Committing to a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion lens in our workImproving our culture, norms, and client-facing approaches

At Third Sector, our five core values of Rigor, Respect, Resourcefulness, Results, and Reflection drive how we conduct ourselves with clients, partners, and each other. As part of our values, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have always been central to our work. What is more, we simply could not successfully direct public resources in more data-driven ways to improve people’s lives without empowering a diverse representation of community members, pushing for more inclusive programming, and considering which outcomes are most equitable.

In our ongoing reflection though, we realized that the day-to-day work is not enough. We work in systems that, in some cases, perpetuate inequality and preserve a status quo where too many people are marginalized based on their race, ethnicity, or other identity.  Changing these systems, and achieving our mission, will only happen if we act with explicit intent. With that in mind, Third Sector has begun a journey of critically examining and improving our culture, norms, and client-facing approaches with a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) lens. This journey will be an evolution that never ends, and we are committed to it for the long-haul. To assure our own accountability to this journey, our Board of Directors have integrated DEI goals into our annual organizational metrics to ensure that these efforts remain front and center.

We have started this work by spending the first quarter of 2018 developing language that explicitly articulates our commitment to DEI and what we seek to achieve through this work. We have gathered a committed group of staff from all levels of the organization to contribute their voices and talents to define what DEI is for Third Sector and how we we will work together to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. Our efforts have resulted in the Third Sector Commitment to Diversity Equity and Inclusion.

This affirmation of our commitment outlines three goals which will guide our work:

  • Elevate diverse perspectives
  • Foster an inclusive environment
  • Embrace an equity centered approach

While we are still determining the outcomes metrics by which we will measure progress on these fronts, we are energized by the enthusiasm and encouragement we have received so far. And even though some have advised us to focus on one goal at a time, we do not have the luxury of waiting given the urgency of our mission and current proximity to communities; we will be deliberate but we are are charging ahead on all three fronts.


Elevate Diverse Perspectives

We value and respect diversity in its many forms: race, ethnicity, national origin, ability, class, faith, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and experience.

Even before we committed to formal DEI work, we knew it was important to build a diverse team who would bring their unique perspectives to their work. There has been much research conducted and countless articles written that show having diverse teams is a good business decision – they are more innovative, focus more on facts, and process those facts more carefully. Deliberately ensuring a diverse workplace is something Third Sector cannot ignore, if only because it leads to better results for our clients and our mission.

Our first step was to work to minimize inherent biases. To do so, we instituted a blind hiring process in 2016, whereby candidates’ resumes are not seen by interviewers in the first two rounds of interviews. Instead, interviews during these rounds are entirely case and competency based and are conducted over the phone so as to test for skills and to mitigate interviewers’ potential biases. The approach has helped us hire deeply talented team members from across the country with different racial, ethnic, educational, and professional backgrounds. Nonetheless, we know that our team is not sufficiently diverse. To do better, we have formed a committee that is actively examining our recruiting practices from start to finish to further drive towards a staff that represents the communities we serve. We will hold ourselves accountable to real improvement through staff engagement surveys over baseline and our results successfully recruiting diverse talent.


Fostering an Inclusive Environment

Another immediate priority for us is to foster an inclusive environment for our staff. In order to learn from diverse perspectives, we want a collaborative work environment where team members, clients, and community members can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. This initiative is essential to ensuring that Third Sector employees can “bring their full selves to work.” It is forcing us to examine our culture and norms, as well as empower team members to be more vocal.

To start, more than twenty staff members meet monthly as part of our DEI working group. Together we have difficult conversations, brainstorm ideas, and determine action steps to improve inclusiveness. From those meetings, we then hold quarterly trainings for the entire staff to encourage all of us to think through and recommend approaches that will help everyone to contribute to an inclusive environment. We are also dedicating significant time at each annual all-staff retreat for reflection and training on issues related to DEI. These efforts are led by a six-person DEI Leadership Team led by our CEO with representatives from across the office who spend time between our formal meetings planning, researching and engaging on DEI issues.

And since we knew we could not go on this journey without outside expertise, we have sought out advice from a range of leaders in this space to gather lessons that we can apply to our efforts. We have hired an outside consultant to advise our leadership team, conduct staff training, and work with us to turn our DEI aspirations into actions.


Embrace an Equity-Centered Approach

The internal work around diverse recruitment and an inclusive environment is critical so that we can have integrity when we engage our clients to pursue an equity-centered approach to their work in communities. We recognize that social issues have been created and compounded by systemic exclusion and oppression. In order to direct resources and services where they are needed most, we seek to apply an equity-centered approach that questions and addresses the structures that disadvantage certain populations. Equal opportunity is not possible until equity is achieved, and this requires making deliberate efforts to reach the traditionally underserved, ignored, and systemically disenfranchised.

An equity-centered approach is also critical to enable us to transform how public funding delivers impact for the most vulnerable in our communities; without it we will not achieve our mission of a performance-driven social sector.

While we are still developing what an equity-centered approach looks like for Third Sector, we know a few things to be true:

  • We will apply a racial equity lens to all aspects of our outcomes-driven approach -- systemic oppression cannot be ignored as it runs deep and impacts all of the systems in which we work
  • We believe in directing resources where they are needed most and will work to both disaggregate data by race and work against “creaming” populations served in order to more easily achieve positive outcomes

One expression of our values has always been that services must be asset-based and designed with communities, not just delivered to communities. Operationalizing this goal requires partnering with providers and program participants to elevate the local wisdom, gain insight into the human experience of receiving services, and create pathways for community voice and power in the public sector resource allocation process. Our clients in Broward and Iowa are leading the way in this, and we have learned incredibly important lessons from them.

We recognize that we have a long journey ahead of us, and we are at the very beginning of it. This effort to critically examine and improve our systems so that Third Sector can be more diverse, equitable and inclusive is a crucial process if we are going to successfully transform how public funding delivers results. Additionally, we cannot authentically partner with communities to consider how funding best impacts its diverse citizens, provide equitable opportunities to all, and assure that even the most marginalized are included in solutions if we do not go on this journey. We are encouraged by the commitment we have from all levels of the organization. Additionally, we are fortunate enough to have clients and partners who have already started this journey and have taught us so much. But we know there are so many other voices we can learn from and we are eager for additional resources and support. Please reach out if you want to learn more about this initiative or have resources that you think could help us and the field on this journey. Finally, we will be documenting our progress on this blog so please check back regularly.