Skip to content
PEAK Grantmaking

Operationalizing DEI

In a recent survey, TAG found that despite all the buzz in philanthropy around diversity, equity, and inclusion, these conversations and related training have not made their way into teams where IT and data staff work inside foundations:

51 percent of foundation IT departments lack key DEI programs. 

51 percent of foundation IT departments lack key DEI programs.

Responding to these findings, TAG has committed to making the call for DEI training and programs for operations teams in philanthropy. Beginning to address the awareness and training gap, we co-facilitated a pre-conference workshop at the TAG 2019 annual conference co-hosted with PEAK Grantmaking on operationalizing DEI.

Much of the conversation and practice around diversity, equity and inclusion in philanthropy centers on how these issues manifest in the communities that foundations support, and on bringing diverse perspectives to bear on the programs that foundations design to address them. But foundations are comprised of many people in critical functions and roles, all of whom must be engaged, if foundations are to successfully implement inclusive practices and advance equitable outcomes.

Facilitated by Kelly Brown of Viewpoint Consulting and Melissa Sines of PEAK Grantmaking, the half-day workshop introduced frameworks for thinking about the ways that more equitable practices could be implemented on the operations side of the house. Attendees participated in a pre-workshop online conversation to surface areas of concern to attendees and ground themselves in foundational definitions and concepts for this work: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Power, Intersectionality, and Unconscious Bias.

The broadly diverse group of participants in the room were able to develop trust early on through an exercise that helped highlight the different ways and contexts in which people build trusting relationships. This is critical to understanding the challenges to building relationships with people who are different across a range of parameters. Together, participants dove back into the conversation around equity, diversity, inclusion, power, and unconscious bias, reinforcing the idea that these concepts evolve and shift over time as contexts change and people engage with them.

Participants shared their experience with these concepts, highlighting various ways in which power and equity show up in grantmaking: in the application process, reporting requirements, decision-making, and risk management – all functions that interact with and depend on the operations side of the house. A subsequent exploration of implicit bias reinforced all the ways that we may unintentionally be building that bias into the systems that are created to support grantmaking.

The workshop further highlighted strategies for bringing one’s authentic self to work, building inclusive cultures, and letting those values guide the conversation around their work in operations. Participants also discussed the roadblocks that exist in achieving that ideal. In the room, as people talked it out, the definition of inclusion expanded to encompass all the ways that the act of fitting in vs. a sense of belonging can impact whether someone feels included or excluded.

Three other key concepts were explored:

  • Equity work is an adaptive, not a technical challenge. The way we engage with this work will naturally shift and change as the world around us becomes more diverse, as power shifts in philanthropy, and as inclusion takes a front seat with productivity.
  • Equity in practice must be built in, not bolted on. This work starts from the top down. Organizational leaders set the tone for culture, and culture is an essential piece of the puzzle in developing more equitable practices in grantmaking. Separate programs and strategies that address equity can often miss the point of building equity into the way we do all our work.
  • We must all build skills to have difficult conversations. These skills, traditionally referred to as “soft” skills, are no longer optional. We must actively nurture empathy, trust, inquiry, and courage in our day-to-day interactions with our colleagues and with our grantee partners.

The workshop concluded with participants tackling case studies around grantmaking practice (such as removing bias from decision-making or supplier diversity), helping them to apply learnings to real world situations.

Participants left the day excited about the ability – and the power – they have to contribute to the day-to-day realities of living the values of racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in their organizations. Follow-up activities are planned for December and January to continue applying this work in their everyday context.