Board Blogs: What We’re Learning through WA Women’s Foundation’s Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion (DEI) Work

Headshot of Ann Kumasaka

The pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion is not a check mark. It is a transformational process that begins with personal learning and reflection on both individual and collective beliefs and behaviors. It is a steadfast commitment to shared values and goals, and the determination to ensure policies and practices advance equity within an organization. Diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be achieved singularly. To benefit as an organization from the richness of ideas, experiences, perspectives and full participation of diverse people from a wide range of identities, we must create an environment of respect, engagement and belonging so everyone can bring their authentic and full selves.

In letter to membership last March, our President & CEO Beth McCaw wrote:

“We know that diversity within an organization can only be achieved and maintained if the organization has a culture of inclusion. As explained by one organizational development consultant, ‘Diversity is about demographics. Inclusion is about culture.’

What is the Foundation leadership’s role in creating a culture that is more inclusive and values the richness of diversity? What is our personal and collective understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion? How deep is that understanding, and how will it enable us to ensure that values of equity and inclusion are advanced throughout the Foundation through our policies, practices and internal structures? These are some of the questions the Board of Directors asked as we engaged in an intensive learning process initiated by the Foundation leadership in 2018 to support the further implementation of our Strategic Framework 2020. We began with an understanding that before the Foundation’s leadership is able to identify and analyze the practices, policies and systems we seek to change, we must think deeply about what it means to be a fully inclusive, diverse, and multicultural collective that centers equity inside and outside the organization.

In March 2019, Beth reported on our learnings from earlier workshops and activities. The Foundation’s Board of Directors, committee leadership, and staff continued this work into 2019, and I would like to share with you more of what we learned and the insights we gained.

This past year, we continued our commitment to increasing our understanding and knowledge by gathering for a full-day retreat and monthly in small groups. At our full-day retreat, we engaged a consultant, Angela Powell, to help us clarify our desired vision for racial equity and inclusion at the Foundation by using a tool called the “Continuum on Becoming a Multicultural Organization.” The continuum describes organizational stages beginning with a culture in which racial and cultural differences are seen as deficits, to a culture tolerant of racial and cultural differences, to a culture in which racial and cultural differences are seen as assets.

Angela asked us to consider at what stage the Foundation as a whole currently stands on the continuum. The group recognized that in some areas, the Foundation is further along than in others. Our candid conversations about our current culture in light of our stated values helped us think more deeply about what collective action is necessary to create meaningful movement along the continuum.

In our small group sessions, led by consultant LueRachelle Brim-Atkins, we discussed the book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. LueRachelle asked us to identify biases, stereotypes, and misconceptions, as well as historical and present-day systems of racism, to think more deeply about ourselves, our history and our present. She challenged us to think about what steps we are willing to make to bring about true systemic transformation.

How does this translate to the work of the Foundation’s leadership? Why should the leadership of the Foundation engage in work that sounds so personal? We recognize that the decisions that we make as leaders of the Foundation reflect our own personal biases, beliefs, prejudices, assumptions, and preferences. We also know that an organization’s culture is a reflection of shared beliefs and assumptions and that an organization’s culture is set from the top. If we want a Foundation composed of diverse members, then we need to cultivate an organizational culture that fosters a sense of belonging for all individuals.

The practice of diversity, equity and inclusion is broader than any singular book, article, movie or subject and requires a commitment to lifelong learning. Tending to an organization’s culture is also an ongoing process. We learn so we may see our held beliefs and intentions with clarity and insight. We learn so we will stay committed to using our values as a clear filter in our decision making as leaders of the Foundation. Through meaningful dialog, we build stronger relationships with one another, which makes us a more effective leadership team. This learning also fosters the creativity we need to chart a course for the emerging direction of the Foundation.

Our work and our learning are ongoing. If you would like to join us in this work, we encourage you to start by  taking the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. This year, the Foundation leadership will continue to share resources, identify more ways to strengthen relationships, create new bonds, and support full-member learning opportunities. 

I believe that together we will continue to build an inclusive collective that embraces the richness of diversity and is committed to advancing equity throughout our community. I look forward to the many engaging discussions, insightful discoveries, and new connections that this year will bring.

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