Race-Based Caucusing Part 2: Risky Business

What benefits does race-based caucusing provide to an organization? What risks is an organization taking when it decides to pursue caucusing?

In a previous article I outlined some basic information about race-based caucusing and a few best practices. Today I want to talk about the risks and benefits of this particular tool. Caucusing can feel risky for organizations in a number of ways, and I have outlined three major risks with their converse benefits below.

The first risk is a financial one: staff are spending time away from their desks or workstations engaged in an activity that is delaying service to clients or doesn’t obviously benefit the bottom line.

The fact is, though, that by providing time and space for staff to deeply dive into conversations about themselves and their behaviors fosters deeper, more meaningful relationships. These relationships don’t disintegrate outside the caucus space and can enhance communication and productivity when folks are back at their desks.

The second risk is employee happiness and retention: staff who are given time to dwell on perceived slights, and to potentially whip up dissatisfaction among colleagues, are more likely to be less productive and leave sooner.

Caucusing provides a reality check for folks who are unhappy. They may be dealing with things that are individual to them, or it may be that others are having the same or similar experiences at work. If it’s the latter, then there is something that needs to be fixed at the organization. Giving people a collective voice in their workplace, and listening to that voice, can result in positive changes that leadership may not have been aware were necessary. In addition, an outside facilitator will help move conversation along if people seem to be stuck on one particular point without working towards a solution or a request for action. I created the flowchart below to flesh out this particular risk/benefit relationship.

Flow chart image showing a risk/benefit analysis of race-based caucusing. For a PDF of this image, please contact
Flow chart image showing a risk/benefit analysis of race-based caucusing. For a PDF of this image, please contact

The third risk is another financial one: redirecting budget dollars to hiring professional facilitators to run the caucus spaces could mean something else doesn’t get funded. If an organization wants to provide caucusing, they will need to hire at least two facilitators, more if they want to be able to group folks in a more granular fashion (multi-racial staff, non-Black people of color, indigenous folks, etc.).

The money invested in professional facilitators pays off when your employees are able to fully participate in their caucusing. If no facilitator is brought in, then someone on staff has to facilitate the session, thereby not fully benefiting from the conversation. If that person is in an executive role, power dynamics can silence the other participants, rendering the whole meeting pointless. Emotions can run high in caucus spaces, and your staff needs someone with the expertise necessary to walk them through their feelings to a place of productivity.

A final word: hiring a racially diverse staff is beneficial to your organization, but keeping those folks on staff takes work. Race-base caucusing can be an effective tool to help make your workplace a place where everyone feels comfortable.

©2018 Judy Blair LLC

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