Shoulder to Shoulder: Moving from Urgency to Action…

Creating a successful DEI Action Plan is a lot like renovating a house. It begins with a strong sense of urgency. You have a clear idea of all of the improvements that need to be made and you want the project completed as quickly as possible so you can start living the life you envision for your future. But rushing in without taking all of the proper steps may not give you the results you want. In order for your renovation to be successful, you need to ensure the foundation is solid, the structure is supported, the design takes everyone’s needs into consideration, and the construction team understands the scope of the project and agrees to its parameters. Only then will the result be a home that is not only beautiful and better than it was before, but one that will endure to serve as an example to others beginning their own renovation projects.   Any home renovator knows that you have to adjust along the way.  You will always encounter issues that need to be addressed, and you will need to pause and pivot along the way.   

I joined the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts as Vice President for People and Culture because I was eager to be a part of its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. I knew that the Foundation was earnest in these efforts and that everyone was equally enthusiastic to contribute their skills, talents and insights. Within my first month, I met with the internal DEI Advisory Committee, which included staff members, the President and CEO, and the Trustee Chair. I was brought up to speed on the work that had already begun with our consultants, Inclusive Performance Strategies. I participated in an individual assessment on intercultural competence and was given an individualized review of my results. I helped coordinate a presentation to our Trustees that included all of the data collected by our consultant partners and an assessment of our overall DEI climate. The bottom line? Information was pouring in, along with a growing sense of urgency to make actionable contributions to advancing DEI. 

I spent the next 6 to 8 months diligently working with our staff and volunteers to take the proper steps necessary for success: finding the right pace and ensuring we were all on the same page.  We held working group sessions with staff to provide feedback and input on our proposed DEI Action Plan, as well as advisory committee meetings, trainings, and casual dialogue sessions with small groups of staff and volunteers. Finally, a shared dialogue session took place between the entire staff, Trustees and Distribution Committee. This work was necessary and the conversations distressful and upsetting, especially for staff of historically marginalized identities resolute and unswerving in their commitment to drive progress. But one constant was our shared belief that this work is a priority, and each challenge was met with a pause for reflection and adjustments. 

Because this work is so critically important, I focused on what I call the “in-betweens” – the immediate places where we could begin to make progress without having a fully outlined plan. One of those in-betweens was related to compensation equity. The Foundation partnered with the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation on a market analysis with consultants One Digital in the fall.  Now we are working with them to formulate a compensation philosophy that will result in equitable compensation, hiring, promotion, and advancement policies and practices.  Additional in-betweens include the development and implementation of revised Grantmaking Policy aligned with our commitment to advancing DEI by adjusting our due diligence process to include screening for hate and other forms of discrimination prior to awarding grants.  We continue to refine and revise this process in order to ensure we adopt sustainable practices.  Policy change is critical to supporting a solid foundation in any renovation. 

After several months of iterations, dialogues, and several rounds of revisions, in December 2021, the Foundation’s Trustees adopted a shared DEI Commitment Statement that prioritizes advancing racial equity.  At the same time, we were crafting a multi-year DEI Action Plan that is now complete. This Plan includes actions to advance DEI in staff and volunteer development, communications, community engagement, and organizational infrastructure, values, and impact. It balances a continuation of training, and development, while simultaneously addressing policy and systemic changes, emphasizing practical and pragmatic solutions to integrate DEI across all of our work, setting goals that each department can hold themselves accountable to as we move forward.

I continue to be passionate and excited the Foundation moves forward in building a structurally sound organization that can withstand any storm and help us continue our work of positively impacting our region’s long-term health and vitality.


Briana Wales
Vice President for People and Culture