Operationalizing Racial Equity & Inclusion: Transforming Organizations and Beyond

Operationalizing Racial Equity & Inclusion: Transforming Organizations and Beyond

This series highlights the twelve themes we uncovered in our scan of practices being used by organizations to operationalize racial equity.


We recently released a report titled “What Does it Take to Embed a Racial Equity & Inclusion Lens?” that captures themes from internal interviews, a field scan, and learnings from our grantmaking and investments in cities across the country. In this post, we share the next three themes that emerged from our research. To read the previous post, click here.


5. “Embedding” a racial equity and inclusion lens has to be an overarching framework in every aspect of our work.

To many people, advancing racial equity and inclusion can seem like a daunting task. They do not know where to start or what it means to “apply a racial equity and inclusion lens” to social change work. Yet, there is a definition of what this means that has been commonly embraced in the field, and indeed is reflected in our own definition of our racial equity and inclusion work. That definition asserts that organizations must incorporate racial equity and inclusion at every stage of the work and at all levels: personal, team, and institutional. Tactically, this can be as simple as: Pausing to reflect on the racial equity and inclusion implications as we make decisions, and, Engaging in candid and authentic conversations about race so we can surface blind spots and hold each other accountable to our values and norms.

Our Recommendations:

  • Introduce and hold project teams accountable to using and being able to share how they used a racial equity impact analysis tool for decision-making that asks the following questions:
    • Are all racial/ethnic groups who are affected by this policy/practice/decision at the table?
    • How will the proposed policy/practice/decision affect each group?
    • Does the policy/practice/decision worsen or ignore existing disparities?
    • Based on the above responses, what revisions are needed in the policy/practice/decision under discussion?
  • Design and implement an audit tool that takes stock of all Living Cities work through an REI lens so that staff can practice applying this lens in an applied way.
  • Develop a set of norms and agreements for staff to engage in candid and authentic conversations about race without losing a sense of psychological safety.

Tools and Resources:

6. We need to treat racial equity as a real competency and skill.

From across all of our activities, it is clear that achieving racial equity and inclusion requires a set of informed policies and practices intentionally designed to promote opportunity equitably and to rectify disparities. The implementation of these practices and policies and the ability to identify instances of interpersonal, institutional, and systemic racism requires skills and competencies including but not limited to the following:

  • Comfort and fluency around speaking about what REI means at Living Cities and in the world, including ability to identify, discuss, and confront interpersonal, institutional, and systemic racism.
  • Understanding the role that racial equity plays within your projects and Living Cities’ broader portfolio.
  • Ability to interrogate your own personal biases and worldview, and to modify your own behavior on a daily basis based on that interrogation.
  • Deep understanding of the history of racial inequity in America, including around the idea of race as a social construct and the ways that, throughout our history, systems were designed that isolate and separate us, and that empower a select few—based on the invention of race—with the privilege of innovation, creativity, and power..
  • Comfort with making oneself vulnerable at work internally and externally with partners based on the understanding that racial equity work is personal and that we are all learners.
  • Understanding of how to apply a racial equity and inclusion impact assessment tool in decision-making.
  • Ability to effectively facilitate difficult conversations about race toward achieving impact.
  • Ability to set racial equity outcomes, goals, and performance measures.
  • Engagement in community organizing and community-led efforts.
  • Ability to write with nuance, clarity, and humility about racial justice topics.
  • Ability to critically examine social issues and messages for racial biases and inequities and their impact on oneself and others’ thinking, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Understanding relevant amendments, laws, regulations, and policies (e.g. 14th amendment, Federal Indian Policy, immigration policies, criminal justice and policing policies)

Our Recommendations:

  • Adopt racial equity and inclusion as a core competency for employment.
  • Evaluate candidates for employment in part based on their racial equity and inclusion competency. Create a competency framework that includes prioritized competencies and skills (including from the list above and from the resources in this report) so that all staff have clarity around the organizational definition of racial equity and inclusion, and so that they can measure their own progress and work with their people managers towards improving their skills and competencies.
  • Provide multiple opportunities/offerings for Living Cities staff to build racial equity and inclusion skills and competencies. These might include individual coaching and training, all-staff conversations and training, conversations and trainings in conjunction with community, and time for self-reflection. All staff should, at a minimum, attend a 101-level training about the history of racism in America by the end of 2017.
  • Make articulating a racial equity and inclusion objective mandatory for all Living Cities staff.
  • Ensure that organizational leadership is working towards high levels of competency in this area, with some members of the leadership team moving towards a “mastery” level as defined by the competency framework.
  • Set up accountability mechanisms and systems of rewards so that all staff, regardless of race, are held accountable for racial equity and inclusion competence, and so that those who are performing well in this area are rewarded for that work.
  • Assign people to work on projects in roles that reflect their REI competence and skills, acknowledging that some teams require higher levels of competence and skill in this area, just as, for example, people with investment backgrounds are placed on teams with emphasis on investing capital.
  • Create a train-the-trainer model so that initial investment in outside training/facilitation/coaching can be brought in-house over time.

Tools and Resources:

7. We all must be able to effectively communicate about REI.

How we talk about race matters. Historically, racial inequities were intentionally created. We must now be even more intentional as we dismantle racial inequity, using a common shared understanding of institutional and structural racism. Yet, many people find that communicating about race and structural racial inequities is a challenge. From our research, we see that it doesn’t have to be. There are many best practices grounded in decades of research and practice. Indeed, through Living Cities work on Racial Equity Here, we have curated a lot of that research and some examples into a racial equity communications guide for public sector practitioners. Many of the strategies and concepts are adaptable and adoptable for other sectors.

Our Recommendations:

  • Consider the ‘affirm, counter, transform’ framework for internal and external conversations about race. (See the Racial Equity Here communications guide.)
  • Work to be explicit about race in a culture of hiding racial inequities behind other words.. Leverage data whenever possible in our communications (internal and external) about race, but not at the expense of stories. In the end, it is people’s real lives that we hope will change for the better as we undo systems that created our historical and current inequities — stories tell us about the tangible impacts of these inequities and possible paths toward a more equitable future.
  • Adopt a practice of communicating about race that stresses values (“all men are created equal”), realities (“all men are created equal” as expressed by Jefferson referred only to white male property owners), and aspirations (we strive to make “all men are created equal” not just a value but a truth that we are willing to work hard to live in how we live, work, and engage).
  • Ensure that everyone at Living Cities understands and can define key terms related to racial equity (see glossary in Racial Equity Here communications guide).

Tools and Resources:

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