Putting Equity at the Center

Gateway Center for Giving Member Blog Post: Putting Equity at the Center

by Claire Schell,  Assistant Vice President, Employee Experience, U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation

claire-schell-imageI’ve found that there are a lot of companies making commitments to diversity and inclusion. Because of the work U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC) does in communities and because of the very real inequities that we know exist, it is important for us to put equity – particularly racial equity – at the center of our diversity and inclusion work. Part of determining our “why” also has to include an assessment of where we were starting from and where we want to go. If we really want to close the gap between people and access to opportunity, we have to know where people are now.

For us, this assessment had to start internally – applying an equity lens to our organizational practices and policies. Becoming more equitable within our own organization will help us to do better work externally. So we embarked on a climate assessment: asking our employees where they thought we fell on the spectrum of being inclusive and equitable. This has allowed us to minimize assumptions about where one or two people may have thought we were. It has allowed us to become more aware of the different experiences of different people within our organization – different racial and ethnic groups, different teams, different levels of awareness about what diversity/equity/inclusion mean. It has helped us to create a baseline for future work.

As we set out on this internal work this year, some of our major goals at USBCDC were increasing each employee’s understanding around our “why,” developing shared language, and building relationships across difference. As you might guess, these required and have led to new and courageous conversations – in anti-racism workshops, monthly racial equity lunches, in team meetings, in 1:1s, and in the kitchen around the coffee machine. Building this internal capacity around naming the issues and normalizing difficult and honest dialogues has helped to reinforce that conversations are real work. They’re certainly not the only work, but are such a crucial first step toward being able to do more of what we want to do. They help people learn. They encourage people to value different perspectives. They allow people to bring more of themselves to work. They demonstrate our commitment in a more active, and vocal, way. They help us get to know each other better. Practice makes progress, and none of us can afford to shy away from these conversations if we really want to make progress.

We’ve also had to ask ourselves the hard questions if we’re really going to make progress. Are we living up to the commitment we’ve laid out for ourselves? Do people have the right tools (language, knowledge, resources) to be successful? Who else needs to be at the table for this conversation? How do we hold each other accountable in different ways? Where are our spheres of influence? What processes do we need to change or dismantle and how do we design equity into new processes? To whom are we accountable in our decision-making? If we do X, how does it advance USBCDC’s DEI commitment? Asking these questions helps us to determine where the pain points are, where we’re moving the needle, and where we need to stop and start certain behaviors and practices.

Our work this year has helped us to create shared value within our organization, to build skills and capacity that we need for the work ahead, and to make sure that as we’re determining each day what we’re going to do, we’re clear about who want to be along the way. As we have intentionally pursued a more tangible commitment to equity, we have seen the power of change in action by aligning more thoughtfully with others and deepening relationships around this important work. This “contagious commitment” – with our employees, community partners, customers, vendors – will ensure that we continue to build momentum, excitement, sustained support, and mutual accountability for the long haul.

So –

  • What is your organization’s “why” for equity and where are you starting?
  • What important conversations do you need to be having to advance shared understanding and learning?
  • What hard questions do you need to be asking?

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Note: The Gateway Center for Giving invites Members to submit guest posts that foster knowledge transfer and relationship building to help inform the work of philanthropy.

Stay tuned: USBDC’s experience, as well as that of other regional companies making a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, will be highlighted in an upcoming GCG program in 2017.

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