Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Workforce Matters supporting member, sponsored a workshop for Workforce Matters members on Asset-Framing strategies led by Trabian Shorters, Founder and CEO of BMe Community.

Workforce Matters was particularly excited to introduce the BMe Community to our network because their work on Asset-Framing is critically important and connected to recommendations that we made in our Racial Equity Framework for Workforce Development Funders.  Changing the narrative about workforce development programs and participants is a key part of our equity journey.

As Laura Burgher of the Annie E. Casey Foundation reflected, “One of the ways to begin to build a more equitable workforce development ecosystem is to change the long-standing narratives used to describe the ‘problems’ we are aiming to address. Framing narratives such as the ‘skills gap’ have been problematically used to focus on the perceived failings of workers, rather than on the economic systems that have failed people of color time and again.  It is our hope that this training will help us begin to interrupt the long-standing narratives in workforce development and develop new language and new narratives for how we talk about our work both internally and externally.” 

Here are a few of the takeaways from the training:

Narratives shape how we see the world and reinforce our biases.

  • Despite what we may believe, our intuitive (unconscious) systems are in charge most of the time, and we are prone to disregard facts that don’t fit an established pattern or narrative.
  • Our narratives about People of Color, and Black people in particular, tend to be negative because these are the narratives that we are exposed to most often.
  • Unfortunately, we cannot choose to simply ignore the bias inherent in these narratives.  The only way to limit bias is to build a fuller narrative for our brains--one that frames Black people and other People of Color by noting their assets, aspirations, and contributions.

In the social impact sector, we often define people by their challenges in order to make the case for investment.

  • It may not be our intention, but to define a person by their challenges is the definition of stigmatizing them.  
  • Unfortunately, this deficit orientation also fits into a narrative framework that primes us to value some people less than others and undermines our arguments for equity.  When all our minds know is a group’s failures, pathologies, and threats, it can feel “unfair” to give them the same opportunities as those “who work hard and pose no such problems.”

Asset-Framing helps because when we define people by their aspirations, it primes narratives and associations of worth.  

  • In Asset-Framing, we take a careful look at how we frame what we say--what information we lead with when we tell a story or present the data.
  • Asset-Framing is a practice where we lead with people’s aspirations, contributions, and potential before noting their challenges.  Asset-Framing makes the case for investing in people for their continued benefit to society.

So, how might you take a program or strategy description and describe it using an Asset Frame?

  • Center the participant as the protagonist in the story.
  • Ask yourself--what is their aspiration?
  • Identify who or what is the problem or threat to their ability to reach their goals?
  • Position your program or strategy as a resource or partner to your protagonist’s aspirations
  • Introduce your protagonist by their aspiration or contribution before noting any challenges

Asset-Framing helps us build that fuller narrative for our brains. It makes us less likely to stereotype people as the problem (“they lack soft skills”) and more likely to implicate systemic obstacles (“we have underinvested in educational opportunities and resources.”)  In fact, it inclines us to address the systemic problem and support our protagonist’s aspirations.  Asset-Framing speaks to our natural desire to invest in aspiring people who deserve respect and opportunity.  

Did you rewrite a program description, mission statement, or performance metric using an Asset Frame? Share it with us! We’d love to see and feature your examples at #FundWorkforceEquity.