By Mita Naidu
“We don’t learn from experience. We learn by reflecting on experience.”
BC Women’s Health Foundation (BCWHF) is a mid-size philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing the full spectrum of women’s health. We help ensure women have equitable access to the highest quality healthcare when, where and how they need it.
While our mission is clear, the work can be complicated when put into practice, especially when viewed through the lens of underrepresented communities. At BCWHF, we recognized that we had work to do and were committed to learning how to meaningfully embed equity and equality practices throughout our organization.
We knew the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training would help bring clarity, support and a sense of security to our team. So we started this journey with dialogue and exploration, and speaking truth to power.
This year we honored Black History Month, which was a new experience for us. In the absence of an organizational scheme, our approach was experimental but not random. For such an important month, we wanted to make sure we were on the right trajectory by addressing equity and inclusion at the organizational level, first and foremost. Not just in how we present ourselves internally, but also to the communities we work with.
We started our process months ago and kept two issues front and center. How can we meaningfully embed the foundations of equity and inclusion into our organizational DNA? And why is it important in the first place?
We asked these questions thoughtfully while looking to the future and considering BCWHF’s trajectory. Primarily, we wanted to assess if/how equity existed in our organization, policies and culture and where we needed to fill the gaps through action. We knew that this internal “unpacking” was a critical step in gaining the right to participate in equity and inclusion conversations.
Here’s what we learned:
1) Stop stalling and start.
Our organization, like most nonprofits, has a big mission with limited resources and capacity. This creates the ideal conditions for anticipating equity work with “what ifs”. It is crucial to go beyond the fear and courageously fill in the gaps. Failing to start can undermine organizational trust, especially among IBPoC staff who fail to move away from inequality because it becomes “uncomfortable”.
2) It starts at the top.
Collaborating on equity work across the organization is essential. But IDE is transformational and therefore must START at the top. Leaders must take it upon themselves to guide them through potential discomforts, frictions and difficult conversations, which requires a significant investment of time. Leaders should also provide adequate support and feedback and not assign this responsibility to IBPoC staff. This leadership investment is essential, no matter how difficult the course.
3) Authenticity is more than a buzzword.
Bringing our truths (safely) to EDI work exposes our privileges, biases, values, and power dynamics. By doing so, we can build trust and connection through our actions. This is the link where the EDI work takes root. Through transparency, discomfort, and mistakes, impactful change can produce positive ripple effects that become organizational best practices. No longer considered a “soft skill”, being a genuine organization can help develop community engagement.
4) Be on the same page.
An organization may have many different voices, but having a unified corporate voice is vital in EDI work. Partners, staff and the community need to know that an organization is proactively advancing initiatives that promote gender parity and inclusion. This voice demonstrates that an organization is serious and that there are no debates about equity. Additionally, while consensus in the workplace is important, it is equally important to strive to understand the legacies and histories of systemic oppression and to instill those learnings within the organization.
5) Be consistent.
Being consistent is harder than it looks, but with consistency comes hope. Anti-oppressive language, strategies for all teams, inclusive branding, policy review, IBPoC staff recruitment, check-ins and appeals, and results measurement are tools that can help an organization stay on track with EDI goals. Organizations must work tirelessly to turn their commitment to EDI into action.
6) Community engagement is essential.
It’s mainly about talking about fairness and gaining public trust. Communities better understand real, tangible actions and know when their voice comes through in politics. They ALSO know when they are tokenized and when EDI actions seem performative and temporary. Authentic community engagement, deep listening, creating space for dialogue, and commitment to action matter most.
7) Mistakes are inevitable.
No organization has ever succeeded. But for many IBPoCs, just knowing that an organization is applying these lessons is important. Although mistakes bring discomfort, it can be a good thing. It allows individuals to learn, adapt and potentially change their outlook. As staff, community stakeholders, and the public watch your EDI journey unfold, it’s critical to remain open to critique, dialogue, and evaluation.
Equity work requires awareness, commitment and consistency while recognizing that equity work is not for IBPoC. Ultimately, it’s a chance for organizations to catch up and mitigate systemic shortcomings. At BCWHF, we have learned that the journey is as significant as the result. And that makes us better advocates when we take action to serve, support and grow the community.