For those who have spent the better part of their careers working on equity issues, recent events have been wrenching–and cause for hope: the Black Lives Matter movement is finally entering the mainstream. But just like those obligatory corporate environmental sustainability statements, it has become hard to tell what’s real and what’s just PR.
There have been JDEI (Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) assessments, JDEI-driven strategic planning processes (one excellent example from The Victoria Foundation), and formal statements in response to important individual events, but strangely there isn’t a lot of guidance for organizations that want to create a binding, board-approved policy that incorporates values, action plans, and accountability.
Here are seven guiding principles to go beyond reactive or one-off statements in order to create a DEI policy that indicates a genuine and thorough commitment and has the greatest likelihood to transform your organization and lead to real change.
- It’s not a hobby.No matter what sector you occupy, if you’re committed to JDEI, use your JDEI policy to establish that your mission and ultimate impact depend on JDEI.For example, recognize that if your organization operates in BIPOC communities, incorporating JDEI into your program planning and decision making isn’t just ethical, it’s practical. Direct service impact depends on understanding the community, and in particular, the historical and structural inequities that led directly to the problems being addressed. JDEI for direct services providers means augmenting high quality direct services with efforts to identify and overcome structural barriers. Often, organizations with real experience at the community level have more credibility, authority, and persuasive ability when it comes to advocacy and systems change, which ultimately can make your organization more effective.For environmental organizations—many of whom are historically White-dominated—the challenge is different. These organizations have the opportunity to go well beyond statements of solidarity with their BIPOC brothers and sisters by recasting their basic approach. For example, ambitious global climate change goals clearly cannot be met without addressing the historically White-dominated nature of the field, incorporating significant BIPOC stakeholders, and distributing authority and responsibilities with the goal of reversing profound historical inequities.
- Commit yourself to programs that incorporate JDEI, but don’t stop there.Internal systems and organizational culture need to follow suit. Funders with internal systems that don’t align with their inspiring program agenda are more common than you might think. Even funders focusing on criminal justice reform, the student achievement gap, or health disparities may be subverting their own goals with paternalistic RFPs, convoluted funding rules, and grant reporting requirements that are particularly burdensome for grassroots movements that are best positioned to make real change. If you don’t trust the grantees that you fund to undo structural racism, they will be less effective.
- Go beyond palliatives.An all-White board may be what caused you to say enough is enough, but your JDEI policy needs to address what led to that glaring circumstance. Likely suspects include: resource allocation, recruitment and retention strategies, training and professional development, and organizational culture. Especially as employers struggle to fill positions, tyrannous office cultures are definitely out of vogue.Some organizations have resorted to simply and instantly disregarding job applicants they suspect are White. In addition to being illegal, this strategy misses the point. JDEI in the context of recruitment means investing time and money in long-term relationships with schools and organizations that can help contribute to an ongoing pipeline of superb applicants from diverse backgrounds.JDEI in the context of retention means ongoing professional development and high quality, stimulating learning opportunities that enable the entire organization to think more deeply and collectively about JDEI objectives. More concrete approaches include annual compensation analysis, anonymous staff satisfaction surveys, and an effective whistleblower policy.
- Build your DEI policy and overall approach collaboratively.Give everyone in your organization (line staff, admin staff, senior staff, board members, etc.) ongoing opportunities to contribute to your organization’s definition and execution of JDEI while also collectively considering leading edge examples from the field. Assemble an inclusive committee, and go through a thoughtful and transparent draft-feedback-revision process. An effective policy will need real input from a diverse range of stakeholders. And the buy-in will be just as important.
- Hold yourself accountable.Commit your organization to regular reports on your performance relative to your JDEI policy. This can take the form of a standing board meeting agenda item, a regular and conspicuous feature of your annual report, or a taskforce populated by a heterogeneous sample of staff and lay leaders. Don’t candy coat it. Even when progress has been minimal, transparency helps build trust and can motivate leadership to get going on goals the organization has already committed itself to.
- Remember we’re human.There will be missteps, and it can be intense when historic injustices become real personal injuries. Rather than expecting perfection from the outset, anticipate pitfalls. A culture of learning and growth can lead to stronger bonds within your organization. Just look how Miranda and Professor Wallace managed to overcome Miranda’s well-intentioned but embarrassingly bad behavior (“And Just Like That…”) to become close friends.
- Once you’ve done the work, don’t keep it a secret.Be proud of your vision, your commitment, and your impact. Inspire your peers, and attract a devoted and diverse workforce, board, and clientele.Ultimately, JDEI culture is a great way to set your organization apart in a crowded marketplace. Prospective employees, board members, volunteers, donors, partner organizations, and families are increasingly looking for signs of an affirmative commitment to JDEI. Once you send a clear signal to your community, allies will find you, and your bold JDEI work will become self-perpetuating.
I recently led a process to develop a JDEI policy for a startup called Wayfinders on the Hudson. Wayfinders wants to build a bold and explicit JDEI culture into their programs and operations. There are not a lot of examples of comprehensive and bold JDEI policies out there, but this is what we came up with: Wayfinders DEI Statement.
Aron Goldman is a nonprofit leader with a deep commitment to equity and social justice, and a track record of helping organizations, movements, and leaders make meaningful change. Trust-based relationships drive his work with grassroots organizations and larger systems, funders and grant seekers, senior professionals, lay leaders, and community stakeholders. Focused on root causes, structural change, and long-term sustainability, Aron employs creative approaches to strategic planning, board development and governance, participatory evaluation, collaboration and partnerships, data/policy/systems change, and program and proposal development. Aron is an experienced OD consultant, nonprofit manager, board leader, facilitator, trainer, writer/editor, educator, and activist. Aron is also an enthusiastic father of two, runner, open water swimmer, mediocre guitarist, podcast host, and felafel aficionado.
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