This week marks the start of the second phase of work for the 2019 Pooled Fund Grant Committee. Proposals from our Top 25 are due this week, and the Grant Committee Work Groups will be reconvening to discuss how these proposals reflect work being done to increase equity and reduce disparities in communities throughout Washington state.
While the Grant Committee has been hard at work, the Foundation leadership also has been engaged in a learning process that is intended to help us move the next elements of our Strategic Framework 2020 forward. As Grace Chien, our Immediate Past Board Chair reported last September, the Board of Directors engaged a consultant, LueRachelle Brim-Atkins, to deepen our collective understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion. Our Board, staff, and committee leadership participated in this training, which was conducted at a full-day retreat in September and shorter sessions in October, November and December. The purpose of this training was to give our leadership the knowledge and tools necessary to enable us to undertake a full review of our operations, policies, procedures, and committee structure to ensure that we are advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion within our own organization. Why is this important?
You, our members, have repeatedly encouraged Washington Women’s Foundation to diversify our membership. We have recently learned that no philanthropic network or membership organization like ours has succeeded in attracting significant numbers of philanthropists of color. In fact, the authors of The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging High Net Worth Donors of Color recommend engaging donors of color “where they are already networked…rather than ‘recruiting” donors to join largely white networks.” Washington Women’s Foundation is a largely white organization, but we also were founded by women who understood exclusion and inclusion. When women were excluded from mainstream institutions of philanthropy, our founders established our organization as a vehicle for inclusion. However, we realize that not all women’s voices are part of the conversation at Washington Women’s Foundation today.
We know that diversity within an organization can only be achieved and maintained if the organization has a culture of inclusion (see Harvard Business Review: Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion). As explained by one organizational development consultant, “Diversity is about demographics. Inclusion is about culture.” When there is a culture of inclusion, everyone can show up as their full authentic selves; they are not asked, explicitly or implicitly, to adapt to the dominant culture.
An organization’s culture is the combination of individual and collective behaviors as well as individual mindsets. When you want an organization’s culture to change, you have to commit to not only changing behaviors but also individuals’ beliefs, assumptions, and biases. LueRachelle Brim-Atkins challenged our leadership to think about what it means to be a fully inclusive, multicultural institution. Making that change first requires us to become aware of patterns of privilege, power, and control, so LueRachelle also asked us to consider the following questions:
- In what ways does the Foundation include some women while unintentionally excluding others from membership?
- What stories have we heard or told ourselves about why there isn’t more diversity in our membership today?
- What do we, as women of a certain level of wealth, need to learn in order to use our privilege to fight inequity?
- How intimate is our understanding and knowledge of the communities being served by our grantees? How often have we visited with/had in-depth conversations with the people being served by our grantees?
- Do our members see grantees as equal partners in our philanthropic strategy?
- How is the Foundation holding itself accountable and to whom?
Over the course of four sessions with LueRachelle, we also struggled with the concepts of “comfort” and “safety.” Washington Women’s Foundation has been described as a “safe space” for women to learn and explore philanthropy. However, we had to acknowledge that individuals who are different from our dominant culture do not necessarily experience safety or comfort when engaging with us (see also, Seattle Women of Color Share How They Navigate the Workplace). To underscore this point, LueRachelle asked each of us to go to at least two places where we would be “in the minority” and out of our comfort zones. She asked us to reflect on how we felt, our comfort levels, and the assumptions we made as well as how our feelings might reflect how people of color feel every day.
LueRachelle also asked us to complete the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. Like changing eating habits, changing mindsets and behaviors rooted in privilege takes discipline, and the 21-Day Challenge offered suggestions for readings, podcasts, videos and ways to form and deepen community connections. Members debriefed their learnings with each other between our training sessions. What we all learned over the course of these four months was that institutional change cannot happen if individuals do not first change, and there is quite a bit of learning and knowledge that we still need at that level.
Our DEI Task Force is evaluating our next steps as a leadership team, but in the meantime, the Foundation is offering similar learning opportunities for our full membership. Attend our workshop on Ageism. If you missed this week’s discussion of Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk About Race, do read the book and invite a friend to have a conversation about it. Ask a fellow member to join you in taking the 21-Day Challenge. Visit a mosque or synagogue. Attend an event at a community center in a neighborhood that isn’t your own. Take your child to play at Powell Barnett Park.
I am not ready to give up our founders’ original vision of inclusion. I believe we have room at our table for all who identify as women and want to change the course of philanthropy through the power of our collective giving. Join me in rising to this challenge and take it on as personal work. As we change as individuals, so will our collective culture change.