Our progress report is helping us look back to move forward on our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journey, including what’s next.

In 2016, a statistic sparked the conversation that would lead the Foundation on a transformative journey. At our August 2016 board meeting, we were discussing new messaging materials explaining our grantmaking approach. The materials included wealth-disparity statistics.

One, in particular, stood out: “65% is how much Native, Black, Latino, and Southeast Asian families earn in comparison to the average for U.S. families.”

This statistic raised a question, but not the one some members of staff observing the board meeting had hoped for. The question was: Why did race, specifically, need to be called out in the Foundation’s messaging? The debate that followed left some members of our staff and board feeling hurt, confused, and frustrated—but sparked a learning journey that continues to this day.

Margie Jo Eun Joo Andreason, NWAF Diversity Equity Inclusion Manager

Yes, we need to be explicit about race, racism, and racial disparity.

A group of staff of color voluntarily assembled to unpack the issues raised by the board’s discussion. The staff members created a racial equity statement designed to clarify the organization’s commitment to the principles of DEI.

The goal also was to “put a stake in the ground” by acknowledging explicitly the harm that racism and decreased access to quality opportunities for education, employment, and housing had caused generations of communities of color.

“We believed there was an opportunity to have not just these pockets of conversation [among staff of color], but to really say that this is a commitment for the Foundation because it is deeply tied to advancing our mission and vision,” said Diversity Equity Inclusion Manager Margie Andreason.

The racial equity statement created by staff was presented to the board in November 2016, and was adopted. The board also adopted a strategic goal to take an intentional DEI journey with a chance to look inward at our organization and ourselves. That was just the beginning.

The goal also was to “put a stake in the ground” by acknowledging explicitly the harm that racism and decreased access to quality opportunities for education, employment, and housing had caused generations of communities of color.

We committed to a multiyear DEI plan.

DEI was part of our previous commitments to mission investing, our commitment to provide 40 percent of our grantmaking and program-related investments to Native-led organizations, as well as our mission-driven vendor policy. We needed to go further.

Working with Frontline Solutions, a Black-led and -owned consulting firm, challenged us to expand our thinking of what it means to commit to DEI. Our staff developed a multiyear plan that embeds DEI values across all aspects of our organization. We began to look at everything from how we invest to how we recruit and hire to how we collaborate with the communities we serve.

We all had internal work to do. Margie developed opportunities for our staff and board to engage in deep learning, authentic storytelling, and vulnerable conversations.

“We created space for people to voice their concerns and learn together,” said Margie. “We have all completed racial equity learning where we’re unpacking history and policies, especially as they intersect with our work. What I was also asking staff to do was to look inward and consider what choice-points on a daily basis they could make differently.”

Engaging in this work was not without challenges, discomfort, and missteps. But we were optimistic that we were on the right path.

The 2020 crises refocused and deepened our commitment—through disruption.

And then 2020 happened.

With the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, for many members of our organization, this work became more necessary, and even more personal.

“We had to ask ourselves, can we just be real? And not be timid?” said Margie. “Can we be bold, and say this is not just DEI but about justice? These issues are so entrenched. People are dying. Our communities are suffering.”

With a renewed sense of urgency, we dug deeper into our own organizational practices, asking: How can we support the cause of racial equity and justice?

“Our DEI journey has taught us that to advance our mission, we need to embrace racial equity and racial justice. And the traumas of 2020-2021 have reinforced this and pushed us to be bolder.”

Kevin Walker
President and CEO, Northwest Area Foundation

We refreshed our organizational values, leading with our commitment to social justice. We were also galvanized to develop our Racial Equity Magnifier (REM), a tool to help center racial equity across our decision-making processes. The purpose was to de-center dominant perspectives so we could elevate the often absent perspectives of groups who’ve been historically underserved and harmed by policies, programs, or decisions.

As a direct result of using the REM, we changed our holiday policy to eliminate preset holidays and instead allow staff members the flexibility to select their own set of holidays for days that are meaningful to them or their cultures. We made notable changes to our hiring process, including eliminating the use of personality assessments.

To advance our vision of racial equity, we engaged the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) tool, with the goal of building an organizational culture that fosters racial equity.

As a result of the 2020 crises, we realized that we must embed healing into our DEI vision—healing both for ourselves and for our communities.

Moving forward with our vision.

Through the five-year journey we have discovered important lessons: maybe most important among them is that this type of commitment requires strong, sustained, steadfast leadership to be effective. We got more comfortable with being uncomfortable—and it was hard and messy. 

Now, we’re in the process of developing a new multiyear DEI plan that centers racial justice and advances our goal of creating systemic change.

We have discovered important lessons: maybe most important among them is that this type of commitment requires strong, sustained, steadfast leadership to be effective. We got more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Our DEI journey will continue, and we’ll continue to pursue the hard work that will allow us to evolve, develop, and lead.

“Without doing the internal and inward-facing work to consider how we may be perpetuating inequity,” said Margie, “we could not be the best partners, or understand our role of supporting our grantees and the communities that we are trying to serve.”

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