On June 15, 2022, The Indianapolis Foundation and Leadership Indianapolis hosted a community conversation, Power, Money and Time: Defining Equity for Your Organization with Minal Bopaiah. This is a recording of that digital session (transcription provided below):
Welcome everyone. Thank you for joining us today. We’re going to give just a couple of minutes to give everybody a chance to get in our virtual room and get settled. And then we will begin our program for the day. Thank you for joining us. Welcome. Welcome. We will get started in one minute. Let’s get started even though I know more people will continue to join us. Good afternoon. My name is Tamara Winfrey-Harris. I’m the vice president of people, culture and brand at Central Indiana Community Foundation. And I want to welcome you to this hour-long discussion hosted by the Mosaic Fellowship. We know that there is a lack of diverse board leadership in Indianapolis organizations causing boards to remain overwhelmingly white and male, and even organizations who have mastered diversity often fail at true inclusion and power-sharing with people of color, women, young people, and the LGBTQ+ communities. And as a result, the community continues to witness public organizational failures. So the Mosaic Fellowship pilot was established in partnership with the Indianapolis Foundation. So part of the CICF, philanthropic collaborative and Leadership Indianapolis to increase diversity on boards, not just so that boards look differently, but so they work differently too.
We aim to do this by providing support to both individuals and organizations. We want to shift power, elevate new voices, and grow the perspectives included on not-for-profit boards throughout our community. Late last year, we announced the six individuals and five organizations who are part of the first cohort of the Mosaic Fellowship. In addition to the fellows joining the boards of these not-for-profits who have committed to do meaningful work and make changes to advance equity in their board operation, recruitment and retention, both the fellows and organizations are participating in ongoing development opportunities. Also, each quarter this year, we are hosting mosaic fellowship community convenings focused on organizational equity, and those are open to all organizations. And we’re happy that you decided to join us for today’s convening.
This afternoon, I am so excited. We are talking about power, money, and time defining equity for your organization with author Minal Bopaiah. So Minal is an author and strategic consultant with nearly 20 years of professional experience. Her areas of expertise include human centered design, behavior change psychology, and the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility, as they relate to media, marketing, and communications. As the founder and principle consultant of Brevity & Wit, Minal is passionate about designing for equity. Her work includes working with NPRs news managers to design a system for diversifying news sources. She is also the creator and facilitator for the DEI executive forum, a six month cohort learning experience for general managers in public media that help them become more equitable leaders and develop a strategic plan to accomplish their IDEA goals. Minal’s previous work includes being an educational content specialist for Sesame workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street and its international co-productions where she was first exposed to the power of media to promote social and cultural change.
She also served as a press intern for Doctors Without Borders and the executive editor of a B2B subscription website. I hope you will join me in welcoming Minal Bopaiah. We are so lucky to have her here and after she shares some information with us, we’re going to have time for Q&A. Please feel free to drop your questions into the chat. The Q&A will be moderated by my colleague, Rebecca Hutton, who serves as president and CEO of Leadership Indianapolis. So drop your questions in the chat. And at this time I’d like to invite Minal to join us so she can talk about power, money, and time, defining equity for your organization. Welcome.
Thank you. Thank you so much, Tamara. It’s so wonderful to be here with all of you. I hope you can just be patient while I just set up my Zoom a little bit. Once you start presenting, everything gets a little bit wonky and they move things around on you, but thank you so much for having me. I am really thrilled to be here and really thrilled to be talking to you about my favorite thing, equity and how power, money, and time relate to equity in your organization. I want to start off with a land acknowledgement that I’m coming to you from the Washington DC Metro area, which is land that was stewarded by the Nacotchtank or Anacostan and Piscataway people until settler colonialism pushed them out of their homelands. I acknowledge and my team at Brevity & Wit acknowledge that we are in debt to the indigenous people who are here today, living, working, and continuing to thrive. And we encourage everyone to find out what native land they might be on by going to native-land.ca.
A little bit about me, although I feel like Tamara’s already sort of said a lot about me, I am the author of a book called Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. I am a speaker, and I’m also the founder of Brevity & Wit, which is a strategy and design firm dedicated to designing a more equitable world where I work with a team of about 15 consultants who are topnotch in helping clients come up with strategic solutions to challenges around diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. So with all of these words being thrown around, let’s first start with the definition of equity. Now, as much as I am a writer, I sometimes do think as someone who owns a design firm, that pictures can be more powerful ways of communicating complex concepts.
And so I love this image from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about the difference between equality and equity. Equality, if you notice is that top line where everyone gets the same thing, but if you also notice a lot of the people on that top line are struggling with the bike that is exactly the same. Equity meanwhile is the bottom panel, which is where everybody gets what they need in order to participate fully and thrive. Now, when we’re thinking about equality and equity, our gut instinct is to think that the top line is fair. Everybody’s gotten the same thing.
There’s also an implicit bias underneath that. And that is, we often think that if we design a solution that works for one person, such as the woman in that top line, the third figure from the left who’s riding the bike with ease, that we should then scale that solution to as many people as possible. And that is what leads to inequitable outcomes because that bike was designed for a certain person in mind. And those person’s unique strengths or weaknesses are not indicative of the whole. And so our reliance on the bell curve, our reliance on this idea of scaling and scaling impact can often get us into trouble where we start to see inequitable outcomes. What’s really harmful is when that happens we tell the people who are struggling, such as the little kid who can’t reach the pedals or the very tall man, or particularly the woman in the wheelchair, that they should just pedal harder when the thing that they’re using was never invented with them in mind in the first place. And that is some vicious gaslighting that leads to real psychological harm.
So this is why we want equitable structures in our organization. Equitable structures allow for equal access to opportunity. Now I’ve positioned equity almost in contrast to equality, but that is not to say that equality is wholly unwanted. There are times when we actually do want equality such as marriage equality, right? For those of you who are old enough in the late 90s, early 2000s, a lot of LGBT groups were going for either marriage equality, or some of them were actually going for civil unions, which was another way of legalizing a same sex relationship. But then they got together and they realized that if they started pushing only civil unions, which were sometimes easier to pass, and didn’t go for marriage equality, they would end up with a very separate but unequal situation.
And so we want both, we want equality and we want equity, particularly we want equitable structures so that we can have equal access to opportunity and equal access to the human rights of dignity and sovereignty. Right. And a lot of our work as DEI practitioners is helping companies figure out, which is the right response. Do we want an equitable solution, or do we want an equal solution depending on what the challenges are. Now underneath that is also understanding what actually creates equitable structures, right? And the building blocks of equity are power, money, and time. Now I’ll go into that in a bit, but we also want to understand that when we’re talking about equity, we’re talking about the system. And so I spend a lot less time trying to win people over in terms of like hearts and minds, and a lot more time working on defining equitable outcomes.
The reason for that is because we cannot control how people think or how they feel. What we can do in organizations is ask for very clear observable behaviors. And we are allowed to say, here are the behaviors that are okay, and here are the behaviors that are not okay. This is the theory of change from my book. And you’ll see that middle step is defining the equitable outcomes and then assigning the observable behaviors that get you there. The reason I focus on this is actually because my husband is a firefighter and paramedic who we joke is he does the exact opposite of what I do, which isn’t really true. We’re both in a lot of care taking fields, but his world is very different. It is very much a civil servant bureaucracy. It is very rules based and protocol based. He is also surrounded by people with very different political affiliations than I am.
And there’s a famous story of how like three firefighter captains went to a diversity conference. This was about 10 years ago. And one of the facilitators used the word LGBTQ and one of the captains asked, what does Q stand for? And the facilitator explained that it meant queer. And the captain’s response was like, are you kidding me? I literally got called onto the carpet 10 years ago for using that word in the firehouse. And I’m sure the facilitator explained how the word queer had been reclaimed by the LGBT community to now mean something positive. But all of that was lost. This captain came back from a three day conference on diversity. And his main takeaway was to tell all of the guys in the firehouse guys, we can say queer again, because that was it. Like he is not interested in an hour long discussion about queer culture or gender fluidity.
And neither is my husband, even though he did all of the housework while I wrote this book. So the question then becomes, how do you work with people like that? And are we implying that if they can’t have a graduate level conversation about these abstract concepts, that they’re no longer inclusive people and therefore they can’t be good people, which I think is a very problematic positioning in the DEI space right now. Instead, I think the way to deal with people who are different, which is what diversity, equity, and inclusion is really about is to be really explicit about the behaviors. And so for those firefighter captains and the entire firefighter department, my suggestion would be listen, when you are interacting with the public, you have to ask somebody what their pronouns are and use it. That is a standard of professionalism, right? That we are not going to have debates about this.
People sometimes push back against this. But what I want to also bring up as the reason for this is because people who are supporting systems of oppression are very good at operationalizing them. Right now, what’s happening in Texas with the anti-trans bill, they’re not trying to win hearts and minds, that parents should be against their trans kids. They’re simply making it illegal to support them, which is a travesty, but also why we cannot just rely on conversations or feelings to move this work. We have to start operationalizing that.
So how does that relate to power, money, and time? Power, money, and time are the building blocks of any organization. And you can arrange them in a way that leads to inequity, or you can arrange them in a way that leads to equity. An equitable organization, just so we’re clear is one that encourages people to play to their strengths, has clear roles and responsibilities, but does not tie respect to the role or responsibility, respects people’s boundaries, including the right to log off and we’ll talk about that in a little bit, as it comes to time, sets reasonable timelines for goals, states non-negotiable salaries on job postings. And we’ll talk about that when we get to money.
Salaries on job postings. And we’ll talk about that when we get to money. Acts with integrity around how money is earned and spent, and we’ll get to that around power actually. And then fundamentally uses power, money, and time to connect, repair, and heal the world. So let’s get into time a little bit. Harvard Business Review did a study or published an article a few years ago called What’s Really Holding Women Back? And what they found was in a consulting firm that there was a lack of women in leadership not because women were becoming parents, but because they were expected to take accommodations such as going part-time and shifting to internal facing roles, which derail their careers. But the real cause of that was because men on the other hand were expected to not spend time with their families in order to advance to leadership. And when they really looked at the root cause, what was really causing this disparity is this culture of overwork that is so prevalent in so many organizations.
Most women have about 20 hours of unpaid labor at home that they don’t get compensated for. Women are also doing more of the cognitive labor. And so what that gets at is that if you expect staff to work more than 40 hours a week, that is fundamentally a sexist expectation because women are unable to work more than 40 hours a week or they’re burning themselves out when they do so. And this is what we don’t realize about time. Time is actually our most finite resource. It doesn’t matter how rich or powerful you are. You cannot make more of it. And that gets to money. Because what money does is it buys you time. The people who have benefited the most from DEI initiatives and organizations have been white women. And the reason for that is because white women have access to the sort of capital they need to buy their way out of housework, usually by employing women of color in their homes. And that allows them to work more than 40 hours in their job and arise to position of leadership.
And so white women have been the most likely to hit positions of leadership because of DEI initiatives. That is not a sufficient answer. We need to start rethinking how we use time and money and redesigning work to work for most of us. Most workplaces have been designed or are continuing the legacy of the 1950s where straight white men had housewives who could pick up all of that emotional cognitive labor for free. Most people don’t live that life, including most straight white men these days. There’s an expression that we all have the same 24 hours as Beyonce. But does Beyonce actually have to go do all of these tasks and errands that the rest of us have to do because we don’t have access to her amount of money? Right?
And to that point, those of us who ever experienced any form of systemic marginalization have a lot more emotional labor. This is Evie Muir who’s a disability rights activist. And she frankly states she may have the same 24 hours, but she’s doing that a lot more to advocate for her own mental health against ableist and racist workplaces, right? So you lose hours when you are being discriminated against or being oppressed in any way. And just some examples from my life of how the system can affect what our choices are, right? We all get to make choices, but they’re not the same options. So when I was in my thirties, I think, my brother hit a bit of a rough spot and I tried to put him on my health insurance. And what we found out is that in order to put my brother who is my first degree blood relative on my health insurance, we would have to basically go and say that he cannot work.
If he did work and made more than $2,000 a month, he would get kicked off my health insurance. Meanwhile, I could marry a stranger of any gender and I’m totally for marrying of whatever gender you want to be married to, but I can marry somebody absolutely not known to me. They could get on my health insurance, they could start their own business, make a million dollars and stay on my health insurance. And what this gets at is that we have a system that defines family according to sexual relationship or financial dependence. We don’t define family really at a fundamental level by love or by blood ties or by family structures that we create. Right? And so we don’t have the same options when our families look a little bit different. Right now, I currently live in a multi-generational home with my husband, my parents, and my brother, and we are really happy doing so. But the system does not support that sort of family structure.
Also when I started, people congratulate me on starting a successful business and writing a book, but frankly it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get married. I tried to start my business multiple times in the past before I met my husband, but the hurdle of paying for out-of-pocket health insurance and trying to just cover that gap of three months, the three months that it took me to go from no income to a sufficient income was really impossible when I was single. I wrote the book during the pandemic, which is because I didn’t have children so I didn’t have to homeschool anyone. And like I said, my husband did all of the housework while I wrote that book. Now, sometimes people’s takeaway from the stories that I’m really lucky in who I married, which is probably true. Let’s say it’s true. But that’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is that my ability to get married had zero correlation with my business acumen or my writing chops. And yet, it was a significant predictor of my success. Because before I got married, I still had good business acumen and good writing chops and couldn’t get to these milestones before then.
And what that gets to is, I apologize, the animations are not working on this, but this equation of hard work equals success. And the fact that most of us have been raised to believe that was the equation. You just pour more hard work in and you get more success. And that’s not really true, or it’s half true. It’s actually a multi-variable equation. It is hard work plus system support equals success. How does the system support your particular identity will predict how much success you have. And when people aren’t experiencing success, often we look to whether they’re working hard when we actually should be looking at what is the system doing, right? Is the system supporting them in any way or is the system the thing that’s actually creating more and more obstacles?
And what this gets to is even the fact that for a long time, we’ve talked about how women don’t make as much money as men because we don’t negotiate. But Harvard Business Review studies saw that women who negotiate are seen as less desirable to work with. That social cost was not there for men. And so what we have to acknowledge is that a woman’s reticence to negotiate is actually an accurate reading of the environment, it is not a lack of confidence. And we gaslight people by blaming individuals for the ways in which the system is set up against them.
So all of this then gets to power, which I know was first in the title, but last in the presentation because it’s often the most [inaudible 00:24:15] and I think most uncomfortable one for people to talk about. But power, and to define it very simply, is our capacity to impact and influence our environment. So there are two types of power, in my opinion. Or two types of ways that we use our power, that we use our ability to influence our environment. There’s a supremacist approach, which is taking more than one share. And that’s often used to oppress, dominate, exclude, extract, or exploit. Or there’s a liberatory approach to power, which views differences of strengths. It entertains interdependence, and it’s actually using power to connect, repair, heal, and empower others in our community.
So here are some examples of supremacist and liberatory uses of power as they often show up in nonprofits, since I know you all are on board. So supremacist use of power is allowing for salary negotiations, because as we just discussed that when women negotiate, they are seen as less desirable. So that is a system that is designed for the way that men like to interact around money. A liberatory approach would say that we have non-negotiable salaries posted on job descriptions that also allows people to save time, right? If a job is not going to pay them enough, they won’t apply. And so it sort of reduces your number of applications and makes sure that the people that are applying for the job are able to take that job at the salary that you can afford to pay. Supremacist approach is promotions based on putting on extra hours. A liberatory approach would be respecting people’s time and say, scoping jobs for a 40-hour work week.
Belgium just passed a law that employees have the right to log off in the evenings and the weekends and not check email, because that is how much work has encroached upon our lives. Right? Supremacist approach to power is health insurance availability that’s based on sexual relationship or financial dependency. And a liberatory approach would be basing it on family ties of any nature. Right? A supremacist approach in the nonprofit world is when donors who give big are allowed to disrespect employees. There’s a story from a nonprofit where there was a large philanthropic donor who would give every year and his condition was that a young woman from the nonprofit would have to go to his house to pick up the check. And this continued for years, right? Those sorts of behaviors should not be allowed, that donors are expected to treat employees with respect no matter how much money they give.
Right? And then a supremacist approach is this dividing of life and work, right? This sort of as if we could draw a clear line. A liberatory approach is making room for the emotional processing of life and work. We are in a particularly uncertain and volatile period in history. It’s not the first time we’ve been in a place like this, but it is a heightened amount for most of us who have been on the earth for anywhere from 20 to 80 years. Right? And so we need to make more room for that to connect and repair and heal ourselves as individuals and also as communities. Because fundamentally, we are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think. I would even say we are feeling machines that occasionally think. And this has been proven over and over again in neuroscience. So the three things that you can do now, apologize for the slide delay there, but is make a list of supremacist and liberatory uses of power in your organization or by you if you want to be really brave, right? Define DEI and whatever other acronyms you want to add. DEI, A for accessibility, B for belonging, J for justice, with observable behaviors, right? Pretend you’re talking to firefighters. I mean, not really. But you want to be really clear. One of the common mistakes I see in organizations around DEI initiatives, especially around equity and inclusion is that there is a massive difference in understanding what these words mean. Inclusion does not mean that everybody gets a vote or that everybody’s going to be happy with every decision. Equity obviously does not mean that everybody gets the same thing. I’ve seen that been misinterpreted. So defining these terms and then listing observable behaviors can go a long way in aligning your organization towards changing in a positive direction. And then set reasonable timelines for goals and jobs. Right?
If you are 100-year-old legacy organization with a history of not having many people of color, you are not going to solve that problem in a year. And for DEI, my watchword is under promise and over deliver. This work is too important to be treating it like a sales pitch, to be talking about vision boards or big, hairy audacious goals. This work is about trust building and the way you build trust, particularly with people who have been oppressed is to start small with tangible goals that you are able to practically implement on a timeline that is true, right? That’s how you really move this work forward. So I will make this deck available through Tamara and Rebecca and have some additional resources, but I want to open it up now for questions and any comments or thoughts, because I know I dropped a lot of mind bombs there.
Fantastic Minal, thank you so much for a lot of information in a little bit of time. And I was furiously taking notes as I was sitting here and that’s even after having been through the book. So I just want to start first by saying thank you for being willing to be here and share this and not only engaging in this work, but inviting everybody on this call to engage in this work as well. So thank you, thank you, thank you. I will remind everybody, feel free to throw questions in the chat or if you want to send them directly to me, if you don’t want them to be in the full chat, that’s totally fine. And we’re going to take a few minutes to ask some questions. So before I open it up to everybody else’s questions, I’m going to take a little liberty and start with one of my own.
So again, the book is fantastic and very informative. So if you haven’t gotten it yet, I highly recommend it. I wanted to just touch on something that you mentioned on page 120, which is that equity is a big ask. And that it requires us to examine our fundamental assumptions about the world. It requires us to think hard about the role of systems and structures in our lives, our communities, and our society, and to find a way to make the invisible visible.
Equity is a big ask, but it is also critical, right? It’s actually not an option. Just because it is big doesn’t mean that we can’t do big things. And so I think that it’s really important as we go into this conversation that sometimes this can feel overwhelming for people. And don’t let that be a reason to not continue moving forward.
And then also, as you said, that it sometimes is going to require us to redesign entire organizations. So I would even narrow that down for our conversation today that sometimes it’s going to ask us to check our assumptions and redesign how our boards work within our organizations. And I think so often as I am in conversations with organizations about how to increase diversity on the boards, a lot of times the tone of the conversation is, how do we keep doing what we’ve been doing how we’ve been doing it, but get more diversity around the table while we continue doing those same things.
They’re not saying it in an argumental way other than like, “We want to keep doing what we’re doing, but we recognize that diversity is critical to move forward.” So can you help us kind of connect that gap, which is you actually can’t keep doing everything the way you’ve been doing it and increase the equity that is how you’re operationalizing that in organization.
And I really appreciated how you talked about focusing operationalizing and observable behavior and defining, like really nuts and bolts, things you would find in the strategic plan rather than focusing only on winning hearts and minds. Not that that’s not important. But unless we actually change the way we’re operating, we’re still not actually achieving equity.
Yeah. So really what this comes down to is power. And how is power being used and how does it move through your organization? A lot of nonprofits still use supremacist approaches to power. If you think that a big donor is allowed to be pissy with your staff, then you have a supremacist use of power going on in your organization.
And so that’s a sort of mirror like holding up that needs to happen on boards to be like, oh, the fact that most boards… Listen, I’ve actually been trying to get on a few non-profit boards of like name brand recognition, but it’s often a give-get of like $20,000 or more.
That is then saying that the people with more money have more power fundamentally. And you’re not going to be able to recruit. Now, money is important, which is why I talk about it too. Because being insolvent doesn’t help advance DEI, right?
But you want to be like, are there other things that people are bringing that would make them qualify for a board position that may not be a give-get of $20,000 or more? Just like all of the ways in which when we make decisions, is this oppressing, excluding, extracting, or is it connecting, repairing, and healing?
Sometimes you may still have to make those supremacist decisions, but at least you’ll be aware. You’ll do it consciously instead of unconsciously. So that’s often the first step. And I understand how hard it is. So like Brevity & Wit, we are a small firm. My real point with this organization is that often creative people have to either overwork or sell their souls to support their families, which I think is unacceptable. So we are trying to create a model where consultants only have to bill 20 hours a week in order to make a livable wage.
And we give a much higher percentage, anywhere from 60% to 80% of the billable hours. Most DEI firms give 30%. What that means for me is that, one, we grow at a much slower rate. Two, I don’t get as big a cut, which I’m okay with.
And then three, it’s also meant like sort of having conversations with consultants about, one, you’re going to make a livable wage. You’re not going to make the most amount of money. If you want to work 30 hours, fine, but I’m not going to encourage that.
And then two, we’re actually looking at the model to see, can we give the 80% and cover our overheads? And we’re running into a little bit of trouble. So it’s having those sort of brave conversations in our organization and be like, “Listen, we’re trying to redesign this. I’m on your side.”
Leaders being able to be transparent about the obstacles on their side. If I can’t cover overheads, then we can’t scale this. If I need to work to cover the overheads, that’s not a scalable model. So what does that mean then?
But then being able to hold space for conversations that are really willing to question every given assumption that we’ve been told. I mean, that’s a really uncomfortable… I was born that way, if I’m going to be honest about it. Most people are not.
It not only takes time, it takes the humility to acknowledge that some of what I may be taking as gospel or a fundamental truth may actually not be. So you want leaders who can acknowledge that maybe they’ve been school drunk on certain things. And that means that you need really brave leaders on your board.
Yeah. One of the other things that you said that really stood out to me was when you talked about an accurate read of the environment. And the context you spoke about it was why women don’t negotiate. It’s actually not a lack of confidence. It’s because there actually is a professional cost that they pay that men don’t.
And so they are actually looking at evidence and making a decision based on that evidence. And I think that that’s a really important point, especially at this time given… I mean, it applies more broadly than just women negotiating salaries.
So at a time when a lot of companies and organizations are, rightfully so, putting out statements around their value, particularly around DEI, but if you’re still not getting interest in terms when you’re hiring from diverse candidates, if you’re still having trouble successfully getting people of color to join your boards, that you probably need to step back and ask, what are they seeing in the environment?
We might be saying the words, but what is the evidence that they are seeing? That they maybe have a more accurate read of than we do as an organization. And for me, that’s very much tied to this idea… Like in strategic planning, it’s really common to do a SWOT analysis, where you look at your strength and your weaknesses and all of that stuff.
And sometimes you have to step back and do that in terms of these kinds of issues when you’re talking about increasing diversity. If you’re not achieving those goals, it is not always related to what you are saying. It can sometimes be that people are doing an accurate read of the environment and that the environment actually needs to be adjusted.
Yeah. I mean, the way most people go around their diversity goals is like they center white people and they’re like, “Okay, we want more.” But my question is, what is it that you’re offering that makes you an attractive organization to a person of color?
And some people will be like, “Well, the same thing for anybody.” I was like, “No.” Because I don’t want to work at an organization that’s like hella white, where I have to school everybody. So are you able to center people of color or people from other marginalized identities in how you’re designing your organization? Are you even willing to?
Let me just tell you that people from marginalized communities, we have very sensitive antenna to when we’re reading job descriptions. We can see past it way before anybody from a dominant identity can.
Just like, if we centered women, we would have non-negotiable salaries. Because most women don’t even like negotiating. That’s the common thing. If we were to center people like me who are child-free, it would be very different than if we were to center parents.
How you design the organization looks really different. And I think something to also be honest about is that you’re not going to be able to do it for all identities from the get go. You’re going to have to do it one at a time or a couple at a time.
It’s not going to be you’re going to create an organization that is great for child-free and parents and caregivers and like LGBT and single people. It’s not possible to do all the things. So what you have to do is look at, okay, who do we need in order to succeed as an organization and to impact our communities? And then how do we design for them?
So a question that we’ve gotten, which I think connects directly to that is, how does a staff member keep leadership accountable when it comes to equity? I mean, we just talked about how difficult it can be to negotiate salary or to negotiate schedule.
And I think specifically about somebody who actually likes the job, likes what they’re doing, how do you hold as a staff member your leadership accountable so that it can grow in those areas and it can be more equitable in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re putting your job on the line when you do so?
Yeah. So the first part of that answer is that it should not be on staff. It should be on the board to hold the leadership in the company accountable. And the reason I say that is because organizations are not like our democracy in that you don’t vote out your CEO the way we vote out our elected officials and our president. And so the power structures are fundamentally different.
And it’s very important to be honest about that, because I think the lack of honesty around that is leading a lot of staff to either think that they have more power than they actually have and putting their jobs on the line in a false sense that this is how it should be, but it will never be that way because we don’t vote on who leads our organizations.
But what the board should be doing and what any really inclusive and equitably centered leadership team should be doing is being clear about observable behaviors, making those observable behaviors part of the performance review, and then tying a percentage of their pay to that performance review and seeing those observable behaviors.
That’s how you actually create the structure of accountability. But staff can’t do that. That either has to be leadership on their own or the board doing it.
And so you’ve talked several times about you can’t do everything all at once. You can’t like just overnight change everything, even though we’re all trying to get to a point where we’re not having to do that.
So can you talk a little bit about, I’m thinking about like board members who are on this call who are thinking like, “Okay, where do we even start?” In terms of defining language and specifically about the point that you just made.
So, okay. As a board member, I hear that it’s my job as a board to hold leadership accountable. And I’ve heard you say observable behaviors and it needs to go into the review. Where do you start? What are the highest priority observable behaviors that a board should start focusing on if they can’t do everything at once?
Yeah. So there’s a theory of change called the global… So my theory of change is actually kind of like level two. It’s not level one, if we’re really honest. Level one is what’s called the global diversity equity and inclusion benchmarks. If I look at the slides, in the additional resources, I have a link to it. So you can get it there.
But the global DEI benchmarks have a theory of change where they have a very clear foundation that is about vision, leadership, and structure. So what you need to do first, in addition to defining these terms, is create a very specific vision for your organization, particularly, what is the problem DEI is trying to solve?
And Brevity & Wit has a very different approach to visioning. That it’s not about a big, hairy, audacious goal. It is about here is the problem and why it’s unacceptable and why DEI is needed to solve that.
And that vision doesn’t need to be the vision forever and ever and ever. It actually should be something that you can accomplish. It should be a milestone that you can hit within like five years. And then you can do another vision for what you want to do next.
But that vision is important because, one, it aligns the organization on what the end state is actually supposed to look like. Because that’s where people get misaligned and that’s where a lot of trouble starts to happen.
And then two, by saying why the current state is unacceptable, you’re making the case for people who might be like stragglers on this work, on why it’s no longer an option and why you have to move. You cannot make this like a utopia vision, because everybody’s going to be like, “Well, that’s nice to have, but we don’t need that in order to survive.” Everybody’s going to prioritize what it takes to survive or keep their job. So vision is really important.
The second part is leadership and having leadership who are skilled enough in managing a DEI initiative, which means that they have to know something about change management and they have to actually know, what are those inclusive behaviors they have to start displaying? That also means that you should not start with all staff trainings. They are very bad for DEI work. I don’t know why people keep doing them. I keep telling them not to do them. Do not start them.
What should they be doing then?
Start with training your leadership. Start with demanding that your leadership have these skills. And then the third part is structure. So what are the people, money and time that you are dedicating to this effort? And your strategic plan should match your resources.
There’s another talk I’m giving where I think the subtitle is like budgets are values documents. I don’t care how much you talk about how much you care about DEI. Unless I see like there’s money and people and realistic timelines dedicated to it, you don’t, fundamentally. So that’s what boards should be starting with is those three pillars of foundation of like vision, skill, like building capacity in your leadership to manage this, and then structure.
I’m going to keep us on kind of this like nuts and bolts conversation for a minute. Because one of the things that through our conversations with Mosaic out in the community and organizations, as we’ve been building this, so often we hear there’s a philosophical limit, right? Like totally.
I think this is important. We believe this as individuals, as a board, as an organization, how do we start? What … right? Like, people seem to be a little paralyzed by the actual operationalizing. Even more so than kind of the philosophical alignment at this point in a lot of spaces.
So forgive me, but I’m going to stick on the nuts and bolts for those people for a little bit. So you talked about the importance of defining language.
And, that is something that I think carries great importance with me as well. Right? Because you can’t have shared goals without shared understanding-
Without shared language. Right? So again, going back to this idea of how do we prioritize? Obviously the word equity is really important for an organization. And again, I will say most specifically a board, to be able to define and make sure that everybody has a shared understanding of that definition.
If a board is watching this and says, “Okay, again, you said we have to prioritize, we can’t do it all. We can’t start with like putting together the entire glossary of hundreds of words.” What are the first three to five words that a board or organization needs to define for themselves in order to start getting this kind of fundamental foundation.
Yeah. Yeah. So I think, I mean the first three are probably diversity, equity, and inclusion. I would include accessibility under equity, if you need to. Accessibility is a steep learning curve, but it’s also really important in my mind, which is why I call it out. But then I actually think, sorry-
Why you say that’s a steep learning curve? Just out of curiosity.
When it’s not obvious to people, why is that one a steep learning curve?
Well, it depends where you are. Actually, physical accessibility is not as much because I work in the online space, accessibility standards on the web it’s a really steep … like there’s three levels. It takes a while to get there. I think we’re so far behind and I think disability has to be part of DEI and it often is ignored.
And so I’m a big proponent of it. So we could say that maybe the first four … but while words are important on some level I’m like acronym agnostic. I don’t want to have the fight on like, should we include belonging if we’re including inclusion? That’s not where I want to have the fight over things. If you could at least do DEI and define what these words mean, right? Like a person is not diverse.
Diversity is a group level characteristic. Inclusion is not about everybody gets what they want. Right? Inclusion is making sure that people feel psychologically safe enough to show up to work and to contribute their strengths. Equity is not everybody gets a vote in every decision. Equity is about making sure people get what they need to contribute their strengths to an organization. Right?
And then on top of it, I think you probably want to define whatever might be hot button words in organizations. Right now, and I just wrote a blog post that its also in the additional resources about transparency and accountability. Because those are words that are getting bandied around and people do not know what they mean. Or they don’t understand the complexity and nuance behind it. Right? Like accountability sounds great.
But we actually have very few examples in this country of accountability. Either people act with impunity, because they have money and power. Or, as a reaction to that, we engage in a lot of punishment and public shaming, and that is not accountability. Right? Accountability has to dance with dignity and grace.
Whenever I think of accountability, I’m reminded of Brian Stevenson’s word. So for those of you who don’t know, Brian Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and the book Just Mercy and is doing a lot of work around mass incarceration, particularly of the black community.
But, he has this famous saying that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. And that has to be held front and center when we hold people accountable. How can we remember that? That we may be angry with somebody’s actions and behavior, but we will not dehumanize them.
We will not engage in extreme punishment, or really any punishment. What restorative justice is about not only allowing victims to speak to their perpetrator about how they’ve been harmed, but it actually allows the perpetrator to say, “This is what I would need to never engage in that behavior again.”
And we do not have that in this country where people who commit harm are allowed to say, “I did it because I’m poor. And what I need is freedom from poverty to never do that again.” Right? That’s what actual accountability and restorative justice would look like. Now, I don’t know if that can happen in organizations. But I know we need to get a lot clearer about what we need by accountability and what we mean by transparency in organizations.
Fantastic. We have time for one more question before we wrap up. And I’m actually going to take us back to the third bullet point on your three things you can do now, which was to set reasonable timelines and goals, and jobs. So timelines have come up quite a bit. They, we talked a lot about that in our March convening.
Particularly in relationship to the timelines of organizations versus the timeline of funder expectations. And there’s little bit of a rub there. Right? And so, when we think about the timeline associated with equity, you have on one part of the conversation, very rightfully saying like there is a great sense of urgency. This is all long overdue. There is a strong sense of urgency for action, yesterday.
Then there is another part of the conversation in which people say, “Okay, so this is going to take time. This is hard. It takes time. It takes time to do this authentically, and to do this right.” When you think about setting reasonable timelines for an organization or a board, what does a reasonable timeline mean when there are so many perspectives and there’s validity to those varied perspectives. And I say this with the asterisk of like, I know the answer is going to be different for every organization in every situation. But generally when an organization is thinking about how do I set a timeline related to our equity work?
What do they need to be considering? What do they need to be mindful of? So that it doesn’t take 100 years, but also recognizing like you’re going to make a lot of mistakes if you just go so quickly in and blindly into what you’re doing.
Yeah. So one, it gets back to the vision. Have you set a realistic vision that is achievable, right? So Brevity & Wit like, yeah, we want to … we envision a world where creative professionals are highly paid professionals. And they can therefore use their money as medicine to connect, repair, and heal the world. We’re already doing that to the capabilities that I am able to do that as a small business with like less than a million in revenue. Right?
Like what I can’t do is change the tax laws. Like it’s ridiculous that we can expense alcohol as a business expense, but not childcare. Right? Like that’s fundamentally ridiculous. I agree. I have no power to change that right now. Right? Like I can’t do that. We also have every … and one of the things we did because I was small and scrappy, I had no VC funding.
We started and everybody’s a 1099. And instead of salary people, I realized that people needed lots of different benefits. Some people needed health insurance, some people needed retirement. So I was like, you know what? We’re going to keep everybody as a 1099, but we’re going to put more money into their pocket so that they can get what they need. Right?
That’s not an ideal situation for everybody, but that’s what I’m doing at my size. And so the timelines in my mind, the question isn’t how long is this going to take? The question is, given your resources, what can you actually do in a year or two years, or five years? Right? That’s the question.
None of you are going to end systemic racism, like carte blanche in the next like five years. That’s not going to happen. Right? So the question is, given the size of your organization, the people you have dedicated to this effort, the money you have at your disposal, tell me what you can do in one year, and tell me what you can do in five, right?
That’s how you set the reasonable timeline. It’s not looking at the goal and figuring out how long it’ll take. It’s looking at your resources and figuring out what the goals should be.
Fantastic. Thank you so much again, for a really informative and enlightening discussion today. But also for all the work that you are doing on days we don’t get to spend time with you. And with that, I’m going to invite Tamara to join us for our wrap up.
Look, I knew Minal was amazing, because I’ve seen her work before, but I’m blown away by this. And I got to say, I am going to share this video with all of our executive staff at CICF those who may not be watching. So that we can have a conversation about our equity goals and what our observable action needs to look like.
And I hope everyone who is listening to this will do the same with their executive team and grab this book and read it together. I thank you for everyone for being with us again. We hope this has been helpful as you think about being rooted in equity, while you move forward in your work.
And we hope you will see us for the next Mosaic Community Convening. Mark your calendars. I actually dropped a registration link in the chat; September 21st, From Optics To Action, Creating Space For Inclusive Conversations with Mary Francis winters.
Also, want to remind you that June is Get On Board month for our friends at Leadership Indianapolis. It’s presented by AES, Indiana and Leadership Indianapolis. So June 21st at noon, there’s going to be a virtual workshop. What I’ve learned serving on a not-for-profit board, you can register at Leadership Indianapolis.com.
And on June 28th at 4:30 PM there’s an in-person event at New Fields, which will give you an opportunity to meet directly with a wide variety of not-for-profits looking for people to serve on boards, committees, and volunteer. And again, you can register at Leadership Indianapolis.
Please stay in touch everyone. I think one of my colleagues may be dropping links for websites and social media for both Leadership Indianapolis and CICF. Follow us, register for our newsletters to receive the latest on Mosaic and other projects. Good afternoon. And thank you for your commitment to equity.
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
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