In 2019, Support Center and Yvette R. Murry of YRM Consulting Group established a cross-racial network of aligned capacity builders–the Equity Collective is our working title–to support organizations with their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts. This collaborative drew upon years of supporting organizations to design and implement inclusive planning processes and/or to consider their values and beliefs. In many ways, these commonly accepted practices have helped to advance DEIB for years. But perhaps we weren’t as intentional about where and how equity and inclusion surface as explicitly as we do now.
Three years later, we have now had the chance as a collective to engage dozens of organizations in conversations around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (often abbreviated as DEIB) and the adoption of anti-racist values within their organizations. We have also had the chance as a group of capacity builders to read books together. We’ve gone to plays together. And most weeks, we huddle on Tuesdays between 1 and 3PM to talk about projects and approaches we might take to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And on that last point, there is SO much that we could distill from those two-hours-a-week dedicated to talking about race and racism, oppression, anti-racism,the heart and soul of the nonprofit sector, the challenge of DEIB trainings that leave individuals and organizations struggling with “so now what.” The list of topics is lengthy.
Perhaps our biggest lesson learned from our time together is to create the kind of time and space that allows for community building, reflection and questioning, and open and honest dialogue about race and racism. We have learned that this is not “one size fits all” but that there are certain essential questions and essential elements to this work. We’ve attempted to model these practices in our own work together (and thank you, Yvette, for modeling this so well). The working list below identifies action steps or signposts that we have noted and that all organizations can take to become more inclusive and equitable organizations.
- It’s Both Individual and Organizational: Are we creating the space for everyone’s own individual learning and evolution? Is this a forum to share practices that promote individual growth as well as increase equity across the organization? We have found that organizations that create the space for individual and organizational reflection and growth are best positioned to advance the work. And in the words of our colleague Jeff Blanchard, “Organizations are made up of people first.”
- Establish Buy-In & Decision-Making: How can you create the space and trust to talk about support for equity and inclusion work as well as resistance? And which decision-makers and champions across your organization do you need? Furthermore, how is equity a critical factor to the mission and objectives of your work and what are the costs of not addressing equity issues? Some agreed upon language and expectations around buy-in and decision-making are essential building blocks to undertake this work.
- Clarify Expectations: A working group looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion within an organization may include a variety of perspectives including executive leadership, staff, volunteers, and board members. Are there clear expectations for who is involved and what role they are expected to play (e.g. are group members bringing equity challenges and opportunities to the table)? And have we discussed the power dynamics that can surface and how to allow for participants to come to the table with an equal voice?
- Consider the Big Picture: Is there a clear vision for the direction of your equity work? Is it building a learning community? Or surveying stakeholders within your organization and identifying opportunities to promote equity across the organization with examples of how this can be done? Support Center has been a part of an equity and inclusion working group of similar organizations called Ahead of the Curve (www.aheadofthecurve.nyc) and created an evolving DEI toolkit. Is there a resource, platform, or roadmap that your organization imagines for your work together?
- Identify Initial Steps Looking at Diversity and Representation: Most organizations readily admit that they want to be more diverse, but a first step can involve talking about the “why” behind those diversity efforts? Are we looking at the perspectives of the community that we’re serving? And how might that lack of perspective adversely impact us? Second, taking stock of an organization’s demographics and beginning to collect demographic data is an essential first step. This article on How to Collect and Share DEI Data is a useful starting point as well as NJ diversity reports from the Center for Non-profits.
- Practice Patience: While the desire to “do something” is understandable, transformative equity work that integrates DEIB and anti-racist principles into an organization’s DNA can takes years– as in ten years not one or two years. It also takes vulnerability, trust, patience, and buy-in from multiple stakeholders. Organizations and networks undertaking this work should be realistic about the pace of change and the time and patience required. And having agreed upon ways to safely and productively communicate challenges or anticipated challenges in project work and timelines is essential.
- Find the Right Partner: We are believers in finding support for collaborative processes. As you consider consulting and facilitation partners in the future, you might consider your critical factors for success and what resources and administrative support you need. Having clarity on key factors should help you to find the right partner.
- Facilitate Communications and Learning: Participants may want to explore how best to communicate across the organization and across an equity working group. Determining regular communications and where shared resources reside is an important consideration.
- Understand Where You Are Now: Our Equity Collective adapted a baseline survey from work done by the Meyer Memorial Trust that can be utilized by organizations. A copy of that survey is here. Organizations can tweak this survey and utilize this at the organizational level or have a conversation based upon the survey that looks at their: 1) Racial Equity Vision; 2) Commitment; 3) Leadership; 4) Policies; 5) Infrastructure; 6) Training; 7) Diversity; 8) Data; 9) Community; 10) Decisions; 11) Accountability; and 12) Inclusion. With a Gmail account, organizations can readily make a copy of the survey and adjust accordingly.
- Consider the Formation of Working Groups: In our experience smaller working groups that look at specific challenges and equity priorities can often prompt action. Many organizations establish a few working groups that allow for a smaller group to address specific facets of equity work such as: what does racial literacy look like for a member of our community or what steps should our board take to advance equity.
- Create Space and Opportunities for Reflection: We encourage any learning community to look back at what steps you have taken to promote equity while you consider the road ahead. What have the participating individuals and the organization as a whole learned? How have practices changed? Periodic reflections and reviews can help to see progress even while the road ahead is long.
If you read this far, maybe you’re wondering why there are eleven signposts listed, and the title says “10.” That’s right. There are 11 practices listed here, and our title says “10.” And that’s perhaps the most important lesson that we have learned. Authentic diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging (and justice, accessibility and accountability are the J and A’s that show up in this space, too) efforts are imperfect, organic and seldom lend themselves to nice and tidy lists. We’re working to get better at embracing the messy, imperfect, and organic nature of building organizational capacity around diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And we know it’s difficult. But we welcome you and your organization to walk that authentic path of imperfection, learning, and growing, too.