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Center helps organizations look inward to fully achieve diversity, equity and inclusion in their work

General Foundation News

The Kresge Foundation leadership and staff are developing a roadmap to help the organization fully engage and operationalize diversity, equity and inclusion in the work of each program and department. With expertise and guidance from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and from Center for Social Inclusion (CSI), the foundation is committed to sharpening its equity lens while building on efforts that have long been embedded in Kresge’s organizational values and in the methods that we uphold to expand opportunities in America’s cities. Last week, Kresge staff were treated to a visit from several members of the CSI team to kick off our formal engagement. We sat down with CSI President Glenn Harris to talk about how the CSI helps organizations take on this challenging work.

Kresge: You often quote a “90/90” survey that indicates people are willing to talk about race, but they don’t think their neighbors are equally willing. Can you tell us more about this poll and what the data signals to you?

Glen Harris, president of the Center for Social Inclusion
Glen Harris, president of the Center for Social Inclusion.

Harris: Yes, the data is from a national survey that has been conducted annually for several years. What the data signals to us is that most people imagine themselves wanting to be comfortable about talking about race, but they imagine other people aren’t as comfortable and therefore don’t actively initiate those conversations. (CSI does) communications testing and what we see universally is that this is a conversation people want to have but feel ill-equipped. Most folks are not willing to take responsibility for their own role in not being able to create the space to have the conversation, so one of the core pieces for us is to normalize these conversations. How do we create a space where folks can talk about race and increase understanding? What we see is that when you can get to a point where people can safely talk about the complexities of race and develop some shared language, it becomes easier.

The other survey we often share is a poll about race and equity we’ve done now with more than 10,000 government employees from around the country. More than 85 percent of those people consistently say, “Yes, race and issues of equity should be things that we talk about in our work.” For instance, we did this survey in Seattle and 90 percent of respondents said that race and equity should be an essential part of what government does. So, it’s both anecdotal and from the surveying that we’ve done ourselves and have seen nationally: People name race and equity as things that they think are important. At the same time, people think that by calling the conversation – to get more people to care about race and equity – we can get to the change we want to see. This is important, but at the core of it, we believe that the gap in these institutions is not a values gap  – as the survey shows, people care about race and equity. The gap is practice – how do we operationalize racial equity? The environment is a great example of this. If you want to know the tipping point in which the majority of Americans actually started to think about the environment and protection of the environment in a different way, it was actually after the period that we started recycling. People tend to change their attitudes by changing their behavior. And so a big part of what we focus on is how do we help give people the tools, skills and practice so that they can think about these issues in a deeper way and in a way that leads to concrete action and behavior change.

Kresge: You work with government and nonprofit organizations all over the country – what is their appetite for the work you champion and how do they find you?

Harris: No question about it, there’s an increased appetite for the racial equity conversation because of the current political moment. Having said that, there’s been an increase in appetite from philanthropy especially in the past five years, maybe even a little bit longer than that. And clearly a lot of that has largely been driven by what’s happening in communities, like Black Lives Matter and immigration reform. I think there’s been a lot of social issues that have elevated this both locally and nationally.

What’s encouraging is that organizations are facing issues of race and racial justice and acknowledging that they don’t really have the skills and knowledge to engage. In the past, philanthropy reached out for specific projects, like “Come talk to us about housing issues as they relate to equity,” or, “Come and work with our grantees.” That’s now shifting, and organizations are saying, “Oh, I guess we need to think about these issues internally, too.” There’s a desire to get their own houses in order. Overall there’s been an institutional increase in the desire to think about what equity and social justice really means.

(CSI focuses) on practice, so frequently people will reach out to us because they heard that we actually do: talk about what this means in terms of operations. For us, the role that we play (to operationalize the work in institutions) is what we find important.

Kresge: Can you lend a tip to organizations that are considering starting this work?

Harris: One thing that we’re very clear about is that if you want to do this work as an institution, you must be prepared to change the way in which you do business. And what I mean by that, because that always sounds intimidating, is: “Are you really willing to put this into operation?” There are a lot of organizations who think they are ready to have the conversation but have not actually stopped to think about what it would mean to think about this across the breadth and depth of who they are, what they do and how they do their work. And from (CSI’s) perspective and our approach, we can’t help you get to a different outcome unless you’re really willing to think about this within the context of institutional change, not just individual discussions about issues of race and equity.

Founded in 2002, Center for Social Inclusion catalyzes community, government, and other institutions to dismantle structural racial inequity and create equitable outcomes for all. CSI’s core program, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, is a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.