In June 2020, Perla Aparicio started a company book club and Slack channel to discuss the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Within months, the club became a space for education, growth, and DEI discussions at Qualia, the digital real estate platform where Aparicio worked as an Industry Relations Consultant.
Nearly 60 people participated regularly in the club, including members of Qualia’s leadership. Aparicio shared with Kickstart Careers how she organized the book club and what made it so successful.
How Aparicio Started a DEI-Oriented Book Club
Aparicio did not have a DEI background, but being concerned regarding social injustices in 2020 spurred her to create a book club channel in Qualia’s Slack workplace.
To begin with, the group was small: around seven people attended the first event. Soon, however, it developed a life of its own, as members shared their personal experiences in meetings and used the Slack channel to provide support.
“They would send information on Black History Month, and people would check in with each other when other things would happen in the news… and so they had a support system with people that they trusted within their network and within work,” Aparicio says.
Establishing a Brave Space for Education and Growth
Whenever a new member joined the book club, the group explained what Aparicio calls, “the quote-unquote ground rules.” These include it being a brave space and a space for education.
At first, Aparicio wanted the book club to be a safe space. However, she soon realized that “a brave space” described the group better. “If it’s a safe place, you can’t have the oppressor and the oppressed in the same spot and have it not be uncomfortable, to be honest,” she explains.
“[The group] is obviously still a safe place, you still have to be respectful, but when talking about racism, and not being included, and feeling oppressed, then it’s not always the easiest conversation.”
She also kept the group focused on education, a term she prefers over “calling out.” In fact, one of the things that Aparicio found “powerful” was that many of her white colleagues joined the group because they wanted to learn so that they could change the way they teach their children.
“I like being educated because when it happened, I was able to learn,” she says, sharing that she learned more appropriate ways of discussing types of racism and privilege from group members.
White Fragility, she adds, was a good first book because it serves as a primer. “It is very basic,” she stresses, pointing out that you add the primer before you even start painting. In the same way, this book helped lay the groundwork so that, later on, the club could tackle more in-depth books like The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.
Protocols that Enabled Organic Conversations
Aparicio worked carefully to facilitate, rather than lead, the book club. She wanted everyone to have a say – but she also knew that the book club needed nurturing and structure if it was going to be successful.
She created several processes to maintain this balance. For instance, the group voted via Slack polls on all decisions, including which books to read, what times to meet, and which topics to discuss. Every week, she asked if anyone would like to lead the next meeting. There was always space for other people’s ideas and experiences in the meetings.
To avoid awkward lulls, Aparicio also set up a shared Google document to add discussion prompts. When there were too many points to discuss, they also used the Breakout Rooms feature. This meant people could splinter off into smaller teams and focus on the topics that most interested them.
“It’s very important to me to make sure that it was a very inclusive group where people could be heard if they wanted to be.”
Supported by Leadership, But Not Led by Them
Aparicio wanted HR to attend the book club, but some members of the group were concerned about the potential for negative reactions. In the end, they decided that HR should attend so that they could give advice – a decision that Aparicio says was taken “in good faith.”
Aparicio also gave quarterly updates to one of Qualia’s cofounders. “I wanted to make sure that we had leadership support. I didn’t want it to ever seem like it was a group revolting… The group really is for the betterment of the company,” she says.
She believes every company would benefit from a similar book club and Slack channel. “It was something that I’ll never forget, and something that I really want to continue and pursue,” she says. “I feel like we all learned so much from each other. It really warms my heart that we were able to do this together and make some type of impact.”