At the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, we are committed to an inclusive and welcoming environment for our students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Philanthropy was made for a time such as this and we believe in supporting those who are working to make the world more just. -Dean Amir Pasic
By Janice Gow Pettey, Ed.D.
While sheltering in place, there have been times when I’ve been bored. I read a lot, binge watched movies on Netflix, baked cookies, and worked full-time remotely from home.
When spring arrived I yearned to get outside, which in a socially distanced, shelter in place reality meant my backyard, and I have rediscovered gardening, this time cultivating plants from seed. Incubating seedlings is an analogy for this blog on equity.
The conditions for each may vary even though I plant them with equal attention. Seeds should flourish where the soil, water, and climate are most favorable. But, next to a healthy seedling there may be a scrawny plant, looking nothing like its vibrant neighbor. My intentions are to treat all the seedlings equally, watering them at the same time and in equal amounts. My gardening habits are aimed at treating the plants equally. But some of my plants’ needs are different. How I tend them differently according to their needs is based on equity, not equality.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are words often used to frame action aimed at social justice. Diversity recognizes differences, which can be identified by race or ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, or other distinctions that identify unique characteristics. A broader definition of diversity includes diversity of thought: ideas, perspectives, and values.
We should also recognize that diversity is not limited to a single characteristic. We can define our diversity in multiple ways. Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, encompassing the different characteristics that make one group different from another. I may be identified as an Asian female (she/her) on official documents but to limit one’s knowledge of me to those characteristics opens the door to assumptions and unconscious bias. Simply stated, diversity is not enough if we seek social justice.
Inclusion brings diversity in its many forms to the table, allowing for previously excluded groups to be included through creating environments where individuals and groups are made to feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued to fully participate. An inclusive community embraces and respects differences.
While an inclusive community is by definition diverse, a diverse group isn’t necessarily inclusive. To be inclusive is not the same as treating persons equally. From an individual’s perspective, inclusiveness is the extent to which he or she feels valued and included. Inclusion gives underrepresented persons access to the table with the opportunity to contribute meaningfully.
An inclusive organization is welcoming to new populations and/or identities. Inclusive processes and practices are ones that strive to bring groups together to make decisions in collaborative, mutual, equitable ways. Some groups have been marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented for generations.
To return to my plant analogy, some of my seedlings don’t thrive because not all seeds will thrive on the same trajectory. Some require more care and feeding in order to have the opportunity to thrive with the healthier plants.
Equity is each of us getting what we need to thrive, to survive. Equity is fair access to opportunity, resources, networks—support based on where we are and where we want to go. Improving equity involves increasing justice through the fair distribution of resources. Tackling equity issues requires that we understand the root causes of disparities in our society.
Racial equity exists when resources are not skewed by race, where individuals are no more or less likely to experience either the benefits or burdens of society based on race. Economic equity is based on the idea that organizations who tap into diverse talent pools are stronger. For example, workplace discrimination costs businesses an estimated $64 billion annually. That amount represents the estimated cost of losing and replacing more than 2 million workers who leave jobs annually due to unfairness and discrimination.
A market case for equity states that organizations will better serve their clients if they reflect the diversity of their market. Donors are customers, and organizations will benefit when leadership and the workforce understand the needs of a diverse donor base.
A current example of equity is the Equal Pay for Women campaign, which is based in part on equity as women historically have been underpaid and underrepresented in executive roles. Many employers are beginning to reevaluate compensation packages to increase the likelihood that comparable pay and benefits exist for women and men.
As a thought exercise, identify an equity issue in your organization or institution. What place does diversity and inclusion have or need to have in these discussions? Who is at the discussion table? Immediate and current realities like financial shortfalls, a health pandemic, unemployment, and stress add to a sense of uncertainty, which can lead to decisions made with unconscious bias, which impede an organization’s quest for equity.
Consider how your organization can identify and address instances of unconscious bias equitably. As an option to these thought questions, consider this:
Your organization is suddenly financially impacted and a decision on which programs or services will survive are under consideration. How will a change in policy or service impact individuals from underrepresented communities? Who would be challenged to comply with this decision?
What additional support could we provide?
What symbolic message could result from this decision from the perspective of different groups?
In an earlier blog, I wrote that empathy and equity are linked. Resistance can be a major obstacle to successfully implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace. Employees may outwardly support DEI efforts and inwardly oppose change by not following new policies or procedures, ignoring new practices, and ignoring tools provided to enhance DEI.
Sometimes, resistance is not that at all; it’s a sense of disconnection from the organization’s goals, feeling left behind during change, fear of failure. Walking in the footsteps of others is necessary for effective DEI planning. To identify root causes of behavior doesn’t excuse them; it acknowledges where people are, giving room for dialogue and change, while maintaining focus on the goal of equity.
For these changes to be meaningful, we must tap into our empathy. Brene Brown describes four key attributes of empathy:
- Perspective taking. The ability to walk in another person’s shoes, or to see a situation through their eyes.
- Staying out of judgment. The ability to listen to other perspectives instead of jumping to conclusions.
- Recognizing the emotion. The ability to identify with what another is feeling, and to tap into that familiar feeling within yourself.
- Communication. The ability to voice our understanding of their emotions and to validate them.
To be empathetic is to connect cognitively, emotionally, and with compassion. When we are empathetic, we recognize others’ humanity, understanding and giving space to their feelings, and being present. The quest for equity needs compassionate empathy to drive sustainable and meaningful ways to meet the needs of our clients and members. Empathy builds engagement and equity assures that fairness drives accountability, which is centered around the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We need empathy perhaps more now as so many face a multitude of challenges. We need an equitable society, and equitable organizations and government who recognize and resolve to increase justice and fairness to break down the disparities and limitations to fair access to opportunity, resources, and networks.
Mission-driven nonprofits are no strangers to these challenges. We can and will shape the future, and I see the nonprofit community in a prime position to help lead the way.
Janice Gow Pettey is a nonprofit consultant, author, and noted authority on diversity, ethics, and nonprofit governance. She has a doctorate degree in organization and learning from the University of San Francisco, and has served both as CEO and led the development for various national and international organizations.
Gow Pettey is the author of Cultivating Diversity in Fundraising and the editor of Nonprofit Fundraising Strategy: A Guide to Ethical Decision Making and Regulation for Nonprofit Organizations. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, and teaches for The Fund Raising School at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.