Shoulder to Shoulder: Looking Back to Move Ahead…

One of my favorite things to do in my free time is to hike. I especially like the arduous treks with steep inclines because they usually lead to spectacular views. Inevitably there is a point in the climb when I’m winded or my energy drains. At those times, I can feel discouraged and the vista out of reach.  

When that happens, I’ve tried a few tactics to keep me motivated. The one that often works best is counterintuitive: Stop concentrating on the destination and instead turn around to see the ground already covered. When I look back, I’m surprised to see how far I’ve come and reminded of what I can do. It’s the jolt of energy I need to keep going.

I was reminded of this the other day as I talked with colleagues about the Foundation’s ongoing efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in our internal culture. My comments were about the work ahead of us. There is a lot of it and admittedly, I was feeling both impatient and daunted.

Hearing this, a coworker pointed out that in all the discussion of reaching the next milestone and the work that entailed, I hadn’t mentioned the progress we’ve made. My colleague then listed off a few significant actions we have taken. Just like on the hiking trail, I was surprised by the ground we had covered, and energized by that realization.

This work is formidable. It is complicated to shift from a predominantly white, monolithic culture to a more diverse and inclusive culture where race, ethnicity, age, ability, gender, skill, and experience are sought and celebrated. It takes time and commitment. It can be painful and hard for everyone involved.

Pausing to look back offers an opportunity to celebrate and integrate learning. I’m grateful for my colleague’s reminder to take stock of our progress, and by doing so, to re-invigorate ourselves for the continued climb.

In that spirit, I want to take a moment to acknowledge some of the actions the Foundation team has taken to foster DEI in our organizational culture and practices:

  • After completing their personal IDI assessments, our Trustees were inspired to launch a series of monthly DEI discussions. Although attendance is not mandatory, nearly 100% of all Trustees have joined in. These informal gatherings are gaining momentum, offering a path to building the trusting relationships that are elemental to this work.
  • Independently, our Development team also organized their own staff reading and discussions to engage with DEI issues.
  • Our DEI consultants, Inclusive Performance Strategies, have collected data about the Foundation’s practices, protocols, and policies. They’ve done this via a document and policy audit, a community survey and a series of focus groups with grantee, donor and community partners.
  • A Staff Advisory Committee is working alongside our DEI consultants for the next six months. This committee provides feedback on and insight into the data gathered. When we asked for volunteers for the committee, the interest among staff was inspiring.  
  • I was given an opportunity to share a candid reflection on our learning journey in last month’s annual Outlook issue of the Sunday Republican. That article catalyzed more conversation and questions from the community.
  • We have intentionally focused on increasing the racial diversity on staff and Trustees. Currently 30% of our staff and Trustees identify as persons of color.
  • We’ve created a series of blog posts, this being the latest, to share our DEI journey (learning and challenges alike) with the broader community.
  • We’ve invested in a new staff position to support this work and hired Briana Wales as Vice President for People and Culture. In her new role, Briana will support staff and volunteers as we work together to foster a more inclusive and equitable culture, strive to implement new practices to achieve our strategic vision, and create greater impact with our funds. (You’ll be hearing more from Briana in next month’s Shoulder to Shoulder post.)

Each of these actions reflects our commitment to this work. They are initial efforts, and we acknowledge we have much more ground to cover. Yet, they set the stage for our next steps: the creation of a shared vision and a framework for the Foundation to use going forward. We will continue to share our progress and challenges with you as this plan evolves.

We are eager to do more and reach that vista together. We also realize how helpful it is to look back in order to keep moving forward.