Putting Racial Equity at the Center of Your Organization’s Culture

Last month, Equity in the Center, a project of ProInspire, launched their highly anticipated report, Awake to Woke to Work: Building a Race Equity Culture. The goal of the report is to help each organization in the charitable sector chart its own path toward a race equity culture, while being mindful that every individual also comes at this work from various starting points. We recently talked to Kerrien Suarez, director of Equity in the Center, about what nonprofit and philanthropic organizations can gain from using this new research.

KGC: Tell us a little bit about the genesis of this report.

Kerrien Suarez, Director, Equity in the Center.

KS: The genesis of the report is tied to the genesis of Equity in the Center. Following Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Talent Pipelines Learning Lab in 2015 (which was led by Ashley B. Stewart), ProInspire, AmeriCorps Alums, and Public Allies launched Equity in the Center to shift mindsets, practices, and systems around race equity. We convened nonprofit and philanthropic leaders last year for bold ]conversations on the tactics, policies, and processes that effectively drive action on inclusion and equity. This was the start of our research to define what we then considered a continuum from diversity to inclusion to equity, and assemble findings in a report for stakeholders across the sector. As a result of five Dialogue & Design sessions, which brought together approximately 150 practitioners and experts on race equity, we shifted our thinking in two ways. First, we focused on organizational culture as a driver of inequity sector-wide.  And, second, rich dialogues with advisors highlighted that organizations shift toward equity as part of a cycle, which they can enter at more than one point, not the continuum we originally envisioned.

Our research found that most nonprofit and philanthropic organizations acknowledge the need for “equity” for the populations they serve (black and brown communities in many cases), yet don’t have explicit language on the significance of race equity, nor do they fully realize the extent to which their systems, processes, and values create a state of inequity within the organization, driving inequity outside of it: across the sector, in the communities they serve and in society broadly. In order for organizations to effectively drive race equity on the outside, they need to get right on the inside. Our research found that the key to doing so is culture. Our research identified stages organizations go through as they advance towards a Race Equity Culture (moving from Awake to Woke to Work), as well as the levers organizations can push to move through them (including Senior Leadership, Managers, and Community, among others). We coined this process the Race Equity Cycle.

In addition to convening, our team conducted secondary research to validate our theory and tools, including an extensive literature review and in-depth interviews with organizations that successfully shifted organizational culture toward race equity.  These activities informed the Race Equity Cycle and helped us identify and validate research outlined in the publication, which we designed to be a tool to accelerate leaders, support organizations and inspire nonprofit and philanthropic action to center race equity as a core goal of social impact.

KGC: This report is incredibly unique in that it dives right into the tools needed to create a race equity culture, while not spending so much time making the case. Why did you take this approach?

KS: We felt that the biggest need, and the most meaningful contribution we could make to the field, was a resource to help social sector leaders and organizations shift momentum from theory and good intentions to explicit action that drives race equity. Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead series of reports, launched last year, debunks the myth of the talent pipeline in the social sector. Their comprehensive data, in addition to a significant body of race equity work to which many members of our Advisory Committee contributed in the last 20+ years, meant we did not have to make the case for structural racism as a driver of the racial leadership gap or systemic institutional inequities that characterize the social sector. Our approach was to build on, not duplicate, the case that colleagues have made for decades, synthesizing existing research to contextualize the need for a Race Equity Culture, and then focus most of the publication on resources, tools, and tactics to build it within organizations.

KGC: Who is the intended audience for your report and why?

KS: In one word, everyone. We want this publication to be accessible and actionable for everyone working in the social sector — regardless of the size of their organization, the scale of their impact, or where they find themselves and their organizations on the spectrum of Awake to Woke to Work. Our goal was to meet leaders and organizations where they are, whether that be at the very beginning of a project or years into a cross-functional process.

Race equity work must happen at many levels, both within organizations and in society broadly. In society, intentional action is needed at the four levels on which racism operates: personal, interpersonal, institutional, and structural.  Please read our Call to Action for a list of tactics we challenge nonprofit and philanthropic leaders to implement as part of our shared work to dismantle racism. In organizations, our research identified seven management and operational levers organizations can push to shift culture toward race equity. The publication outlines personal beliefs and behaviors, policies and processes, and data characteristics that our research found generate forward momentum for each lever. It is practical and actionable for CEOs, board members, managers, and junior professionals. There are no preconditions other than curiosity and a desire for change. The publication itself has more detail on our intended audience and questions they may face as they enter the work — all of which is intended to be helpful to leaders and organizations as they outline action steps to generate progress on race equity.

KGC: What is the primary thing that you want an individual working in racial equity to get out of this report?

KS: We want individuals to feel inspired, encouraged and better equipped for action after reading our publication. We want them to understand that while the work required to build a Race Equity Culture is challenging, race equity in organizations, communities, and society is our shared and guiding vision. Centering race equity as a core goal of social impact is our long-term goal, and it is our belief that building a Race Equity Culture in nonprofit and philanthropic organizations will generate meaningful progress toward it.

Readers should know that regardless of whether their organization is Awake, Woke, or at the Work stage of the Race Equity Cycle, there are immediate, actionable steps to take to advance their work now. The seven levers identify where and how individuals can focus these efforts. Examples from organizations doing race equity work provide a “north star” that leaders and organizations have said are necessary for them to understand what’s possible. Steps outlined in the ‘How to Get Started’ section will help readers whose biggest question is “Where do I begin?”

KGC: What’s next for Equity in the Center?

KS: Our second annual Equity in the Center Summit is October 9-10, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland, and we hope readers will join us for plenary and working sessions designed to provide greater insight into our research and the experiences of leaders and organizations engaged in this work nationally.  This fall, Equity in the Center will also rebrand and adopt a new name, so stay tuned.

We’ll continue to share Race Equity Cycle research with stakeholders and the social sector broadly through conference presentations, webinars (which we’ve begun to conduct for national networks whose members have prioritized race equity) and additional tools/resources curated in partnership with a Resource Mapping Working Group of advisors.

Our team will conduct some new research this year, focusing on the development of narrative and multimedia cases that tell stories of leaders and organizations building a Race Equity Culture. Our priority is to continue developing tools, resources, and case examples that illustrate the complexity of this work at each stage of the Race Equity Cycle. Also, as we receive feedback from the field, we’ll refine our Race Equity Cycle research.

Readers can visit our website to sign up for our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated.

Visit Equity in the Center’s website to download the full publication and learn more about the project.

Types: Blog
Global Topics: IS Member, Race, Equity, and Inclusion