4 Proven Ways to Advance Racial Equity

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In our work at ProInspire, a nonprofit that advances equity in organizations and society, we’ve observed that people who want to advance racial equity commit to big and small changes — in themselves, in their interactions with others, and within their organizations. Through interviews with scores of leaders and dozens of focus groups, we have identified four core commitments that are critical to furthering racial equity:

  • exploring identity
  • prioritizing relationships
  • aligning values
  • collective reimagining

Start with self. Leaders who shift their personal practices by exploring their identities in relation to others will influence positive organizational change, which leads to more equitable outcomes.

For example, consider Mission Capital, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting racial equity and opportunity in Central Texas. The organization adopted these core commitments to improve racial equity internally. Madge Vásquez, CEO, regularly talks about her identity as a Latina woman and explores how her background affects her leadership, her team, and the nonprofit’s board. By being authentic, she shows staff members how to share their thoughts and experiences with honesty, and she encourages them to spend time understanding how racial equity shapes people’s experiences within the organization and beyond it. The philosophy of “bringing your whole self to work” has helped build a more inclusive and equitable culture for BIPOC staff.

The results speak for themselves. From 2019 to 2022, the share of BIPOC individuals on the staff doubled to 64 percent, on the leadership team quadrupled to 60 percent, and on the board rose from 31 percent to 77 percent.

Mission Capital’s experience is profound but not unique: Nearly three-fourths of the organizations we’ve studied say prioritizing racial equity in their workplace creates an environment in which individuals’ authenticity and diversity are celebrated and honored.

Here’s how to adopt these four commitments to advance racial equity at your organization, even in times of political and social crises.

Prioritize relationships in the workplace — in other words, put people before productivity. Focus on building trust and honoring the experiences of others — especially BIPOC staff — to advance racial equity at an interpersonal level. One simple way: Cultivate a culture of belonging and authenticity by starting meetings with a check-in — “how are you really?” — instead of jumping right into the agenda.

Mission Capital believes relationship building begins with hiring. It has shifted from a “culture fit” interview to an “equity-sharing session” in which employees share the organization’s journey to advance equity among its staff and board and let candidates ask questions.

Groups we work with have increased the time they spend building one-on-one relationships among staff members and moved to performance-review processes that focus on identifying, appreciating, and developing employees’ strengths. They also have prioritized supporting staffers’ well-being, including helping them set boundaries between their work and personal lives and offering more flexible work schedules.

Put values into practice. Practicing what you preach means ensuring the voices of BIPOC staff are heard in key discussions and decisions. It also means integrating racial equity into everything you do — including policies and procedures related to hiring and time off as well as programs and partnerships with groups in your community.

At the same time, it is important to strive to identify policies and systems that contribute to racial disparities so you can find and name the root causes of those disparities and find ways to tackle them.

Mission Capital’s strategic plan included new programs, such as peer-coaching circles that provide a space for BIPOC nonprofit leaders to support and learn from each other. It also discontinued the Nonprofit Effectiveness Framework, a program that was developed without an equity focus and was tested predominantly by well-resourced, white-led nonprofits, omitting BIPOC voices.

Be bold. Reimagine what is possible — and work together. Foundations committed to racial equity should focus on providing long-term unrestricted grants to smaller, BIPOC-led organizations. Nonprofits should focus on building relationships with each other, shifting away from a competition and scarcity mind-set.

A commitment to collaboration requires a philosophical leap of faith — but pays big dividends. Of the nonprofits working to advance racial equity that we’ve studied, only a third had prioritized working with other groups to disrupt systemic racism before they began advancing racial equity internally. However, once these nonprofits focused on equity with their organizations, nearly 90 percent began working with partners to dispel systemic racism.

At Mission Capital, collective reimagining has included partnerships, advocacy, and coalition building that strengthen the nonprofit and the organizations it supports. For example, Mission Capital participated in a local nonprofit coalition to advocate for flexible Covid relief funds while emphasizing the need to prioritize support for BIPOC-led organizations. This collaboration resulted in an Austin City Council resolution to create a $6 million Austin Nonprofit & Civic Health Organization Relief Fund, which includes a program focused on ensuring equitable access for BIPOC communities.

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