Accountability Within Equity Work: Measuring Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Goals

Accountability Within Equity Work: Measuring Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Goals

Photo: BRIDGE staff and board with Barrington Stage Company guest playwright and actors of “Well-Intentioned White People.” From left to right: Jeff Lowenstein, Dr. Eden-Renee Hayes (former Board Chair), Gwendolyn VanSant, Alfred Enchill Jr. (Board Secretary), actress Myxolydia Tyler, Christy Stokes Daignault (Board Vice Chair), playwright Rachel Lynett, and actor Samy El-Noury.

An ongoing point of learning for almost every organization I’ve worked with involves understanding the difference between “inclusion” and “integration”. As you may know, I always queue up my work with Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. In the case of measuring equity goals it all begins with language and being impeccable with your word(s).

“Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”  -Don Miguel Ruiz

An integrationist approach to equity and justice work is ideal, yet almost every organization I encounter starts with an attempt at inclusion and inviting in with insufficient regard to the power differential embedded within that very invitation. With inclusion, teams run the risk of tokenism if they aren’t also doing the intentional work on how to identify, listen to, and integrate differences. In short, an organization that truly aims to better “include” members of marginalized communities within its ranks and leadership, decision-making, and operational processes will develop a culture of authentic, emergent leadership with a commitment to safety. This is about respecting all team members’ individual humanity at work and back in their community.

To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.-bell hooks

Leaders will work to intentionally create new systems and processes that integrate the diverse talent, skill, and life experience of individuals across race, generation, ethnicity, gender, and professional training. Simply put, authentic inclusion is the first step towards integration.

In Mark Williams’ “10 Lenses” written work aimed to guide human resources professionals in navigating diverse perspectives, he describes the work of integration this way:

“Integrationists support breaking down all barriers between [racial] groups by merging people of different cultures together in communities and in the workplace. They believe that we can replace our ignorance of each other’s culture with a greater understanding and knowledge if we live and work together.”

How does an organization know when it is on the path to true integration?

At minimum, a starting point is when its leadership team can demonstrate commitment and process towards cultural and historical literacy of sexism, classism, and racism (and their overlapping impacts) within their own organization and in relationship to their clients/customers and community members. From here, all team members can then identify goals and apply iterative practices on the way to integrating newly established policies in regards to all issues of equity around hiring, professional development, and product and service development.

This iterative strategy can be broken down into the four buckets of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA):

  1. Inclusion: The process of integrating individuals of diverse talents and backgrounds successfully and equitably without fear, perception, or threat of harm, (i.e retaliation, no upward mobility, isolation, etc. for members and/or employees).

  2. Diversity: Representation and reflection of the community on the staff, board, and member base (i.e. a reflection of diversity of community and target communities for a specific program) and representation of identified diverse talent, training and experience needs.

  3. Equity: Shifting the concept of “fair and equal” to the concept of meeting the needs of individuals (e.g. members/community externally, employees internally).

  4. Accessibility: Physical and socioeconomic access to programs and services for the diverse members of a community and workplace; access to a quality of life that meets the overall well-being of team members in a thriving community and workplace; opportunities for promotion and career development within a work environment.

I’ve begun using this IDEA framework* with my clients to support organizing and clarifying their process, goals, and work; build organizational muscle around language related to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and foster accountability in the integration of these concepts in their work. It is critical to break down these terms and concepts within equity and inclusion work so that:

1) the organization has shared vision and language for what the work actually is and what the work requires and

2) all team members, especially senior leaders, can communicate the value of these different types of work to the organization as a whole, employees, partners, and community members.

If equity and justice work is going to be part of a team’s organizational health strategy, people need to be able to articulate and clearly see the differences among Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility efforts and activities. This, coupled with a culturally competent approach, gives teams a solid foundation for meaningful equity and justice work. The cultural competency work supports the process of defining goals and work within the IDEA framework by helping us communicate more clearly, knowledgeably, and effectively.

Need a quick definition of cultural competence? Here is mine that I have adapted and adopted over the last decade:

“Cultural Competence: A set of beliefs, attitudes, values, policies and practices that foster effective communication, relationship building, and service/product delivery.”

And here is a quick self-assessment (an integral part of cultural competence work):

  • How will you choose to communicate differently?

  • What types of equitable relationships are you interested in creating?

  • How committed and ready are you and your team when it comes to creating equitable services and products?

I am reminded of these words in The Teacher’s Guide to Diversity: Building a Knowledge Base produced by The Education Alliance at Brown University:

“People become empowered when they can use and adapt language for their own purposes, but too often the discourse of the dominant culture displaces the discourse from minority or non-dominant cultures.” (Gee, 1990; Gutiérrez, Stone, & Larson, in press)

When we slow down and think carefully about the language we use, we are able to answer these questions so much more effectively. We can listen and lead with precision, creativity, and humanity.

*A little history on IDEA: In one of my equity and inclusion coaching sessions, one of my current client’s employees (representative and reflective of an underrepresented demographic at this particular workplace and in the surrounding community) created and ordered these conceptual buckets as presented to them and their leadership team, coming up with the catchy acronym IDEA. I like the acronym because of the light it shines metaphorically on this critical and intricately woven work in this day and era. It shines a light as well on this individual's investment in and enthusiasm toward our collective work towards equity.

© 2018 Gwendolyn VanSant


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