We have been on a path to better understand the nuances and complexities of diversity, equity, and inclusion for several years, but we had yet to speak publicly about what we were doing and what we were learning. In June, I wrote about the role our Foundation can play in helping undo the systems and structures that white people have been explicit or complicit in maintaining. We followed this with blogs written by each program director addressing equity in their respective areas.
Since then, we have begun to talk about how our programs are embedding equity in their grantmaking. I would like to share how we have approached this work across our Foundation as a way of opening up a conversation with other organizations who have or will embark upon a similar journey. One thing I have learned from this process is that this is work that must take place in community with others. Yet this work evolves differently depending on your position in the organization and your lived experience. It is also clear that setting out on this journey required a full commitment and understanding from our Board of Directors. Our Board, like our staff, bring diverse perspectives and you’ll see their thoughts and visions reflected in pull quotes within this blog.
For those of you who are interested in embarking on a similar process, this is hard work that has no shortcuts. You will unearth uneasy truths and encounter many challenges along the way. But it will be worth it.
“We all benefit as a society when people have the opportunity to reach their potential. When we exclude access and input, we narrow possibilities—ideas, opportunities and options—for all of us. We all live in this world together. Embracing diversity and inclusion only makes us stronger.”William Rogers, Board Member
Building A Shared Understanding
Three years ago, we began discussions with our Arts program about how to support diversity, equity, and inclusion among Bay Area artists. We wanted to know more about how we could honor and celebrate the differences that we all bring to the table to help Bay Area artists thrive in today’s economy, as well as create optimal conditions for art to be made. This led to a series of actions by the Foundation’s Board and leadership—including adding “equity” as one of the organization’s explicit values; hiring senior-level staff with experience in this area; and bringing on consultants to help us. This set us on a long-term journey that is transforming all aspects of our work—far beyond that initial exploration in the arts—and has developed into a process that is infusing every aspect of the Foundation as a funder, partner and employer, with a commitment to equity.
The consultants we turned to helped us assess our organization and build a common vocabulary for the work. We surveyed staff to determine their knowledge and skills for navigating cultural and racial differences, created a work group to guide our efforts, and the staff collaborated to articulate a vision statement to guide our work. We have completed an audit of our policies, integrated equity into our strategic plans, and explicitly outlined our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in every job description. We worked together to develop meeting agreements on how we interact with each other. And we have continued to conduct trainings for staff—including how to have difficult conversations—and hold space for staff affinity groups to support our collective activities and promote a better understanding of systemic racism, as well as the hidden assumptions we each hold.
In June, I also expressed my personal commitment to anti-racism. In addition to educating myself, I have joined cohorts of leaders in philanthropy working to embrace and integrate equity in their organizations. We share resources and discuss challenges. And challenging situations do come up. I am learning how to support our staff in uncomfortable situations, how to navigate difficult moments when they happen, and how to build trust in an authentic way. I also believe that these difficult moments—however painful—occur because we are confronting some of society’s most painful truths about race, class, and power.
“Investing in our communities means so much more than providing them with dollars—true investment asks us to show up with cultural humility so we can forge authentic relationships with each other.”Rivkah Beth Medow, Board Member
The Learning Continues
Looking ahead, we will be following a learning agenda that staff developed to prioritize our activities. We have also started benchmarking demographic data of our staff, grantees, and vendors. Beyond grantmaking, our communications, administrative operations, and finance and investment teams are also working to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work.
I truly believe that this is helping to make us a better organization. When people feel valued, safe, and connected to each other, they do their best work. And that means the Foundation becomes more effective in realizing our vision of a more equitable and inclusive world where Bay Area artists will thrive, Oakland children will unlock their extraordinary potential, and Inflammatory Bowel Disease patients can live healthier lives.
This work is all-consuming, and it should be. At the Foundation, we all feel a commitment to equity, and we are embracing the fact that it is something that we are individually and collectively responsible for. It is a journey that will take time, but it is already having a profound effect on all of us. There have been tough moments and undeniable strides. This commitment to equity is improving our work and the quality of the experience at the Rainin Foundation—helping us better understand who we are, what we each bring, and where we struggle. It is a process that we will continue to share with you—our grantees and partners.
“By bringing together an array of voices and expertise, especially those who have been historically marginalized, we strive to advance the common good through our grantmaking and practices. We believe that by doing so, we can have a bigger and better impact.”Eric Rodenbeck, Board Member