Ask an Equity Officer April 2021: Foundational Work

With ICMA Equity Cohort member, Kweli Rashied-Henry, racial equity officer, Durham County

By Kweli Rashied-Henry, racial equity officer, Durham County | Apr 1, 2021 | BLOG POST
Ask an Equity Officer

Editor's Note: Ask an ICMA Manager, Ask an Equity Officer is a recurring blog where ICMA asks a current or former equity officer and/or local government professional tasked with equity work to answer a question on an equity issue facing local government.

What are some best practices in foundational work that can be done to prepare and get buy-in from an organization and an elected body, for an initiative around race, equity, and diversity?  And to keep this message nonthreatening? 

Establishing a racial equity initiative within an organization is an important step toward removing institutional barriers that negatively impact Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC).  Some best practices for this work include forming a group that can begin to champion racial equity by providing regular and consistent communication about its importance to all staff across the organization. This diverse group can help normalize formal and informal internal dialogues on race, racism, and racial equity.

Providing staff training on racial equity, including targeted training for senior leaders, is another avenue to draw support and buy-in for foundational work. Gathering community input that emphasizes the need for racial equity within the organization and across the population can also serve as leverage and support for future initiatives.

Ultimately, racial equity efforts should be expanded to other departments across the organization. A stated goal of such initiatives is to interrupt the organizational status quo by identifying and assessing racial inequities and engaging those staff most impacted by inequities in developing and directing solutions. The process of exploring and positioning racial equity as a fundamental component of an organization’s mission, vision, and values can often create discomfort for people who represent privileged identities. However, for BIPOC who often live with multiple forms of oppression, racial inequity has created multigenerational harm that an equity agenda should seek to address at every turn.

What are best practices around building internal capacity for a successful initiative if we can’t afford to pay or contract for outside facilitation or expertise at this time?

Starting small, using a slow and deliberate process can seem inconsistent with the level of urgency needed to pursue racial equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. Any organization can begin to lay the groundwork and establish the importance of these initiatives regardless of staffing and resource challenges.

The internal capacity for successful initiatives can be developed by factoring in equity components or objectives into positions that already exist. For any new positions that will be created, including the necessary skills and competencies related to racial equity, diversity, and inclusion could help garner additional capacity to enhance the work. Further, seeking out partnerships with other organizations that have greater resources, and being innovative about the types of collaborative approaches that could enhance capacity may be ideal start-up activities.

Racial equity requires that organizations act with urgency in ways that are feasible based on their capacity. Based on this urgency, there should be a steady effort to increase capacity by obtaining the funding support needed to build sustainable efforts. As capacity grows internally, the level and type of priority that racial equity holds across the organization should deepen and outputs should increase. The sticking point is to do what you can with what you have, and commit to establishing a solid foundation for the racial equity initiative.


Send questions to SpeakUp@icma.org, and we will have an equity officer answer the questions.

Check out our glossary of terms.
 


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