Elisabeth Swan on Looking Beyond the Symptoms of Problems, Including Racism

Read Elisabeth’s blog post in the #RootCauseRacism series:


Read the entire series:


Elisabeth’s company:


Hey, there. I’m Elisabeth Swan. I’m the Chief Learning Experience Officer for GoLeanSixSigma.com, and also the author of The Problem‑Solver’s Toolkit. Also teach problem‑solving at UC San Diego. I’ve been helping, coaching problem‑solvers build their problem‑solving muscles for way too many decades, wonderful decades.

I’m based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I am thrilled and honored to be part of this. Deondra gave each of us an opportunity to get off the sidelines and join this discussion. I will acknowledge, based on Tracy’s points, as a white woman, that was a big deal for me and gave me pause to think.

What I know about problem‑solving is that it’s symptoms that trigger your efforts. Something’s going wrong, something’s taking too long. In terms of racism, the symptoms are all around us. All the writers in the blog series, the women on this panel have been educating all of us on both the symptoms and a lot of the root causes of racism.

I’ve been teaching and coaching and helping people through problem‑solving for over 30 years. Applying my experience and methods to the problem of racism caused me to think about first and foremost, we always tell people you have to look upstream for root causes. You’re seeing a symptom, the cause is upstream somewhere. What if you’re looking up the wrong stream?
We see conferences where the keynote speakers are all white men or workforces that lack any people of color. That’s a symptom of racism. The root cause is not just upstream. It is the stream. I’m quoting the talk show host, Jon Stewart, but if we don’t pay attention, we will easily access the same white male tributary.

I’ve heard people say they use blind techniques when they’re hiring, not paying attention to names or gender. By the time you’re looking at a candidate, they’ve already come through a chosen stream, whether you are conscious or we are conscious about it or not.

Even though I think I am fully aware, I recently did the same thing without thinking. A colleague and I chose a series of podcast interviews with white male leaders to include in their training. There were a lot of options, but it took someone else to point out that we’d failed to include any women and anyone of color.

Yes, we need to target, or as Karyn Ross pointed out, you need a vision. What should the workforce look like? What should the conference look like? What stream are you accessing? My challenge to myself and to others is to always question your sources. Be mindful of the waterways you’re on and who else is on them because you may have to look elsewhere.

You May Also Like