertise. Even BIPOC leaders can benefit from comprehensive racial equity training.

We are much more than (just) victims

The gifts of facing systemic oppression often include greater sensitivity to power dynamics, greater resiliency (especially around issues of power and marginalisation) and sharper skill development, key skills for leaders of all identities. This was also an important conversation in the BIPOC Leader Lab, and one we can’t have in white dominant spaces where we’re often left defending or proving that we face marginalisation in the first place.  

Seeing what we gain and develop along with what we lose is important in owning our agency and honing our skills as BIPOC Leaders.

EDI Lab for White Leader Secrets

Trust the process and don’t try to “fix” too early

Real change requires strong relationship, but white supremacy values product over process and solution over relationship. Large institutions have prioritized compliance with human rights rules over substantive change. There is a longstanding pattern of white-bodied people reinforcing their identity through rescuer/victim dynamics.  

We need to approach race and racism from a different tempo and objective. Centering relationships and collaborative models of problem solving is the path towards transformative praxis.

Learning to repair is key to strong relationship

Experiencing rupture or tension in a relationship can sometimes feel like a painful surprise—evidence that we’re wrong or hopelessly flawed. Fearing conflict with BIPOC colleagues can impede the development of authentic relationships. It’s important to remember that white supremacy culture is conflict incompetent. Disagreement can be mistaken for aggression or rejection in white supremacy culture. 

Instead, white leaders can focus on becoming conflict resilient. Expect conflict. Expect that relationships will rupture. The key skill is to learn how to repair, voice your own vulnerability, hear feedback and learn to make commitments to strengthen relationships moving forward. 

The dominant culture does not model conflict resiliency. White supremacy gets stronger when we fail to openly address conflict. Anti-racism requires us to model conflict competence and relational resiliency.

Reject perfectionism in your expectations of relationships

White folks can sometimes fall into a trap of seeing their personal and working relationships with BIPOC folks as a reflection of their anti-racist prowess. That can unintentionally reinforce a kind of objectification in relationships, where BIPOC colleagues are symbols of our own personal development rather than our friends and colleagues. Signs that this could be happening include instances of trying to “impress” BIPOC colleagues or taking conflict in an inter-racial relationship extra personally.

Being conflict resilient doesn’t mean every inter-racial relationship needs to be super close. It’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to have a professional relationship that is more functional than affectionate. We need to temper our expectations of relationships with BIPOC folks; consider how having varying levels of closeness with colleagues is actually a sign that you’re in authentic relationship. Not every relationship with BIPOC colleagues will thrive. That’s okay. Keep going. 

This also applies to the relationship with ourselves and our own learning process, and allowing ourselves to make mistakes as we work toward racial equity and justice.

Our relationship to the land is central to our anti racism

White supremacy culture values capital over community. White-bodied folks in North America in particular have been groomed to self actualize through home ownership. We are told that pioneers are our ancestors, we sometimes recognize street names as those that also adorn our family trees. Our relationship to the land is the context in which we have been trained to judge success, security, belonging, and national identity.  Cultivating a relationship to the land beyond the idea of private property and capital is part of an anti-racist praxis.

Anti-racism and anti-colonial work is ongoing

We need to redefine our timelines. So many of us have been trained to itemise skill sets and accomplish in the name of credentialization and mastery.  Anti-racist anti-colonial work is about a redefinition of the status quo. It is a central focus of our professional practice, not unlike budget review and quarterly planning. We need to build in room for failure, and we need to expect to never be finished this work.

Emotional fragility will be part of the process. This may feel hard but minoritized identities have been far more exhausted and for far longer. We can do hard things. Onward.

An invitation for all leaders

Creating equitable and inclusive work environments is no longer just a nice thing to do, it’s an organizational necessity: do you have the knowledge and skills to foster diversity and build inclusion in your work?  If you’d like some support, consider applying to join us for the 2024 BIPOC Leader Lab or the EDI Lab for White Leaders.


Anima Leadership CEO Annahid Dashtgard seated looking at the camera in a red blazer.

Annahid Dashtgard

CEO and Co-Founder, Anima Leadership

As a seasoned change-maker and non-fiction author, Annahid has worked with hundreds of organizations and leaders to create more just and equitable futures. She’s a first generation immigrant woman of colour whose inaugural book—Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation documents her journey identifying and healing from racial trauma. Her latest book Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World is a set of poignant, humorous and timely stories translating everyday racism to ordinary life.

Annahid has a Masters in Adult Education and has trained in various psychological modalities to understand the root of systems change in human consciousness. She has spend more than two decades consulting, educating, coaching and writing on EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) issues across both public and private sectors.

Emma Lind

Senior Educator

Emma is a scholar-practitioner with a stubborn interest in how identity plays out in our relationships with others, and with ourselves. She’s moved by what we can learn about ourselves and the organizations we build by exploring what goes unsaid, unnoticed, unseen and unaddressed.

Emma has spent the better part of the last twenty years teaching and researching whiteness as a way of being and knowing, but it wasn’t until moving into fat activism that she really found the heartbeat in JEDI work. Her PhD (Carleton, 2021) focused on whiteness, settler colonial identity, and urban life, and her current teaching and writing is primarily on weight stigma in health care.

Why Brave Conversations are an Essential Part of the Inclusion Journey

When we inhabit a body that marks us as “other”, we know what it feels like to have our bodies and our identities prodded, poked, scratched, and marred by a world that was not built for us. It can be painful, which leaves us with the choice to suffer this world or to change it. So, what can we do if we decide to change it?

Changing harmful patterns, especially around race, means doing something that can be terrifying: stepping bravely into difficult conversations around race. This can feel like a trial-and-error process (though it can be easier with expert EDI training). We need to learn to pick our battles, expand our viewpoints, and accept that sometimes we’ll get it wrong. We also need to learn to apologize, repair relationships, and move forward after embarrassment. Most importantly: we need to learn that we are not alone in struggling to have those brave conversations and wanting to make change.

What does it mean to have a brave conversation around race, and why does it feel so hard?

When we have a brave conversation around race, we step into potential discomfort and sometimes conflict to name, engage and change harmful racial patterns. This can look like intervening in a moment of bias or discrimination, openly naming an inequity that is being ignored, asking for something that requires vulnerability, or accepting that you have made a mistake (to name a few).

Talking about race and racial inequity, especially in North America, can be scary in today’s polarizing landscape. When we engage in conversations around race, our unconscious minds flag that we may be entering a zone of conflict, and we may feel or act in a variety of ways, including:

  • Defensiveness or shame at being wrong or not knowing something;
  • Feeling more empathy for sameness and fear towards difference;
  • Trouble seeing other people’s point of view;
  • Fear of breaking normative cultural rules and values;
  • Difficulty advocating for ourselves.

We can use the rider and the elephant metaphor to better understand why this happens:

The rider represents our conscious mind (which houses logic, reasoning, and abstract thought), and the elephant, a much larger part, represents our unconscious mind (the part that houses emotion, reactions, and gut instinct). Researchers believe humans don’t need to have a bad experience with a snake to fear it. It is passed down in our DNA. Thousands of years ago, when our ancestors saw an unfamiliar object on the road, they did not have the time to think – is that a snake or a stick? They had to respond and had to respond quickly. Their fight/flight response would kick in.

The fight/flight response lives at the elephant level, bypassing our rider to allow for quick decision-making. Reactions to snakes and spiders happen at the elephant level, but so do reactions to conflict.

Today, the topic of race can feel fraught with potential conflict, and our elephants notice this. When we engage in conversations around race, our elephants are often activated, moving into fight or flight to prepare us for conflict. However, this limits our ability to have honest, vulnerable, and meaningful conversations and, in turn, limits our ability to break harmful racial patterns.

Why bother having a brave conversation around race?

Over the last few years, Anima Leadership has run trainings, seminars, audits, and coaching sessions to support people in developing their equity skill set. Especially after the murder of George Floyd, many white allies came to us to educate themselves and set out to make change.

However, over the last year, this group, many of whom previously approached this work with passion and vigour, has started to fade. In feedback surveys, we have seen a trend of white allies suggesting this work is too uncomfortable for them now and that they are making a choice to walk away.

Equity work is hard. This is true. Having conversation after conversation about racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, transphobia etc. and how to stop it is hard. It is tiring work, and it involves an emotional commitment. But walking away from it does not mean the systems of oppression disappear. Our white allies can step back because they have the option to do so. Many of us, myself included, can not. We must keep having brave conversations about race because racism still exists.

What do I do next?

When our elephants are constantly activated, it can be exhausting. We cannot permanently exist in a state of flight or fight, but we need to remember that our elephant has a rider, and we want to strengthen the connection between the two. We can train our rider to notice when our elephant is activated, and in turn, we help ourselves to ground, recenter, and be present during conversations around race. The three key pieces for your rider to explore are:

  1. Understand your “elephant” better
    Learn what activates or triggers your elephant (e.g. behaviours, words, actions, scenarios), and learn how this activation feels in your body so that you can identify it more quickly (e.g. sweaty palms, racing heart, spiraling thoughts).
  2. Identify practices that allow you to support your elephant
    Find the ways that allow you to return to the present moment. This looks different for everyone and can range from taking a walk to deep breathing to physical touch
  3. Practice and prepare
    Deep listening, de-escalation training, knowing how to provide constructive feedback, and exploring how identity and history contribute to conflict are all things your rider can practice to offer your elephant support.

This is an invitation.

To the communities of colour who cannot leave the racial justice space because we are physically coded “other”: this is also an invitation to you to take care of your rider and your elephant. So often, we are thrown into brave conversations about race just because we exist in non-white bodies. In those conversations, many of us have learnt to sever the ties between our rider and elephant so that we are not perceived as too emotional. We do this to stay safe – at work, school, and public spaces. But the elephant still exists. If we do not foster a relationship with it, it can overpower us, leaving us burnt out and hopeless. We deserve to make choices born of both the rider and the elephant.

To our white allies who have taken a step back, take this time to build the capacity of your rider to care for your elephant. Think about how and why you needed to leave, set new goals for yourself, and consider who you need to rebuild and repair relationships and trust with. Then, come back into the racial justice space—because the door is still open if you are brave enough.


Rebecca D’Souza

JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Educator

Rebecca is a life-long learner and educator with a passion for creating healthy communities. As a first-generation immigrant and cis woman of colour, she wants to understand how our identities engage with each other and with the world around us, and to create spaces where people of all identities can thrive. She has spent the last 10 years in non-traditional educational settings developing and facilitating harm reduction, community engagement and JEDI work.

Episode 18: EDI is not Dead: Facing the Backlash Together

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Join Annahid Dashtgard, and Shakil Choudhury in a conservation about equity, diversity and inclusion.

Anima Leadership co-founders Annahid Dashtgard and Shakil Choudhury host an interactive conversation about this tricky moment in equity, diversity and inclusion work.

Topics include where we are in challenging times, how we can navigate these changes together as a community, and how Anima Leadership can offer some extra support.

This session is part of a series of Fireside Chats, exploring the themes of Deep Diversity with leaders in the field. Pre-order your copy of Deep Diversity here!

EDI From A Harm Reduction Approach

Is it time to rethink EDI? We think so.

At Anima Leadership, we know that shame and blame are not the most effective motivators. Instead, our approach to EDI is rooted in compassion and the careful development of equity literacy.

Equity literacy emphasizes, wherever possible, calling people in instead of calling them out, naming solutions instead of shaming mistakes and helping people learn instead of punishing them for what they don’t yet know.

When we allow ourselves to rethink how we teach equity, diversity and inclusion, we can use best practices and frameworks from other fields like psychology, behavioural science, and even harm reduction to find new approaches that can have a lasting impact.

What Is Harm Reduction?

The harm reduction approach developed as a support for persons affected by habit-forming substances such as drugs or alcohol, is about seeing the potential for harm and stepping back to consider what we can do now to create safer conditions for those involved. 

And, the harm reduction framework isn’t new, in fact we use it everyday. Imagine every time you drive a car: we know that we can’t avoid all car accidents, but we can use seatbelts and airbags and kids car seats to reduce the risk of harm when or if they happen. This is harm reduction! A harm reduction framework is also used for those using substances to promote safer use when abstinence isn’t possible. For example, someone may choose to use a patch instead of smoking a cigarette, or use drugs in a supervised space rather than on their own.

In EDI, we can borrow some of this approach as we acknowledge that relationships, too, carry inherent risk. There is a risk we may unintentionally hurt someone we love with a careless comment, just as there’s a risk we may only recognize our own bias after we’ve said or done something that causes harm to a marginalized colleague, employee or friend.

EDI as Harm Reduction

We can also consider systemic racism in the frame of harmful bias “habits” that manifest across sectors and institutions. Thanks to historical and current day policy, practices and behaviours, racism can become implicit, hidden and compulsively repetitive. 

Tackling this injustice—one that disproportionately impacts minoritized communities—is at the heart of equity and human rights work. But the approaches we employ, especially in EDI education, are different…and these differences matter. Research has proven that judgment and shame from others do not help people with addictions engage in treatment and get better; these same negative attitudes do not help people learn to identify and break our prejudice habits associated with systemic forms of discrimination.  

EDI work is complicated, nuanced, and far-reaching. It can feel impossible to imagine a future where we’ve eliminated all bias and discrimination! But if we try to reframe EDI work through a harm reduction approach, we can acknowledge the difficulty in totally eradicating all harm or micro-aggressions while also focusing on reducing the harm we cause to others and ourselves. This allows us to learn to be in better relationships across difference and make repairs when needed…even if we’re not perfect.

And while more ideological equity frameworks encourage us to tip-toe around our every word and action following strict roles and scripts, this often leads to inauthentic relationships, performative activism and still does not reduce all possibility of harm.

If we imagine equity, diversity and inclusion as harm reduction, we can more accurately reflect what we’re working towards in justice work. If we know that we can build more inclusive spaces by working towards LESS risk and LESS harm…even if we’re not at NO risk and NO harm just yet—or perhaps ever—we can give ourselves space to learn and grow without the pressure to be perfect.

Next Steps for a Harm Reduction Approach

We may never be able to truly eradicate microaggressions, bias and inequality in all forms, but—just like with a harm reduction approach to addictions—we can reduce their impact in a variety of ways.

We can learn about other cultures so we can reduce the risk of causing upset through a culturally insensitive comment. We can take time to understand how many of us are socialized to embody behavioural habits and biases that disadvantage others, while creating policies that reduce our potential to cause systemic harm for marginalized groups. We can build our own equity literacy skills with courses and coaching to better serve our communities and everyone in them.

Embracing a harm reduction approach to EDI work makes space for us to engage in authentic learning and real relationships while understanding that sometimes there will be mistakes, there will be disagreements and there will be hurt.

But when we release the pressure to perform, we can remember that it’s much better to make progress doing good work than it is to use perfection as a reason to not do any work at all.


Anima Leadership

Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.

Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.

Having Bias Isn’t Good or Bad — It’s Human

Let’s Talk About Your Childhood.

A colleague might disregard your advice in a meeting and suddenly, you’re a child and the adults are shooing you away because they feel that kids should be seen and not heard. Your boss might nitpick a mistake and suddenly, you’re 10 years old feeling unfairly punished by a parent or teacher who knows you can’t fight back. When you’re a kid, you might not have much power to speak up for yourself and there’s an almost universal experience of feeling that sting of childhood helplessness and thinking, “when I’m a grown up I’m never going to treat kids like this.”

Intuitively, we know our identities impact how others perceive us. And as kids we can look forward to the day when we’ll grow into an identity that holds more social power and commands greater respect. But we all occupy many identities – and there are some identities that don’t change.

There is no growing out of being Asian, Black, Brown or Indigenous and our society often keeps members of minoritized racial groups in a state of perpetual infantilization; continuing to downplay their perspectives, dismiss their thoughts and deny their autonomy well into adulthood. It’s quite common for members of racialized groups to talk about experiencing subtle comments or actions that reveal that those around them view them as less than – we call these micro-inequities.

For kids, we understand that they’re still growing and learning so sometimes adults need to take control in order to act in a child’s best interests. But when members of minoritized racial groups are being treated unfairly, these actions often indicate that those around them have internalized and are playing out historically harmful stereotypes and inaccurate biases about racialized groups.

Yes, You Have Bias. No, You are Not Evil.

Our brains naturally do a miraculous job of helping us move through the world by quickly processing information to make sense of our surroundings, remember subtle details and identify helpful patterns. But that means that sometimes in our minds, someone’s identity speaks before they do.

We might think of racism as an intentionally malicious act against another person — but it’s not always that simple. When we grow up in societies where we’re taught harmful stereotypes about people based on racial identity, we internalize these stories. Then when our brain kicks in to “help” us create biases based on those stories, we unconsciously begin to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

All humans have implicit bias and most of us are unaware of those biases until they come out in micro-behaviours that are noticeable to other people. But this does not automatically make us bad – it makes us human.

When someone points out that we have said or done something that was harmful to them or their social group, take time to notice how it makes you feel. When we want to do good and are told we’ve done something wrong, it’s common to react from a place of shame, guilt or defensiveness.

When We Know Better We Do Better.

It’s helpful to remember that when someone trusts you to get vulnerable and say, “Hey, what you said really hurt me,” they are usually coming from a place where they see that you are trying. They likely believe in your capacity for change and want to help you understand them so you can both be in better relationship.

Truly being inclusive requires us to be more aware of the experiences of other people. And sometimes stepping into that awareness involves getting a little uncomfortable as we wade through the emotions that come from our own conscious and unconscious ideas around race, identity and power.

Remember that equity work is not about identifying who is good or bad. It’s about looking at the world and identifying who is and who isn’t being considered – then doing our best to meet people with care and compassion as we create environments where everyone matters and belongs.

Now What?

Remember that forming biases is a natural part of the human experience. And although it can be hard to hear that we’ve said or done something that’s harmed a member of a racialized group, this is not always an immediate judgment of our character: it’s an assessment of the biases we’re carrying.

We can all work on the skills of being able to catch ourselves, step into courageous conversations and do the work required to develop our equity literacy to promote a truly equitable workplace environment.

Not sure where to start? For more on how you can transform your workplace without shame or blame, join our Deep Diversity Summer Institute.

Anima Leadership

Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.

Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.

Dear Canada

By Anima CEO, Annahid Dashtgard. An excerpt from her new book Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World.


I’ve known you now for close to four decades. You and I first met when I was a scrappy nine-year- old Brown kid who arrived on your soil from England by way of Iran. Your grand open spaces shocked me after the boisterous, crowded streets of Tehran, and the more placid yet still crowded townships of England. You took my breath away with the way your prairie sky could change shades from cobalt to cerulean to midnight blue and the fact we could drive for miles sometimes without seeing anyone on the road.

Your endless, unblemished open spaces, and younger culture held so much possibility. Anything could happen. I could be anyone here, someone.

That dream quickly died when I was made fun of, spat on at school, failed for no reason when trying for another Girl Guides badge. I stood out for reasons of both skin colour and ethnicity, and it made me very afraid to stay with you. The never-ending whiteness of your winter landscape, and of the people surrounding us, seemed like impenetrable barriers. Where was your heart, I wondered, as I closed mine off to you?

I stood out for reasons of both skin colour and ethnicity, and it made me very afraid to stay with you.


Ours being an arranged relationship, leaving was not an option. I was forced to spend more time getting to know you. Diving into shockingly cold yet serene lakes of turquoise nestled into your Rocky Mountains became second nature. I found my imagination sparked in the light-filled public library, a twenty-minute walk from my childhood home (as was anywhere else I travelled). I was cared for through multiple hospital visits where as a new immigrant family we never had to worry about costs. And then there were always people who appeared like magic at times when most needed … a superintendent who agreed to send me to a different school district, a neighbour who gifted a crocheted square, which I slept with throughout my entire childhood, a teacher who helped me create a high school chapter of Amnesty International that got me started on the path to activism. Through the thorny brambles of suspicion surrounding us, the goodness of your people found a way to seep past the protected facade I learned to put up.

As a young adult I began to travel across your vast landscape, gradually delighting in the diversity that I learned is such an essential part of who you are. I carefully picked sea-tossed pebbles off the wild ruggedness of your eastern shores while being welcomed into the homes of the most bighearted people. I took the ferry to various Gulf Islands off the coast of Vancouver and traversed the landscape that brought the Group of Seven to fame.

The defining moments of growth for you over this last quarter century are also mine. I wept on first learning the plight of Indigenous people across this country through the Oka standoff in 1990. I panicked at the 1995 Quebec referendum and the potential loss of one of our largest provinces. I marched in Quebec city against the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement in 2001 with a hundred thousand others, and then again to protest Bush’s invasion of Iraq two years later. I have voted in every election since reaching legal age and have organized national political campaigns sweeping shore to shore. I have talked to your media and politicians and jostled for a better, more just Canada. Over the years, you and I, we have learned to co-habitate.

The defining moments of growth for you over this last quarter century are also mine.


I am now an adult in middle age who has found her sea legs in Toronto, marrying another of your adopted brood, a Brown boy from Pakistan who moved here, too, when he was young. Together we started a business teaching others what it means to belong. Our children attend the elementary school across from our house, and twice a year we participate in a street barbecue my husband started that has been going on for more than fifteen years. Although I still live with the fear of being targeted for the ways my race, culture, and personality stand out from the norm, I have learned over time that your people’s generosity outweighs their fear of difference.

I think sometimes of my ex-homeland with fondness, and other times with longing, but most of me is now rooted here. I don’t know if I can say thank you for taking me in. I have also given everything I have to you. You continue to take so much, and much more from people who have inhabited this land the longest. What I can say is that I am glad to be here, waking up to you each morning, working alongside so many others to make this country a refuge for all.

Ask me which place is home, and my only answer now is you.


Order your copy of Bones of Belonging

Sharp, funny, and poignant stories of what it’s like to be a Brown woman working for change in a white world.

I take a deep breath, check my lipstick one last time on my phone camera, and turn on my mic. It’s about ten steps, two metres, and one lifetime to the front of the room. “Hello,” I repeat. “My name is Annahid — pronounced Ah-nah-heed — and shit’s about to get real!”

Anima Leadership

Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.

Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.

Why White Leaders Need More Racial Literacy

Original column by Annahid Dashtgard published in the Toronto Star, May 6, 2023

Race: The Elephant in the Room

In my line of work as an inclusion consultant I’m always in the thick of discomfort, working out the best way forward to lead groups toward greater cohesion. Like many others who do this work I come to it from personal experience — more explicitly, from racial trauma.

Immigrating to small town Alberta from Iran when I was 9-years-old knocked early lessons about visibility and power right into my bones, the foundation of this later life passion to create spaces where everyone matters and belongs.

Many organizations are making progress toward equity and inclusion, but I continue to notice how quickly other marginalized identities get onboarded into institutional conversations while race often remains the elephant in the room. As long as white leaders remain unwilling, or unable, to have frank conversations about race, we’ll remain stuck — because what we can’t speak about, we can’t change.

Annahid Dashtgard

This discomfort around race exists for a few key reasons. One is that we’re all more comfortable with what we’re familiar with. There are neurodiverse white people, white people of different sexual orientations and gender identities, white people with different religions etc., so conversations around these areas of difference are usually more accessible for white leaders.

The one identity white leaders can’t step into is non-whiteness: Brown, Black or Indigenous skin. It requires an extension of first empathy, then trust for white people to believe the voices of people of colour when they speak about their experiences.

When my memoir came out in 2019 I remember some white people saying they didn’t think I was “dark enough” to experience racism. I wish they could have been there in all the hundreds of moments I was ignored, dismissed, downgraded or shamed because of my not “dark enough” skin! Why couldn’t they simply have trusted I was speaking my own truth?

Race and Polarization

This brings me to the second reason I think race is so hard to talk about: the current highly charged political climate. I have met white people who are so afraid of being labelled a racist that they avoid any discussion of race altogether. There’s so little room to make a mistake that many people feel they don’t even have the space to try, which is a problem because making mistakes is how we fundamentally learn as human beings.

Yet, when white leaders can’t talk comfortably about race, the fallout always lands on the shoulders of their non-white colleagues, who are experiencing the race-based discriminatory patterns.

I’m now leading two BIPOC Leader Labs for institutional leaders from different sectors across North America and many of them talk about the double bind of being asked for equity advice and then not being believed when they voice what they see or experience. I am always humbled by their courage toiling for change in white-led organizations, but BIPOC leaders can’t be the only ones doing the work.

Leaning Into Conversations About Race

It is time for white leaders to lean into conversations about race, not despite their power but because of it. This is an important caveat because white people bending over backward to accommodate everything people of colour ask is almost as unhelpful as white people shrinking back in fear and avoiding the topic altogether.

So how do you stay open without collapsing? You start developing racial literacy, a long-term skill that takes practice and time (360 hours plus, to be specific) to achieve. White leaders can start by accessing any number of resources racialized experts have put out into the world, including myself. My latest book, “Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World” is such a resource and was just published.

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With literacy comes familiarity and familiarity dispenses fear — fear of discomfort, fear of judgment, fear of doing or saying something wrong or any of the other fears white leaders face. We Brown, Black and Indigenous leaders are here courageously carving the path forward, we’re just waiting for everybody else to show up.

Anima Leadership CEO Annahid Dashtgard seated looking at the camera in a red blazer.

Annahid Dashtgard

CEO and Co-Founder, Anima Leadership

As a seasoned change-maker and non-fiction author, Annahid has worked with hundreds of organizations and leaders to create more just and equitable futures. She’s a first generation immigrant woman of colour whose inaugural book—Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Reconciliation documents her journey identifying and healing from racial trauma. Her latest book Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World is a set of poignant, humorous and timely stories translating everyday racism to ordinary life.

Annahid has a Masters in Adult Education and has trained in various psychological modalities to understand the root of systems change in human consciousness. She has spend more than two decades consulting, educating, coaching and writing on EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) issues across both public and private sectors.

Indigenous Erasure and Resistance in Canada

A picture of the Parliament of Canada

Indigenous Erasure: Past and Present

When we talk about racism against Indigenous people, we have to think beyond racism as seeing and treating people differently…because sometimes racism includes not seeing people at all.

Indigenous erasure in Canada is a form of racism that asks us to overlook, suppress or ignore the reality and experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous Peoples’ historical presence on the land is overlooked because colonial cartographers created new maps, renamed locations and declared the land “empty” on arrival.

Throughout history, Indigenous cultures have been suppressed through both formal laws and informal cultural restrictions and norms. This suppression also continues today with a persistent lack of honest, humanizing representation of Indigenous people in mainstream media.

Our education systems often downplay the impact of residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, where Indigenous children were taken from their homes by government institutions and placed in white families, usually with little to no connection to their birth communities or culture. And even as the long-term effects of these events continue to contribute to higher foster care and incarceration rates for Indigenous populations, our legal systems sidestep Indigenous rights to self-governance, making it harder for Indigenous communities to reclaim power and heal.

But even as Indigenous erasure is ongoing – so is Indigenous resistance.

The fight for truth and reconciliation is a call to reject attempts to forget the past, and to embrace the possibility of a future where Indigenous Peoples are recognized and respected as people who matter and belong. And it’s a call we each have the responsibility to answer.

Canadian Allyship: How to Stay Engaged

Truth and reconciliation starts with education, but many Canadians are unfamiliar with contemporary Indigenous issues—often because our cultural systems rarely expose us to the reality of Indigenous discrimination. And sometimes, we (consciously or unconsciously) close ourselves off from new perspectives because we don’t want to think of ourselves as “bad”.

Learning about Indigenous issues means diving into the past and present of colonialism, genocide, residential schools, missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit, the deprivation of clean water and the ongoing seizure of land. And when conversations start to name Canadians as settlers and highlight how we contribute to systems of oppression, it can bring up feelings of guilt or defensiveness that limit our capacity to stay engaged.

All nations are built on stories. And settler colonial societies like Canada tell stories that encourage us to forget the more painful parts of our origin story. Allyship looks like actively making the effort to remember – even when it’s hard.

As we engage with Indigenous issues, remember that it’s normal to feel affected by the struggle of others where we see and care for them. This isn’t a sign to step away when things feel scary—instead, it might be a reminder to learn to stay open and vulnerable with difficult material.

Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel vulnerable. Take time to process and unpack big feelings and engage in practices that allow you to care for yourself so you feel empowered to continue to care for others.

Indigenous Resistance: Present and Future

Sometimes the stories we tell (or don’t tell) about Indigenous Peoples erase not just their struggle – but also their resistance. Indigenous resistance is about reclaiming land, language and cultural practices that have been (and are still being) stolen or suppressed. The Land Back movement is about acknowledging treaties by returning Crown Lands to Indigenous Peoples, while honouring the rights of Indigenous Peoples to determine their own futures outside of a colonial context.

Today, Indigenous resistance looks like reclaiming our understanding of the land, with groups like The Indigenous Mapping Collective using cartography skills to reclaim lost knowledge and prevent further disasters like the flood in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. Resistance looks like land defenders fighting for the environment and refusing to cede stolen lands, like the members of Six Nations of the Grand River at 1492 Land Back Lane. Resistance looks like The Settler Colonial City Project coming together to investigate the history of Turtle Island.

And resistance also looks like embracing joy and healing through dance and music that allow Indigenous Peoples to come together to learn, find community and reclaim their land and cultures.

The movement to find truth and reconciliation is Indigenous-led, but all of us have a part in creating an equitable future for all. If you want to learn more about Indigenous resistance but aren’t sure where to start, here are some resources to guide your research:

  1. Reports from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
  2. What is Land Back?
  3. The Settler Colonial City Project
  4. The Indigenous Mapping Collective
  5. How the Canadian Justice System Works Against Indigenous Peoples
  6. How Singing, Drumming and Dancing Help Bolster Resistance Movements

Anima Leadership

Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.

Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.

Episode 17: Stories of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World

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Join Annahid Dashtgard, Kwame Scott Fraser, and Farzana Doctor in conversation about what it means to belong as racialized individuals—in a profession, to a country, even within our own skin.

Cultivating belonging could be voted the top human challenge for the twenty-first century. Meeting it is not going to come from facts alone, but will be driven by stories—all of our stories, but especially the ones yet untold. Drawing inspiration from Anima CEO Annahid Dashtgard’s recent book Bones of Belonging: Finding Wholeness in a White World, this intimate discussion pulls in an array of voices on different themes of what it means to belong as racialized individuals—in a profession, to a country, even within our own skin.

Listen to Annahid Dashtgard, Bones of Belonging publisher and Dundurn Press President Kwame Scott Fraser, and psychotherapist and author Farzana Doctor for this authentic no-holds barred conversation, where the curtain of whiteness is pulled back to reveal the steep price of conformity.

Listen to this podcast to learn more about this essential reframing of equity, diversity and inclusion work and how to apply it to your own leadership development. This session is part of a series of Fireside Chats, exploring the themes of Deep Diversity with leaders in the field. Pre-order your copy of Deep Diversity here!

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