The Community Club

Shana for The Community Club

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‘We Need to Level Up’: Creating Intersectional, Inclusive and Intentional Communities

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by Shana Sumers

I want to kick this off with some good news: to let the community pros know that we have made it. Community is on the rise, and our industry is getting the attention it deserves.

But our work isn't done – far from it. In fact, we’ve made it to the point where we need to do better. We need to level up how we build communities. Because right now I am going to be your brutally honest friend and tell you we aren’t doing that great when it comes to diversity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives in our communities.

Now you might feel a little guilty or uncomfortable reading this and if you do, honestly, good. I’m not here for your comfort. I’m here to help you take action to address your community's needs around intersectionality, inclusivity, and make sure these are intentional and not performative.

I want to make it clear that this is no longer a nice-to-have or a 'we’ll get there when we have resources to staff it' thing. As community builders, we need to be the proactive, leading force in intersectionality, inclusivity, and intentional communities. Putting these together will show the value and impact your community can have.

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Intersectionality

Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia and UCLA, means recognizing that certain individuals face multiple intersecting forms of structural discrimination.

As community leaders, we need to have an above-average understanding of our member's personal journey so they can be successful in your community.

People's backgrounds, gender identity, race, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, ability, and religion — all need to be at the forefront of planning for your community. You need to recognize that these are part of who people are, and that these things cross in ways that can negatively impact them in society. What is your community going to do to support them?

Right now, I'm working on creating a sub-group for Black business professionals, [Black@INBOUND] 9https://www.hubspot.com/blackatinbound) in the HubSpot community. Let's use that as an example. I already know that the experience of Black professionals is very different to their cisgender, white, male counterparts. Between the racial wealth gap, lower approval rates, and even the amount of jobs lost during the pandemic — I know that this group is going to need different resources and I need to be ready to provide them.

Here are the first steps you'll need to take to bring intersectionality to the forefront:

  • Do your research: Gather data on the different backgrounds of people who will be engaging in your community. This is a slide that I presented to our leadership to show what information I found and how I went about finding it.

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  • Talk to a diverse group of people: If the people you're talking to in your customer research look the same, come from similar backgrounds, or are in the same part of the world — just go ahead and start over. How are you going to speak to multiple experiences or drive values and knowledge growth if it's coming from all the same voices?

When having these conversations, here are a few questions that you can ask to learn about your members' experiences.

  • What are their challenges?

  • Where do they go to find answers?

  • What would they find valuable?

  • What would get them to spend time in your community?

  • What does your day to day look like?

Be sure to put yourself into multiple places where community members would find resources. This can include things like hashtags, groups, Clubhouse/Twitter Spaces, Reddit, YouTube, and more.

Be an active lurker, but be aware of the space you take up. There are plenty of ways to do research, you don't need to take up space in areas that are for a specific background — use your network, read more, watch videos, talk to friends. Reach out to leaders or members to see if they will do a 1:1 call (if you are able to pay them for their time).

When this is done, it’s time to start brainstorming how you can solve their pain points and meet their needs.

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Inclusion

Inclusion in community means that the people who are engaging in the space will be valued for their uniqueness and abilities with opportunities and access to resources.

In this context, the look and feel of your community matters. Think about things like your language, who your top contributors are, and who writes you blogs and stars in your videos. 

Do an audit of your community, and have a diverse group of community members give you specific feedback around their experience.

If you go look at your community now and see a carbon copy of the same person, changes need to be made. This is where you need to actively invite people to be a part of your content planning, design, engagement, and events. Collaboration and feedback will be your best friends in this area.

You'll also see that this is a time where communities cannot be silent around the hot mess that the world is, and you'll have to be confident and consistent in speaking up around those issues. You can do this by:

  • Bringing in multiple voices and perspectives. They will show you what conversations are being had, their feelings, what they really want from a company and their community.

  • Putting those voices at the forefront of your discussions. Not in a way that tokenizes them, but amplifies and supports them. Follow this up with action — this is no longer a time to be stagnant or reactive.

Intention

Communities are made on purpose. Now we need to be intentional about how the community functions, interacts, highlights issues, and more. For people to thrive they need to feel like they're a part of your organization.

  • Clearly lay out your community intentions. Put your mission, values, and initiatives at the forefront of the community and tie them into your company's goals. (If you don’t have any, make them!)

  • Make sure your community guidelines support your mission and values. Take swift, consistent action whenever they are broken, so your members trust you.

  • Make sure any programming, content, and event planning, etc., is in line with your values. Identifying values both for your business and for your community members will help everyone stay aligned and intentional.

  • Figure out your community's 'why'. Share it across your team so that they never question the value that the community is providing.

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Did you get all that?

The earlier you put the above strategies into practice, the better. Take the time to invest in diversity — especially intersectionality, inclusivity, and being intentional — as you launch and/or grow your community. 

For established communities, it is never too late to go back and get to work. Your community should be representative of the wonderful, rainbow-filled world we live in, and not just a majority group. Make it a place where people of all backgrounds feel safe, confident, and supported.

As a rule of thumb, always ask yourself the following questions when planning any community initiative:

  • How are we making diversity, inclusion and belonging a priority?

  • How are we amplifying diverse community members?

  • How are putting our words into actions?

This needs to constantly be reviewed — because the work is never complete.

And if at any point you (or your boss) believe that you'll never be able to find those voices, or it shouldn't be a priority, or anything that challenges DEI initiatives, remind them of Beyonce's record-breaking performance at Coachella in 2018. If she was able to find 24 Black trombone players, you can do this. Be the Homecoming for your community.

This blog was adapted from Shana's talk at our Community-Led Summit — watch the full recording of her session here and her slides here.

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