Have you been hearing more and more about nonprofits creating a policy to address diversity, equity, and inclusion? Sometimes referred to as “DEI” and sometimes “DEIJ,” with the J signifying justice, many nonprofits are adopting such policies as part of their board governance to guide their organization.
At first, I thought this type of policy was used mostly by businesses. But lately it seems that many nonprofits are creating and implementing this type of statement as well.
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. He has worked a long time 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 teamwork 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 since the murder of George Floyd. 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:
An organization has positive representation of people from different backgrounds, identities, and abilities in all levels of the organization, including key decision-making roles. The population an organization serves and involves is diverse. Dimensions of diversity may include but are not limited to differences in: ability/disability, age, body type, culture, education level, gender, gender identity, income, language, marital status, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, zip code, and other differences.
This is what the organization does with that diversity – it’s the organizational environment and culture. There is active engagement of people from all backgrounds and identities in decision-making, systems design, and program delivery in a way that is free from bias and discrimination in all forms, and fully values the contributions and involvement of people and groups that have historically experienced barriers to opportunity.
This is the internal commitment to dismantling structural and systemic barriers to opportunity, access, and power. Barriers to opportunity that disproportionately affect certain groups are actively dismantled, and organizations and systems produce outcomes that are both positive and similar across all groups in society. Equitable distribution of resources may mean some groups receive more resources than others to overcome disproportionate barriers.
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. Barriers to resources and opportunities in society are dismantled so that all individuals and communities can live a full and dignified life.
Schwartz further explains that “I often like 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 externally – 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.”
A local nonprofit puts DEIJ principles into practice.
At Schwartz’s suggestion I contacted Dr. Anne Petersen, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP). Dr. Petersen graciously spent time with me explaining how SBTHP has begun DEI work with help from of Jarrod Schwartz and his colleague, Judy Guillermo-Newton.
Petersen 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 their 2019-2021 strategic plan, which also included an objective to create a separate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan. They consider their DEI work an ongoing process.
Petersen explains that “this was an important organizational shift in how we approach our work.” After receiving a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation, they hired Jarrod Schwartz and his team to train their board of directors and staff so the board and staff would be on the same page regarding DEI. Schwartz and Guillermo-Newton helped them create a common language to incorporate DEI principles into their everyday work.
“During the training we gathered feedback from our board and staff about how we feel the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion affect ourselves and our work,” explains Petersen. This work was done in preparation of drafting their plan to describe what change would look like for them. It was about more than just a statement about DEI, but rather organizational change. “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.”
They worked with Schwartz and his team for six months, finishing just before the pandemic shut everything down. In fact, Petersen remembers having to rush Schwartz and his team out of the office after the last training session to plan for the impending shutdown.
Their focus immediately changed from DEI to how they would survive the pandemic.
And then after the murder of George Floyd, they felt compelled to write their DEI plan immediately. Their DEI plan was approved by the board in September of 2020. “Approval of this plan was an important first step,” explains Petersen.
“Just like a good strategic plan, our DEI plan will never be shelved and marked ‘complete.’ We will always need a plan,” says Petersen. “It will continue to be revised and evolve in response to the needs of our community.” SBTHP began to collect demographic information on their staff and board and published it on GuideStar. Now this serves as a benchmark they can use to see how well their organization reflects the demographics of the community.
Their board nominating committee considers this information when recruiting for new board members. Staff have also implemented new hiring procedures that help to ensure equity and avoid implicit bias in the process.
Petersen points out that they have made good progress towards an objective to create a community-based development process for their education programs. SBTHP is in the process of revising their flagship third-grade education program to help address challenges within the community. They are using community focus groups to determine what the priority challenges are, and how the organization can best address them with its resources. The focus groups include a diverse range of community members, including potential new organizational partners.
SBTHP belongs to the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC) which includes 300 member organizations around the world that commit to the idea that historic places are sites of memory that can be used to create a more just future. SBTHP’s project to reimagine its third-grade program is funded by a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services and hosted by ICSC to fund projects at ten historic sites that are creating programs to help their communities recover from the pandemic.
If your nonprofit would like to learn more about the SBTHP model you can see their DEI policy statement here. And here is a site they built to help others with resources to develop a DEI plan. You can access their entire DEI plan here. Both SBTHP and Equity Praxis Group encourage nonprofits to begin the important process of creating an enhanced organizational culture incorporating a solid DEI plan.