Over the past few years, our clients are being much more intentional and descriptive about how diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) must be reflected in their emerging strategies. We are right there with them. For many of our clients, diversifying their staff and boards is a leading pain point. Equity and inclusion – for example, making sure there is intentional parity and transparency within the organization – are often underdeveloped management muscles. And for some nonprofits, access becomes a vital lens: If the constituencies you serve cannot access your help, you are not fulfilling your mission.
B&W’s strategic planning methodology incorporates principles of all four in varied ways throughout the process, reflecting our conviction that these issues are too important to relegate to an individual or separate department. They are everyone’s business. When done well, they are embedded throughout the enterprise. (The same holds true, by the way, for innovation: it’s always a red flag for us to find an “innovation department” on an organization chart.)
Three simple steps distinguish our approach, which continues to evolve based on changing best practices, our internal conversations, and what we learn from and with our clients. Just as mission-driven organizations must adapt, so must we who counsel those organizations. Below, our current thinking.
- We apply a “DEI lens” to each phase of the strategy process. What does that mean? In the research and discovery phase, for example, this means scrubbing the list of external interviews to reflect not just the usual suspects but also voices that have been excluded in the past. It means being sensitive about asking identifying questions in a staff survey. It means digging into your data to understand not just about who’s gotten grants, but also who didn’t apply. It means assessing your brand image relative to best nonprofit practice in DEI. And it means engaging your stakeholders, especially the more junior staff, in multiple meaningful ways during the process.
- We use what we have learned through the discovery phase to help our clients clarify what DEI means to them. Clients are often at different stages in their work towards increased DEI, and we work with them to understand and weave together existing strands of work, highlight gaps, and consider partnerships.
- We take a highly operational approach to DEI. In working with clients, we have found that these principles take hold only when reinforced at multiple levels, from an organization’s mission and goals to staffing and culture to systems and processes, especially resource allocation and performance management. DEI needs to be reflected as a priority in organizational, departmental, and individual goals; it needs to adequately resourced; it needs the constant attention and accountability of senior management to ensure that there’s no slippage in the commitment. These details of execution are distinct from the kinds of staff training and awareness-building offered by consultants who specialize in DEI work. As management experts, we see our role as helping to institutionalize changes so that they stick.
B&W has been applying this general approach to our engagements for the past several years, starting with a plan in 2017 for a venerable cultural and educational center that put issues of diversity and inclusion at the center of their institutional strategy. Virtually all our clients in recent years have struggled with these questions as part of their strategy processes. Different emphases emerge. At a prestigious post-graduate program focused on environmental studies, for example, students were focused intently on equity; for two privately funded conservation groups, the challenges revolved around diversifying an aging, overwhelmingly white membership base. In its strategic plan, a well-known international development NGO responded aggressively to critiques about unequal access to its programs. And at a national organization focused on election law, the staff wanted greater inclusion while the board needed diversity – in their case, fewer lawyers.
We continue to discuss what DEI really means within our firm, with our clients, and with leaders in the field. While there are milestones along the way to be measured, striving for diversity, equity, inclusion, and access is a journey. How is your DEI journey progressing?