Opinion: Putting DEI principles into practice
By Cynder Sinclair
Have you been hearing more and more about organizations creating a policy to address diversity, equity, and inclusion? Sometimes referred to as “DEI” and sometimes “DEIJ,” with the J signifying justice, many nonprofits and businesses are adopting such policies as part of their board governance to guide their organization.
I recently met with Jarrod Schwartz so I could find out more about this new trend. Schwartz served for many years as the founding executive director of Just Communities in Santa Barbara. He has worked with local school districts, nonprofits, and funders to increase their awareness of the critical issues of this type of policy.
Schwartz is now the founder and principal for Equity Praxis Group. He and his team work with businesses and nonprofits to support them in articulating and pursuing their commitment to these social justice principles in a strategic and sustainable way.
Schwartz explains that there has been a new sense of urgency in communities regarding DEI since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Individuals and organizations have a new level of awareness about these critical issues. He says that engaging in training and having a policy statement addressing DEI is a good start but not enough. He points to the importance of incorporating these principles into the organization’s core values, culture, and its strategic plan.
Let’s talk about the meaning of these terms.
According to Schwartz and the Standards for Excellence Institute, organizations with good diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice practices exhibit the following cultural praxes:
Diversity: An organization has positive representation of people from different backgrounds, identities, and abilities in all levels of the organization, including key decision-making roles.
Inclusion: This is what the organization does with that diversity — it’s the organizational environment and culture.
Equity: This is the internal commitment to dismantling structural and systemic barriers to opportunity, access, and power.
Justice: This is the act of extending the organization’s internal commitment beyond its boundaries in order to effect positive change in the community, society, and world it is a part of.
Schwartz further explains that he often likes to link equity and justice. Equity is the pursuit of dismantling systemic barriers to opportunity, access, and power inside the organization. Justice is when the organization works to dismantle these same kinds of barriers externall, in their community or society at large. It’s the same work, except equity has an “inside the organization” focus and justice reaches ‘beyond the organization.’”
Schwartz clarifies these concepts, saying, “It’s encouraging to see more and more organizations drafting statements to capture their commitment to DEIJ. It’s an important start to the work. The next step (and really, the step that should come first) is, to answer the question: ‘how do we live out this commitment?’ That’s the more difficult task. Figuring out what it means to operationalize the statement — to authentically embody it in every aspect of the organization. This is the most challenging part of the work. It’s also the most rewarding and transformative — for the organization, for our communities, and for our world.
LOCAL NONPROFIT PUTS DEIJ PRINCIPLES INTO PRACTICE
Schwartz and his colleague Judy Guillermo-Newton have been working with the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP), which was founded by Dr. Pearl Chase in 1963, to help develop its DEI practice. Dr. Anne Petersen, Executive Director, says that “creating a DEI policy statement is important, but the ‘meat’ is in the next steps.” Rather than starting with a policy statement as many organizations do, SBTHP started by weaving DEI principles into its 2019-2021 strategic plan. The organization considers its DEI work an ongoing process.
Petersen explains that “this was an important organizational shift in how we approach our work.”
“This kind of DEI work is not about signaling who you are as an organization,” says Petersen. “It is about changing your organization and living out the principles every day.”
SBTHP began to collect demographic information on its staff and board and published it on GuideStar. Now this serves as a benchmark the group can use to see how well it reflects the demographics of the community. This information also informs its recruitment of new board members and its hiring process, to ensure equity and avoid implicit bias.
SBTHP has made good progress towards creating a community-based development process for its education programs. It is in the process of revising its flagship third-grade education program to help address challenges within the community. Visit the trust’s website at sbthp.org to learn more about its DEI plan and process.
• Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder of Nonprofit Kinect. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.