December 14, 2014

Where There’s a Will There’s a Why: A look at a New Report from Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners

By Bellwether

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If you haven’t seen it yet, Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners released a report last week, From Intention to Action: Building Diverse, Inclusive Teams in Education to Deepen Impact.
This is an important piece for the field and definitely worth the read. The report calls out the gap between the widely held imperative to have racially diverse leadership in education nonprofits and the dearth of action that they’re taking to get there.

Intention to Action Infographic

Via Education Pioneers (Click for full infographic)

To close this gap, they propose five best practices:

  1. Customize your vision and strategy
  2. Focus on impacts and metrics
  3. Focus on recruiting and selection practices
  4. Invest in leadership development to retain high performers
  5. Ensure ongoing discussion

The report’s main finding is notable and squares with our experiences working with education nonprofits of all stripes across the country. The recommendations and audit at the back of the report are solid for organizations ready to take action.
But in-between pledging commitment and implementing policies and practices, there’s a critical middle step that the report doesn’t address: diagnosing why organizations are failing to implement these best practices. Is it a lack of capacity? Lack of knowledge? Lack of leadership? Institutional barriers? Personal and procedural biases?
The answers will be different for every organization and tracking them down is no easy feat. We’ve been involved in diversity initiatives in the private and public sector, within education organizations and others, and have learned that achieving diversity goals requires much more than instituting policies and metrics.
It is a heavy lift and it is messy.
Achieving true diversity and inclusion requires a structured change management process and a deep understanding of the social constructs and systemic issues that have led to majority-led institutions. It requires leaders to be highly self-aware and prepared to initiate courageous conversations. It often also involves relinquishment of power – whether in leadership roles or dominant cultural practices and norms.  While it is important to take actionable steps to improve diversity, in order to build organizations where a diverse group of individuals can thrive and sustain themselves to drive impact, organizations must engage in a continuous learning and reflection process.
Clearly we think a lot about this stuff here at Bellwether as we work with clients through our Talent practice. But building a diverse and inclusive education organization is also a priority for us internally and engaging in the process has  heightened our appreciation for how difficult the work really is. From Intention to Action has pushed our conversations forward in a positive way.
We consider ourselves critical friends to both EP and Koya based on the belief that we do our best work when pushed by people who care deeply about the same issues. In a post slated for next week, we bundle ten reactions to the report that include praise, methodological quibbles, and questions for future work to keep the conversation going.

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