[Addressing the Elephant in the Room] by Will Hardaway

October 10, 2020

Over the past ten years, I have had very candid conversations with people about race. It is in fact the only time many of those people ever talked about race. I have facilitated many workshops where people are grateful to have had the conversation but that very well may have been the only conversation they ever had about any type of oppression. What do we do with that? How do we start to have conversations around race? Once those conversations are had where do we go from there.

[Service Design & Dialogue]

I am a service designer and I create environments where authenticity and honesty are the norm and professionalism and political correctness are redefined.We live in a society that tells us that being original and authentic is cool, interesting, and engaging. However, in our work, where we spend a majority of our time, those things have no place. You are to act professional and not offend. These expectations end up harming people of color disproportionately as you can see by employment rates. Honestly the concept of professionalism was created and fits within a white racial frame. Professionalism can look different depending on the sector but it often benefits our white colleagues.

The fashion industry is no different. I have a particular passion for this industry because I feel it has a huge impact on society in terms of influence. I also think that fashion is the easiest intersection of difference because fashion is a search for self-expression and you will find that the way someones sees themselves may align with your own sensibilities just from what they have on. The truth about the industry is that dialogue is not common place.Things that are taboo in society are expelled from large fashion houses. I want to give my best advice on how to move past this block.

[Find the Elephant]

First every team, organization, and board is going to have its own elephant. In our Equity Sprint process when solving challenges in work environments or Human Resources we engage in an activity called Find the Elephant. We ask a simple question. What is a social challenge that everyone is aware of but nobody talks about? We have all had the meeting after the meeting. or the venting session with a partner where we criticize how this elephant is never addressed. After people respond to the elephant we start anonymous voting to find the biggest elephant. First we discuss why this elephant is so challenging. Then we start to dig deeper by tying the impact of this elephant to emotions. This is where the magic happens. Teams will realize in these moments that they all agree that the elephant is weighing them down and needs to be addressed.

The other elephants are not exempt and they are acknowledged in a report to be addressed as well because the goal is to design an environment of dialogue where these smaller elephants are easier to talk about. While facilitators are present it is important to practice solving the biggest elephant.


Declarations are powerful announcements stating how small groups want to move forward in addressing the elephant in the room and why it is important. A good declaration will clearly state the elephant, state why it's challenging, and state why it is important to address it.


We enter into a process of listening to specific stories about the elephant and we begin to see how much this elephant has impacted the work environment. Through eliciting this dialogue we note common themes and pain points. People get to respond to sharing by analyzing the emotions it evoked in them.

This dialogue is essential in the sprint process for solving internal work challenges. This also promotes how dialogue can happen in an effective way.

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