Becoming part of the solution to address racism in our country


On February 11, 2021, YW Boston hosted “Becoming part of the solution,” a virtual conversation with Dr. Robert Livingston, author and Lecturer of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Livingston was joined by YW Boston’s President & CEO, Beth Chandler, to discuss how we can all become part of the solution to address systemic racism in our country. We were joined by over 600 attendees to explore how individuals and organizations can proceed with more intentional anti-racism work. During the event, Beth shared learnings from YW Boston’s DEI Services on how to turn aspirations into lasting change and discussed frameworks from Dr. Livingston’s newest book, “The Conversation: How seeking and speaking the truth about racism can radically transform individuals and organizations.

“The difference between a solvable problem and a solved problem is knowledge, investment, and determination.” Beth shared in her opening remarks that this quote from “The Conversation” resonated on a few levels. It aligns with YW Boston’s approach, recognizing that systemic racism requires thoughtful analysis, action planning, and follow-through over time. It is also timely, as months after an unprecedented number of organizations spoke out about racial injustice, we can notice that momentum is slowing.

During their engaging conversation, Beth Chandler and Dr. Livingston identified several practical ways individuals and organizations can more effectively advance racial equity:
  • “Facts often fall flat.” Dr. Livingston shared that efforts to make the “business case” for racial equity are often ineffective because they rely solely on the presentation of data. More effective efforts take into consideration that humans use social relations to provide a “portal” for facts. Dialogue, relationships, storytelling can be paired with data for greater impact.
  • Don’t start at solutions. In discussing his “condition, concern, correction” model for addressing racism within organizations, Dr. Livingston shared that people often want to jump right to solutions, which is not effective. He illustrated this through a healthcare example. A good physician would not prescribe medication without first examining and understanding what a patient was experiencing. Likewise, managers need to take time to identify and understand the problem at hand. Skipping these steps can lead to recurring problems.
  • Be clear about tradeoffs. From his research and work with organizations, Dr. Livingston finds that a lack of strategies is not the issue. Rather, a clear understanding of tradeoffs and willingness to sacrifice (time, resources, energy) is necessary to see systemic change. Again, Dr. Livingston uses an analogy to drive home his point. Despite the abundance of effective strategies for maintaining our weight, many of us struggle to do so. Being clear as individuals and as organizations about the willingness of stakeholders to commit to racial equity can help identify strategies most likely to be implemented.

From the lively event chat activity, it was evident that Beth and Dr. Livingston’s conversation resonated with the audience, including Dr. Anouska Bhattacharyya, Director of InclusionBoston at YW Boston. Dr. Bhattacharyya shared,

“Dr. Livingston’s words on Thursday were as thoughtful as they were provocative—this is exactly the tenor of our InclusionBoston process. We have seen through our DEI partnerships that Dr. Livingston’s assessments ring true. Sustainable DEI work is not achieved through one conversation, but many; we have to be willing to recognize our own role in having multiple conversations (we call them Dialogues in InclusionBoston!) to create a space where everyone wants to have them. Moreover, Dr. Livingston’s presentation brought to light something that we champion ourselves during InclusionBoston: empathy. Empathy can be taught; it is a skill that can be practiced like any other. Empathy anchors the conversation in reality, and in every person’s reality. I was moved to see someone who gets it! And as someone who enjoys cookies, I was delighted to see Dr. Livingston deftly use them to explain privilege.”

Rachael McCoy, Manager of YW Boston’s inclusive leadership program, LeadBoston, made similar observations,

“I really appreciated Dr. Livingston’s expertise. I was especially motivated by the approach he outlined for solving problems. He said that in order to solve a problem, one must first recognize that there is a problem, then conduct a root cause analysis, and third, practice empathy; and that the majority of time spent trying to solve a problem should actually be spent doing those three things. Our LeadBoston program takes a similar approach. We spend the year deeply examining the realities of our city and organizations, analyzing root causes, and building empathy. By the end, participants are equipped to take on a Leadership Commitment aimed at furthering equity and inclusion within their organization.”

This insightful conversation would not have been possible without the sponsorship and commitment of Eversource Energy and Fletcher Consulting LLC. Thank you to our sponsors, their guests, and our over 600 attendees who contributed to this conversation.

As Beth shared in her opening remarks, this is no time to pull back from diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Here are just a few ways you can advance racial equity:


About YW Boston

As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DEI ServicesInclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed. 

As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at