Ep: 28: Kate Slater: Making Your Messaging Anti-Racist

On this episode of the Marketing for Good podcast, host Erica Mills Barnart and guest, Kate Slater, discuss the question: How can you make your messaging anti-racist? They talk about how implicit bias and systematic racism show up in marketing, and how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into your marketing to disrupt the status quo. Erica and Kate also offer resources and thoughts on how to integrate anti-racism into the four pillars of your foundational messaging.


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart and Kate Slater on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


anti racist, racism, racist, mission statement, organization, people, messaging, verb, world, purpose, values, marketing, mission, educators, statement, words

Erica Mills Barnhart  00:04

Marketing can be an incredible force for good, it can inspire and motivate and make our world more just equitable and inclusive. But too often marketing perpetuates the status quo for a select few, rather than disrupting it for the greater good of all. This show looks to change that. Join me your host, Erica Mills Barnhart as we usher in a new era of marketing, an era of marketing for good. One of the core tenants of marketing for good is that it be anti racist. So this term comes to us from Ibram Kendi and in his book, How To Be An Antiracist, he’s a prolific writer, wonderful, wonderful, gracious writer. In his book, he says racial inequity is a problem of bad policy, not bad people. And he goes on to say, on the website, whereas racist research historically has posed the question, what is wrong with people? Anti racist research now asks a different and better question, what is wrong with policies? This got me thinking, by extension, what is wrong with our marketing? In what ways does it perpetuate racism rather than dismantle it? And one of the things about anti racism is that it has to be very deliberate, very proactive, it’s not going to happen on its own. Where we know, as a universal law is that, you know, entropy is like the biggest force that we have, right, the status quo will perpetuate itself unless it is disrupted. And so Kate Slater, my guest on today’s episode, is  an anti racist, she’s white. She’s an anti racist educator, and scholar. And I’ve had the great good fortune of attending some of her trainings, and one of them she said, every mission statement should have the word anti racist. And I thought I get I get where you’re going with that, however, is it meant to be in the mission statement? Does it have to be in the mission statement? So the question that we grapple with in this conversation is, where does it make sense for the word and the work of anti racism to show up in your messaging? And so if you haven’t listened to Episode 26, on the messaging matrix, I would encourage you to listen to that, because we reference it extensively in this conversation, you know, like I said, you know, to show up with your values or is it the vision statement, or is it the purpose or the mission like, where does it fit? This is going to be different for every organization. Right? What I’m hoping is that you will listen to this episode, and be inspired to wonder about it to work through it. Even through the uncomfortableness that these conversations inevitably surface. Can you work through that in your organization to figure out where it makes sense for you? Where does it make sense for you? So take this as hopefully inspiration and some motivation and a little bit of fodder for those conversations. Kate has so much to offer in this realm. She’s a deep thinker and an active doer in the in the world of anti racism. So I as always hope that you will enjoy this episode as much as much as I did. And with that, let’s turn our attention to Kate Slater. Welcome, welcome, welcome to this episode of the Marketing for good podcast. With me today is Kate Slater. Kate is a white anti racist educator and scholar. She is currently, this is a new role, so congratulations, I’m super excited for you, Kate. She’s currently the Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs at Brandeis University. Previously, she worked for the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers, a nonprofit that promotes social justice and diversity in the American educational system. She’s also a lecture on the history of race and racism at the University of New Hampshire, where her research center is the experiences of underrepresented minoritized students who attend predominantly white institutions. She conducts trainings on white supremacy in the workplace for both K through 12, and higher education organizations, as well as numerous private companies. And we met much to my great delight, because you were doing trainings for the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance where I’m on faculty. And through that training, there was some, at some point and you very passionately, which I so appreciate anybody else who gets as worked up and passionate about mission statements as I do. I’m like, oh, my people. So you were like, antiracism should be in every mission statement, I was like, Oh, that’s intriguing. Let’s talk about that. So that is a bit about Kate and a bit about how this conversation came to be. And I’m so grateful for you taking time to educate all of us, myself, and all of the listeners on this.

Kate Slater  04:55

I’m so excited to be here.

Erica Mills Barnhart  04:56

Yes, fantastic. Would do you share? I mean, it’s it’s a little unusual to be a white anti racist educator and scholar. Can you share with us how that how that came to be?

Kate Slater  05:08

Sure, sure. What is it Bob Ross says he says that it’s a happy accident, I guess thats the way I would put it, it really was by accident. But I think that my meandering pathway into anti racist work actually is, is symptomatic of why so few white people are invested in this work. And in that, I mean, I was in my mid to late 20s, before racism as endemic in American society even occurred to me, just to give a little bit of context, I grew up in Maine, which is, you know, one of the whitest states in the union, I went to predominantly white schools, my entire life, my friend group is predominantly white, my workplaces were entirely white, my colleagues were entirely white, if not, predominantly, then entirely. And I say that to say, because it was only when I got to my job at the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers that it was the first time that I had ever not only been in spaces with predominantly people of color, but where I had ever begun to connect the dots in terms of the way that racism operates in this society. So to give a little background story about the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers, it is this incredible, incredible nonprofit, you all should check it out. And what they do is they attempt to address the racial disparities in the educational systems in this country. So as many folks know, teaching faculties both in K 12, and higher education, predominantly white and predominantly white woman by a huge margin. So the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers said that we recognize one of the major barriers in terms of teachers and educators getting into the sector, is entering grad school, persisting in grad school, and then getting the professional development and holistic support that they need to make long lasting change and be social justice educators. So what we did at the Institute for Recruitment of Teachers is we support scholars in pursuing Master’s and PhD programs, and we help them through the entire application process, help them with a lot of career support and professional development, with an eye towards essentially beginning to dismantle some of those major racial disparities in the higher education sector. So I say all that to say that this was the first time in my life when I came to this job at 26, that I ever confronted terms like systemic racism, that I ever began to think about the ways in which racism permeates all of these different sectors in our country. And the only reason that I was beginning to confront these systems is because for the first time in my life, I was the minority as a white woman in these spaces. And that was a profound experience for me, because first of all, it set me on the trajectory to start doing the anti racist work that I do, but also to understand the systems of racism, the history of them, the ways in which they play off each other in the housing market, in the economic sector in education. But also, it really enabled me to see for the first time how easy it was as a white woman to insulate myself in a predominantly, if not completely white world. And that is where things began to click for me in terms of doing anti racist work. This was such a, this was such a rude awakening for me to go to the IRT and realize how, how, my white privilege made itself manifest in my world. And so recently, I started to say, Well, how can I bring that moment of understanding or that moment of clarity to other people, and I mean, specifically white people, you know, as we know, the workforce, especially in education is still predominantly white. When we look at the breakdown of racial makeup in CEOs and CFOs in America, when I say predominantly white, I mean 99%, white. So these are still very deeply rooted systems that we have to be cognizant of, and we have to confront. So I say all that to say that where my lane has been certainly over the past year, is in helping white people begin to understand what their own privilege looks like, and how it makes itself manifest in their workplace in their day to day interactions. And then from there, how can they begin to dismantle that white privilege? How can they begin to, for lack of a better word, use their privilege for the powers of good and really begin to do some racial repair for the deep seed inequities and, and, quite frankly, the horrific legacy of oppression and violence that exists in this country that’s racially based.

Erica Mills Barnhart  09:49

Thank you for, and on that light note. It’s always fascinating to hear somebody’s journey and their lived experience. You know, what you decide to do with those moments, and we have a whole episode for folks who are interested on the language of racism, and with Fleur Larson. So I do want to I want to define the term anti racism. But for folks who, maybe for whom all of this is a little new, and you’re like, Whoa, you might pause give this one a little pause, go listen along with Fleur, because we really dug into what all they mean. And the other thing I just want to offer to listeners right now is, uh, you know, I’m sure some folks are like, I don’t want to hear the white folks, you know, I don’t want to hear this. And to really, and this is still hard for me to wrap my head around is to not take it entirely personally. Right? So that when we’re talking about systemic racism, that is pervasive, but it’s not, but you can make it personal individual contribution to unraveling that. So that that piece around prepare, we do have a sense of agency we can as white people do something about it. But that you know, and I think going through this, like deep guilt and shame and lots of other things is a little bit part of this process, as white folks and just finally, when when the veil is lifted, it is this really wild ride of you’re like, Oh my god. I always think about jaywalking, because I was, and this is I mean this, I was like maybe I wasn’t even 20 yet. And a friend of mine who was black, we were at a intersection I of course started jaywalking, and they did not join me. And I was like, and they’re like, I’m black. And it took two decades solid before I came back to that. And thats when I thought oh, well, there was there was my white privilege in my jaywalking. But every single time since, I you know, it’s like very concrete.

Kate Slater  11:41


Erica Mills Barnhart  11:42

But I just want to say to listeners, you know, what I want to acknowledge this is not always comfortable. And yet if you’re going to be committed to marketing for good antiracism is going to be at the core of that going forward. I hope and believe. So let’s define it. So this term anti racism comes from Ibram Kendi, who wrote the book, How To Be An Anti Racist. And he says and I quote, “but there was no neutrality in the racism struggle, one either allows racial inequities to persevere as a racist or confronts racial inequities as an anti racist. There is not in between safe space for, quote, not racist. The claim of not racist neutrality is a mask for racism”. Can you unpack that for us?  That’s like, woah.

Kate Slater  12:27

Absolutely. That’s the core, that’s that’s really essentially at the core of, of what it is that I’m trying to do. And you’re, you know, Erica, your term agency is is a perfect way to describe that. So to unpack, unpack the idea of anti racism, I think what many white folks, maybe for the first time realized, especially this this past summer, in light of the racial reckoning is that all of their lives when they’ve thought I have not been actively racist, define that however you will. I have not actively harmed people of color. I don’t say racist things in company. You know, I donate to organizations, they have thought white people have thought that is enough. That is me not being racist. So I’m not, I’m not contributing to the problem actively.

Erica Mills Barnhart  13:18

I know I am a good person.

Kate Slater  13:20

Exactly. There’s, there’s kind of this, this, this false equivalency of if you’re not racist, you are a good moral person. And what I think many white folks have especially realized in in light of the racial reckonings this past summer is that they’re, by not doing anything, they are still contributing to the harm by not being actively anti racist by not interrupting racism by not, not just being neutral, but actively fighting for the side of good, aka, anti racism, they are actually continue to be part of the problem. And one of the things that that has really allowed, much of the racism that’s endemic in our society to continue is the inaction of a lot of well meaning white people. And that’s kind of the moment that we find ourselves in. A lot of white people have realized that by not living their lives in ways that are deliberately combating racism, in their actions, with their money, with their business, with their words, with their relationships, they are contributing to the problem. And one of the things that I think, to your point, the kind of idea of being a good person means you cannot be racist. One of the things that Ibram Kendi points out so beautifully in this book, and critically, I think, is that you can be a good person and still do racist things. When you begin to understand that as as Kennedy puts it being racist, and anti racist is not so much a noun, as it is a verb. It’s a way of living. It’s a way of conducting your life. It’s a way of moving through this world. You begin to understand that actually good people can at one moment, be actively anti racist be confronting racism where they see it. And then the next moment moment, excuse me, do something completely racist. And and I think that, you know, while, we all have to strive to be anti racist, and that is imperative and it’s critical and it is urgent, there also has to be this recognition that anti racism is something that you commit, you commit to as a white person to living your life in service of it’s not something you ever arrive at. Because in any given moment, if you are not being racist, you can be anti racist. And if you’re not being anti racist, you’re being racist. Sorry, that was a whole words.

Erica Mills Barnhart  15:39

Well and I think one thing that is important to understand is that the reason that the default is that it is racist is because that’s the, that’s the status quo in which we are living.

Kate Slater  15:48

Exactly, exactly.

Erica Mills Barnhart  15:49

And so we know about entropy.

Kate Slater  15:51


Erica Mills Barnhart  15:52

Very powerful force. Right? So absent, like an amount of action, that can combat entropy. You know, that’s where we’re going to come back to. So I just think, you know, this idea of being proactive versus sort of passive. I think it can also be helpful, like, I always put proactively anti racist, because there’s that intentionality around like, I’m, you know, I’m gonna, I’m going to put intention behind this.

Kate Slater  16:18

Absolutely. Yeah.

Erica Mills Barnhart  16:19

And so and also, I mean, you know, the word nerd in me when I read the whole thing I was like, I love that so much.

Kate Slater  16:26

It is, it’s really a very powerful way to think, yeah.

Erica Mills Barnhart  16:29

It is a very powerful thing. And I think back to this, like, I don’t want to let folks off the hook. But I, in my experiences, it doesn’t tend to be helpful if you if you’re stuck in this like, but I’m a good person, and I’m taking this personally. Right? So that would be more around shame, right? I feel shame, intrinsic to you and your identity. So I like I feel like this idea if it’s a verb is one of the most empowering gifts that can be offers those that are interested in changing the status quo, because in that you’re like, oh, it’s like, what books Am I going to read? Where am I going to order my books? Black owned businesses, what about black authors and just to get a different perspective? And then in in those actions, you start realizing like, ooh, if I don’t bring intentionality, most white people are just gonna, it’s gonna be white authors and you know, all of it.

Kate Slater  17:25

Because it is such a default, it is a thing.

Erica Mills Barnhart  17:26

Oh, and by the way, as you know, just being gracious, being gracious, not letting ourselves off the hook. But just being gracious, like, okay, you know, we just had the holidays, and I bought some books off Amazon. Yeah, that happens. You know, I didn’t make the effort, you know. But, interestingly, let’s just sidebar and this might be too much information for our listeners. But I did, I became committed to reading more authors of color, particularly women of color authors. And I have discovered Beverly Jenkins, who I want to go on record as saying national treasure. Do you know Beverly Jenkins?

Kate Slater  17:36

I don’t.

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:02

 That’s great, because you’re a little higher brow with your reading. She’s a romance novelist. She combines romance novels, you know all the like swoony goofy, slightly racy, naughty stuff with historical fiction.

Kate Slater  18:16

Oh, what a gift. Amazing.

Erica Mills Barnhart  18:19

She, and well, I mean, well written. And I learned so I just read one. Blanking on the title. We’ll put links to everything in the show notes set in just before the Revolutionary War. So yes, this is a love story. Absolutely. And by the way, one of the gifts of her books is, you know, from page two, how it’s that they end up together, there’s no mystery. There is no mystery, you know, oh, Charity is gonna end up with Nick. It’s gonna be great. So it’s just like a how is this gonna happen. But along the way, I learned, I mean, honestly, I feel like I know more about the Revolutionary War, and especially the role that blacks played in it, than I did in all my schooling.

Kate Slater  19:01

See? That’s, but this is a perfect point is that, you know, Beverly Daniel Tatum calls racism, the smog that we breathe. Yeah. And the point that that she’s making there is if we are white people, we are, we are absorbing whiteness, we are absorbing white supremacy, we are absorbing racism without even noticing it. To your point up until this year, it never, and I’m someone who does anti racism training. It never occurred to me to purchase my books from black owned bookstores. But that’s because my, my lens has always been whiteness as the default. And so to your point, I have to actively combat that conditioning. I have to actively try and dispel that smog that I’ve been breathing my entire life and actually actively seek out organizations, businesses, authors, writers, producers, creative people that that are not default white and I have to fight that every single day actively. And that’s how I, I attempt to be anti racist.

Erica Mills Barnhart  20:05

Yeah, you know, I’m mindful often when we start talking about these things that it’s that you know, and I’m like, I have to fight that every day. And like, it can feel very combative. And so I do want to offer to listeners who were like, that sounds scary, or don’t want to do it, you know, and I know some listeners are, they’re like, beyond there, they’re like, let’s get to how we integrate this into messaging. We’re gonna get there in a second. But also, it’s like, every scrap, I think of Mozart Guerrier, who was the executive director of an organization called 21 Progress, and he was on a panel, it’s a number of years ago, but also struck me, you know, somebody said, So no, I’ll paraphrase. He said, You know, people ask me why I’m such a fan of diversity. And he’s a black man. And he’s like, I just look at them. And I say, there’s no downside. There’s only upsides to more perspectives, and you know, all the rest of it. He’s like, I just, I don’t even understand the question, really type thing. So you know, everything’s better, actually. And this means ceding some power and a means opening our eyes and in ways that can be initially uncomfortable, and in some instances perpetually uncomfortable. That you’ve set up with somebody who’s like, if you’re really into this work, and you haven’t slightly peed yourself a couple times, probably you’re not really going at it hard enough.

Kate Slater  21:20

Right? Right. Because a huge part of reckoning with racism and trying to live your life as a white person in an anti racist way, is reckoning with all the ways that you have inadvertently or deliberately been racist in the past. And my God, is that painful?

Erica Mills Barnhart  21:36

It’s a reckoning, it is painful. Okay. So with all of that, and again, so two other things. So because I want to transition into how do we start integrating this into messaging, right? How do we verbify antiracism into our messaging to other episodes that I would recommend that folks listen to our Fleur’s episode on the language of racism, great context, and also one that I did with Marlette Jackson and Erin Dowell who wrote the Harvard Business Review article about woke washing, and how woke washing your company won’t do it. And so sometimes messaging can be it’s almost like you could schmear it on things. And that, that happens, you know, schmear, a little whatnot, diversity and inclusion and anti racism into my messaging. So before we go into this, I want to say, listen to those episodes, and really be ready to do the work. Like it is not okay, it is not marketing for good if you just integrate a couple words here and there but within your organization, you’re not living this. That’s that’s not that is not the intention of this conversation and the rest of the conversation in any way, shape or form. Not Okay, not marketing for good, bad marketing. So, okay, messaging central to our marketing efforts, I think we can all agree we need words, most of the time, all the visuals are really important, too. So when I work with clients, I use a framework that has two types of messaging, one I refer to as foundational messaging, and then you have messaging by audience. So foundational messaging, does not change by audience, right? This is the collection of sentences that communicate the why, what, who and how of your work. And since that shouldn’t change, depending on audience, we should not keep shifting on what we stand for. You may resequenced them, depending on who you’re talking to. But these really, these are the core essence of who you are. Whereas messaging my audience is linked to, you know, who is it? What are their motivations? And how do you, you know, want to engage with each other. So it is within these foundational messaging pieces that I want to talk through how we might integrate antiracism. And so I’m hoping what we can do is just talk through each one, and have a chitchat as we go. So so high level, I’ll say that the the four foundational pillars, messaging pillars are vision, purpose, mission, and values. So values is kind of underpinning. Now, I don’t want to hop too far down this bunny trail, but also brand personality matters in terms of how you externalize the messaging, sometimes those show up and external messaging, but really, they’re meant to inform the tone of your messaging. So I include them as a foundational pillar, however, for our conversation, because definitely all four of these pillars are, you know, meant for an external audience, but they have to be true internally first. So let’s start with let’s start with a mission statement, and then work backward. So we’re gonna go mission, purpose, vision values. Okay, so I think it’d be helpful for listeners, maybe, maybe, if I if I define or share how I define each of these. So in my context, which this is, by no stretch of the imagination, by stretch of the imagination, is this the only framework but I have found it to be useful for those who want to change the world. There’s lots of other ways to go about this. In this framework, mission is what you do and how you do it. So it’s the actions you take to get to your vision. And it brings your purpose to life. Your purpose as an organization is why you exist. So it’s your reason for being and grounds your work in meaning on a day to day basis. And it motivates your actions and guides you towards your vision. So it’s a why, nestled within another why, which is your vision, which is where you’re going, and why you’re going there. Right? So vision expresses what will be better in the world in the future, because of the work you’re doing today. And your inspiration, right. And all of these should be grounded in your values. So that which is the principles that guide your work, they shape culture, and that you know, there are commitments to how you will conduct business and treat others, they guide internal decision making and external engagement. Okay, so that was a lot. Also, listeners, if you’re like, wow, too much. There is an episode just going over this framework and unpacking these. So if your brain just exploded, go listen to that, and then you can come back to this one. Alright, so because this whole thing started with the mission statement, and you very adamantly saying, I think you said anti racist or anti racism, like it should have a, it should show up in that. Explain for us why you believe that that is where it should show?

Kate Slater  26:22

Well, that’s a great question. And I think that at the end of the day, I firmly believe that if a company, how do I put it this way? I think in light of the world that we’re living in, if a company isn’t naming the thing, then they’re not doing an adequate job. So what do I mean by that? I mean, I cannot tell you how many watered down statements about diversity, equity and inclusion, I have seen that don’t say anything. And this is the point that I’m trying to make. I think that one of the largest, I think one of the largest challenges that most organizations face when they’re thinking about their mission, and their thinking about their values, is they try to encompass everything, they try and put a big old DEI umbrella over sexism, homophobia, racism, ageism, ableism, you know, xenophobia, essentially, all of the different forms of oppression and marginalization that you see. And by putting the umbrella all over, over all of those things, they essentially don’t say anything. And as we have seen this summer, this past year, over the past decade, racism is alive and well, it is not so much, I was listening to a podcast a couple weeks ago, and they said it doesn’t so much make up the fabric of society as it is the fabric of society. And without, without sounding too much like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat when you think about the ways that racism operates in housing market, job market, economic sector education, it, it really does. It is the backbone that this country is founded on. And you don’t need to dig too deep into history to realize how how much it affects everything that we do, the ways that we live our lives, the ways that we conduct business. So my point is essentially by not naming that, by not naming racism, as the fabric of society, therefore, it guides everything that we do in businesses and organizations. You’re missing the forest for the trees in trying to encompass everything under that one umbrella. And-

Erica Mills Barnhart  28:34

Yeah, so from a messaging perspective, also, when you tell someone your everything they remember nothing.

Kate Slater  28:41

Exactly, exactly.

Erica Mills Barnhart  28:42

So we don’t want that anyway. And it is, so I’m a fan of mission statements that are no more than 12 words, including the name of your organization, I used to be 10. But I realized it’s actually can’t quite get there so I added two words. Part of the reason and oftentimes I work with clients, and oftentimes our mission statements end up being a bit longer than that. However, the experience of having to prune, prune, prune away everything except the essence and this is true for purpose vision about all of it, right, just that pruning, is actually this is a process that leads you to leaves you with that internal alignment that sustains it over time. So to your you know, to your point, like if you’re just sort of smearing, again, some of this language amongst a whole bunch of other things and a bunch of semi colons, so like we’re just gonna throw it all in the hopper. You know, for the most part, people can’t remember that, and it’s not really actionable. So if these statements aren’t actionable, what’s the point of investing time and energy into doing them, right? They are for marketing and for, the first job that they have is actually bringing internal alignment right they should be a recruitment tool for you, a retention. For you, and all sorts of other things, so so if it’s just a whole bunch of words, that’s not serving the organization.

Kate Slater  30:06

No, not at all, just like you say, the mission statement is like a lighthouse. But I think and so you should always be able to point to that beacon and say, this is what we’re working towards. But I think, to your point, and what we were talking about in the beginning, there’s this added dimension to it if you borrow Ibram Kendi’s you know, racist versus anti racism framework, because that’s a way of looking at your mission statement, and beginning to think, do the word, you know, do my 12 words, how could they be construed in ways that are anti racist? How can I use them to fight racism?

Erica Mills Barnhart  30:40

So what I’m curious about, okay, hear me out. I’m curious, if what you’re saying is, you need to be very committed to the language and not just, you know, put a whole bunch there as sort of like subterfuge or obfuscating or something, not some other big multisyllabic word. I mean, really, I think what you’re saying is that it should be one of your values?

Kate Slater  31:07

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.

Erica Mills Barnhart  31:09

And it should show up everywhere. And so I’m curious about your thoughts, so if an organization was truly committed to this, it would be a value, anti racism would be a value. And then, if you’re, if you’re if that seriously thing, wouldn’t it find its way, it might open up the opportunity for to find its way more specifically, so what does that mean? In your vision? What does that mean, in your purpose? What does it mean in your mission?

Kate Slater  31:36

Yes, I believe so. I do. I think that so for example, Facebook’s mission statement is a great example. So Facebook’s mission statement, very piffy, to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Great, in theory, that is a great lighthouse beacon, right? You can always point to this kind of they’ve identified their mission as being open sharing of information, connect the world. Then if you take that and look at the values, the vision, the purpose in an anti racist versus racist lens, well, what are the ways that that mission could be construed to actually continue racism? How do we know that that Facebook, for example, allows open sharing of ideas? Well, what does that mean? If if people are openly sharing ideas that are harmful and oppressive and racist? That might be their mission? But does it align with their values? Does it align with their vision? Does it align with their purpose? And if you embed anti racism, into the framework that you use to look at all of these things in tandem, you know, maybe your mission statement doesn’t outright state the language of anti racism in those 12 words that you use. You know, but how do the vision, how do the vision statements and the values further guide and hone that moment to talk about the impact that you want to make in this world?

Erica Mills Barnhart  32:53

Yeah, and I think this is where, you know, so historically, we’ve talked about mission, vision, values. So purpose is sort of a new addition. And I want to give props to so the Evansville has an incoming Dean, Jodi Sandfort, who, you know, wants to do some of this work as right to sort of get us all settled? And are we all in the, headed in the right direction. And she feels very strongly about purpose. And so she really invited me to get more specific about the sort of job of each statement, because to me, it was sort of obvious. And I think one of the insights I have from from her invitation being, you know, sort of being given the opportunity to think about that more deeply, is that we sort of lumped the why together, right, so we’re making the vision statement and the mission statement do too many jobs, because we weren’t, didn’t have the rigor of saying the vision is is this like, you know, where are we going? And why are we going there? And I think that’s another place where, you know, we could be so much more specific about what does this world look like? Right? And how are you going to give voice to that? What do you really mean?

Kate Slater  33:59

Right? Absolutely.

Erica Mills Barnhart  34:00

What do we really mean? And then purpose is how your organization very specifically, right? What’s your why? Why do you exist? That’s, that’s like the very existential thing, right? Yes, the answer might be, well, if that’s our vision, we might not be needed.

Kate Slater  34:16

Mm hmm.

Erica Mills Barnhart  34:17

So that’s, I think, in some ways, you know, and especially nonprofits, who tend to be very heart driven, that that just would be that’s an uncomfortable truth.

Kate Slater  34:27

I agree.

Erica Mills Barnhart  34:27

So we’ve sort of mushed, it’s like, we took purpose, and we kind of made some that go into the vision and some go into the mission. And and so I, you know, I’ve been using this and it’s been helpful in terms of the rigor for organizations to be able to say, Oh, this is this is our why. And then this is how we’re doing it right here. Here’s how we are bringing that to life. Right. So and when I heard your Facebook, which was a great example, that very much felt like a combo meal, have a little bit of mission, a little bit of purpose. Will you reread it, because I don’t know-

Kate Slater  35:01

Yes, so this is called their organization. This was from 51 best mission statements, a very helpful article, Facebook to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Erica Mills Barnhart  35:16

So I think their vision would be a world that is more open and connected.

Kate Slater  35:19


Erica Mills Barnhart  35:20

So what a great opportunity if we were if, if the if and I don’t know if they do, but if they were an organization that had antiracism as a value, what might what specificity might they add to that?

Kate Slater  35:33

Right. So a world that’s more open and connected? Do we mean a world that is more aligned around equity and social justice? Do we mean a world that is more liberatory for historically oppressed populations? Like by naming what a world that’s more open and connected looks like. Well, if you if you bear that out, you could say, a world that is more open and connected around white nationalist value. That’s the flip side.

Erica Mills Barnhart  36:00

I do want, yeah, I want to acknowledge, like, of course, Facebook, and all the platforms come up against freedom of speech.

Kate Slater  36:05

Exactly. And this is I think, the trickiness. And that’s one of the the Evil Geniuses and beautiful, beautiful things about unspecific mission statements that aren’t borne out by these values. If you’re not naming the thing, you can essentially do whatever you want. And and it’s all copacetic. Right?

Erica Mills Barnhart  36:25

Yeah. Yeah, I feel like that first part, to connect. Right?

Kate Slater  36:31

Yes, to give people the power to share.

Erica Mills Barnhart  36:32

Oh, to give people the power to share? Hmm. I mean, I wonder if that’s a, their purpose or their mission?

Kate Slater  36:45

Absolutely. Absolutely. I think, I just think a lot about you know, it in anti racist work, a lot of what we caution against actually, is having these kind of binaries of seeing things because stuff is very gray, you know, something that is anti racist in one light, might actually be racist in another light. And and, you know, even though Kennedy’s anti racist versus racist framework is very helpful, there is the danger of the binary there, because to your point, Facebook has in many ways used its its power to connect and share and make the world more open for good, there is a lot. I mean, think of how many social justice movements have really been rooted in Facebook. But then at the other, on the flip side, you’ve given a lot of people with these horrific, racist and oppressive views a megaphone. And, and everyone’s voice is treated equally. Well, that’s both a good thing in some contexts and a bad thing in other contexts. And so it’s to your point, you know, when you have this purpose, and a mission, that can be your lighthouse, that can be your beacon, but it’s shining on everything equally, right, it’s just kind of moving in a circle. And I think that’s where, to your point, the values and the vision of where you want to go is what gives it shape and context. And that’s where you begin to imbue antiracism into the work that you want to see in the world you want to create.

Erica Mills Barnhart  38:08

Yeah, I mean, again, I go back to parts of speech a lot to hang up. But I mean, values, by definition are nouns. I think, you know, listeners if you’re if you’re going to be doing this really first picking your nouns for the values, and also the nouns like a better world. There’s some adjectives that would be adjectives and nouns, right? Because it’s the world is a noun, and the adjectives are describing the better world. Purpose and mission are, you know, they’re about verbs, especially your mission. Action, what action are you taking, but purpose is also action plus why you’re taking that action. And that is actually I take a verb first approach to mission statements. We do you can ask any of my clients, they’re like, yes, we have to pick the verb first. And the reason is, because we default to nouns in the English language, because about 50% is nouns. And so we default announced which nothing bad with focusing on people, places and things. However, efficient is that action, then you end up with super boring verbs like provide.

Kate Slater  39:05

Yes, give thanks, Facebook.

Erica Mills Barnhart  39:08

Yeah, yes. Yeah. So you know, so it really, it’s a specific example of how you can bring rigor into the process, and yet not have a feel to everyone, right? So pick your verb verbs first, for mission and purpose, and then focus on nouns for the for the vision and the values. I mean, in terms of sequencing in general, I recommend doing values vision, purpose, mission, but sometimes, I mean, if you’re if you already have some of these things, and most organization are going to have mission, vision, values and not have purpose, I think that’s going to be sort of the new direction that that a lot of, you know, organizations and companies want to change the world that you’re gonna need all of these things, especially millennials and Zoomers, like they expect to know this about you or they are not going to buy from you.

Kate Slater  39:51

Oh my god, I just I just you know, I just read a report from McKinsey that essentially said millennials and upcoming Gen Zer’s we’re opting not to work for companies that have not explicitly put out an anti racist DEI statement in wake of the racial uprisings this summer. People want to know what you stand for-

Erica Mills Barnhart  40:10

They do, they do.

Kate Slater  40:11

And silence is speaks volumes, especially when it comes to anti racism.

Erica Mills Barnhart  40:15

It does. And I go back to that article about woke washing won’t cut it by Erin and Marlette, which one things I really appreciate about as it gets specific. So if you read and you’re like, well, I don’t I don’t know where we stand. They’re like, here, here are some key indicators. But one of the things they say is having a diverse, equity, and, inclusion statement, whatever you might want to call it, because there were sort of all of a sudden a proliferation of them, however, is a great starting place, and not enough. And I really am and I don’t have an answer to this. But I really am wondering, you could have that statement. But if you’re living into values, vision, purpose mission, I feel like it’s a lens through which you should be considering everything. So not have it be a standalone, but instead be integrated into the foundation of who you are as an organization and how that shows up in your messaging.

Kate Slater  41:04

Absolutely. If you’re if you’re anti racist statement from this summer came out and used language and wording and verbs and nouns that were vastly different from your mission and values and visions and purpose, then that’s that speaks volume.

Erica Mills Barnhart  41:21

Yeah. And you know, if you did it good, I mean, yeah sure, there’s always organizations are like, well, I suppose ought to do the thing. I mean, it’s like greenwashing and woke washing this new green washing, right, ya know, and so there was a lot of sort of, you know, environmentally friendly statements that came out, and then you were like, wow, I don’t think you’re living that. And this is very similar, for those of us who are old enough to have lived lived through that. So again, like, if you’re listening to this, and you’re like, well, we did that we felt good about it. Well, good. I mean, if you meant it do, and now, again, all of this work, is working progress. It is action, it is verb. So now next action might be to see how that might fit in with these other statements, which are externalized. And it you know, I’m such a believer in the mission statement, because it’s what people ask, well, what’s your mission? For nonprofits. I mean, that’s literally the question, you know, what do you do? What’s your mission? And so, but, but just understanding that those are nestled into and a part of a complimentary to these other statements, I think is, is important going forward. I close every interview by asking guest the same question. So it has to do with inspiration and motivation. So inspiration etymologically speaking means to breathe in and motivation is to take action. So we need both in order to take action, we need inspiration. What inspires you and what motivates you to keep doing this work, Kate?

Kate Slater  42:44

I think what inspires me is, is educators writ large, you know, being, having done lecturing, and now being an Assistant Dean of Graduate students, the educators are doing the work. Oh, my God, they are out there making magic with precious few resources, they are underfunded, and they are overworked. And especially now in this pandemic, they deserve all the gratitude for keeping the wheels from coming off the bus. So educators inspire me. And what was the second question?

Erica Mills Barnhart  43:15

What motivates you?

Kate Slater  43:17

What motivates me? You know, it’s funny that you’re talking about mission statements, because one of the exercises I’ve done this year is creating my own antiracist mission statement, for 2021. Great exercise. And we’re, we actually have a worksheet that we’re creating in the next few days. So folks can go to my website and access that that document-

Erica Mills Barnhart  43:37

We will definitely put that in show notes. That’s awesome.

Kate Slater  43:39

Yes, it’s a 2021 antiracist roadmap to help you think about what you do. But to that point, what about what motivates me is thinking about the verb if we’re thinking about verbs to activate white people who don’t know where to start, but want to do better?

Erica Mills Barnhart  43:56

Oh, yeah.

Kate Slater  43:58

That’s really what I’m trying to do in 2021 is help white people hold each other accountable, and hold themselves accountable. Because this movement towards racial liberation is not going to succeed unless we’re on board writ large in mass. And so that means that we have to hold space for each other, but we also have to bring each other to the table as well as ourselves to the table again and again and again.

Erica Mills Barnhart  44:21

Oh, thank you. Great mission statement, Kate. Nailed it. Thank you so much for taking time to educate me, I always learn in every conversation and training I’m when I have time with you I end up being filled up. So thank you for educating me and offering your time and expertise to Marketing for Good listeners. I’m definitely a work in progress when it comes to all this I am. I am noun because I’m person but I you know, I’m a verb trying to trying to do this. So I really appreciate people like you and of course even Ibram Kendi and so so many others, who are gracious enough to help folks along the journey. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you listeners for joining us in this conversation today. As always keep doing good. Be well. And we’ll see you next time.

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?