What does a low-income community look like? What systems and programs, while often well-intentioned, serve as the foot of oppression for keeping this neighborhood economically poor?
After conducting this power analysis as part of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s Undoing Racism Workshop, hosted by Living Cities, there was no denying the immense privilege and power Third Sector has to influence systems and their outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color. This was a wake-up call for us. It helped us to understand the role we potentially play in perpetuating systemic inequities and prompted us to commit ourselves to being vigilant and intentional about how we do our work.
Over the last 18 months, a number of factors, including the power analysis, have led us to realize that we must embrace an equity-centered approach in order to achieve our mission. Because the public and social sectors have a history of racism that leads to disproportionately poor outcomes for communities of color, we cannot ignore the influence of racism on our work. We have committed to upholding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and have dedicated significant resources to improving DEI, both internally and externally. This includes sending every staff member to the Undoing Racism Workshop, revisiting our policies and practices, and hosting ongoing trainings and informal conversations. While our journey has not always been easy, we know it is the right journey to be on and want to offer some lessons learned for other organizations who are embarking on their own DEI path, as Living Cities has done for us.
1. Connect DEI to organizational values and ability to achieve mission
Recent staff feedback and guidance from Erika Bernabei of Equity & Results revealed the extent to which we need to more explicitly help team members understand why DEI is critical to us living our values and executing on our mission. We are communicating more proactively, starting with new staff on-boarding. If we want to guide governments to reengineer their systems to produce more positive, equitable results, we must do our work differently. Without an explicit equity focus, outcomes are unlikely to improve and we risk furthering the disparities that do exist.
2. Take a hard look at the role of quantitative and qualitative data in our work
Without an explicit equity focus, outcomes are unlikely to improve and we risk furthering the disparities that do exist.
Data has always been a critical lever for our work. We stress the importance of accessing externally validated datasets, oftentimes collected at the federal or state levels, and using that data to establish baselines and benchmarks in order to measure program impact. However, at government client urging, we realized that it is not enough to simply check the frequency of data collection or reliability of the data quality when taking an equity-centered approach. Disaggregating data based on population characteristics is the first step, but more important is layering qualitative analysis, such as user journey mapping, participatory research, and community focus groups to provide community context and voice to the data insights.
3. Create spaces for personal and interpersonal reflections and growth
Like most folks working in the social sector, our staff have been trained to focus on implementing solutions and measuring progress. It is not surprising that many of our initial DEI efforts have been tangible tactics within recruitment, HR, and project planning. We often fail to give ourselves the necessary time and space to truly grapple with how each of us has been affected by systemic racism. After the Undoing Racism Workshop, we see staff starting to unpack the relationship between the racism that lives in the systems and our individual biases and actions that result from and contribute to systemic racism. We have created spaces for broader discussions and affinity groups to help staff process this personal aspect. There is still an inclination to jump to tools and solutions, but we know this intentionality is the first step in figuring out how we support one another on our individual journeys, which is critical to organizational progress.
4. Stay focused on impact, not intent
We often fail to give ourselves the necessary time and space to truly grapple with how each of us has been affected by systemic racism.
We preach the value of outcomes orientation in government funding and service delivery. Yet, when making changes to improve DEI, it’s easy to abandon our own outcomes orientation. For example, we did not intend for our interview process to filter out the majority of candidates of color in the first round, but a focus on intent alone allowed us to continue perpetuating inequitable practices. Initial data revealed that our recruitment pipeline and process were falling short in helping us hiring more candidates of color. So, we updated our job descriptions and interview process to attract more diverse candidates and to value a wider range of skill sets and experiences. We will keep measuring the impact of these changes and make further adjustments, as needed.
While Third Sector is still far from achieving our goal of becoming an antiracist organization, we are hopeful that our outcomes will soon reflect our efforts. If not, we will continue learning and adapting. Along the way, we are so grateful to learn with and receive support from peers who are also on their own DEI journey and welcome outreach, feedback, and ideas to help us all shift power to communities of color.
Third Sector works with communities nationally to deploy government resources towards positive, long-term outcomes in areas such as housing stability, child development, post-secondary education, workforce and economic mobility, and mental health. Of the many ways to promote improved community outcomes, Third Sector leverages public funding and data to accelerate the transition to a performance-driven social sector.
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