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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Thana-Ashley Charles, Consultant

Given the political landscape and increased media coverage around issues of discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have become all the more prevalent in the social sector. This isn’t to say that DEI hasn’t been important in years past—it has. The main difference now is that more organizations in the social sector are holding themselves and being held accountable to exhibiting their practice of DEI principles.

As an evaluator, I have seen varying levels of commitment to using principles of DEI and acknowledge that it is not always an easy or straightforward endeavor. Here are a few clarifying points on how I frame thinking about DEI and some guiding questions to discuss when thinking about incorporating DEI in your work:

  1. There is no one size fits all to approaching DEI. Though there are several suggested approaches to making your programs more culturally responsive, it is most important to consider the context of the communities where your work is happening. The key questions to ask are:
      • Who are the right community members to involve?
      • How are we involving these individuals (i.e., giving them a seat at the table, having them participate in program evaluation design) in order to help determine the best ways to be culturally responsive in our programming?
  2. Equity is not the same as equality. We can all agree that both are important, but be sure not to confuse the two in your efforts to incorporate DEI principles in your work. Equity is providing everyone in the community with the amount of resources required to achieve success. Equality is providing everyone in the community with the same amount of resources. In this instance, the key question to ask is:
      • How can the programs and services address the needs of the community in a way that provides the right type and right amount of resources needed?
      • Are there subsets of the community that deserve special attention when viewed through the equity lens?
  3. Consider what you know and what you don’t know. In the case of DEI – it is acceptable, and even important, to acknowledge what you do and do not know about the community or the issues facing the community you serve. As a funder or program designer, you may hold a certain level of power and privilege that removes you from the on-the-ground realities that community members face. The important question to consider here is:
      • What do I need to know about the community in order to offer the best programming or services?

Certainly, the thinking and discussions around DEI are more expansive than these three points. They can simply serve as a starting point as you work to make your organization and/or program(s) more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

To help further your thinking and practice of DEI, here are some useful resources:

  1. Embracing Equity: 7 Steps to Advance and Embed Race Equality and Inclusion within Your Organization (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2014) – This document provides a framework for implementing equity and inclusion in your work, definitions of key terms, and ways to assess your progress at each step of the framework.
  2.  Raising the Bar – Integrating Cultural Competence and Equity: Equitable Evaluation – This article discusses how the philanthropic sector might advance the use of culturally competent principles in the evaluation of its programs.
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