Advocates already had a vision for how to build an inclusive and equitable organizational culture but struggled to reach all of their employees. Recognizing that their employees’ needs, locations, and modes of communication varied vastly, they partnered with YW Boston to develop an action plan for implementing their vision in a truly equitable way.  

About the Organization
Advocates is a non-profit, human services organization serving Eastern & Central Massachusetts. They offer a comprehensive range of programs and supports for individuals and families facing disabilities and other life challenges. Their work happens at multiple, scattered sites, on-site and within communities, and their employees include direct service providers, shift workers, as well as administrative staff. They employ approximately 2,000 full and part-time employees, serving 35,000 clients each year. 

The Opportunity
Advocates sought to foster diversity and inclusion and incorporate an equity perspective into its culture.  Their core question was how to stage a diversity, inclusion, and equity change program to be effective and comprehensive. With an existing Racial Equity Action Plan (REAP) in place, they wanted to ensure their efforts reached all employees. And, they recognized more internal work was needed before expanding external diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Throughout the process, Advocates leveraged existing strengths including a highly committed CEO; strong accountability structures; DEI committees and working groups; and an engaged leadership team.  

Our Work Together
YW Boston and Advocates launched our partnership in 2021 with a Discovery  Process to hear directly from staff across the organization via surveys, focus groups, and 1:1 interviews. From there, YW Boston’s expert facilitators led a core group of 18 Advocates staff members through a dialogue and action planning process to develop a REAP 2.0, as well as support the implementation of their plan.  

Pivotal Learning Moment 1
During the Discovery Process we identified that there was a lack of procedures to implement policies, coupled with a lack of training for managers to develop inclusive leadership skills. Addressing this in the REAP 2.0 became a priority.   

Pivotal Learning Moment 2
During the Discovery Process, it became clear that employees, particularly front-line workers and lower paid employees needed support meeting basic needs. To help address these needs, Advocates created an employee emergency fund, a no interest loan program, highly discounted access to AAA and BJs, and more. You can learn more about Advocates efforts to support front line workers here.

Action Plan
At the conclusion of a 14-month process, Advocates had a revised, comprehensive REAP 2.0. It included 4 pillars:

  1. Organizational Culture 
  2. Communication 
  3. Community Engagement 
  4. Continuous Community Learning  

Together we strengthened the concrete action steps under 3 of the pillars, prioritizing internal work first. Also built into REAP 2.0 were clearly defined performance measures, timelines, and accountability for implementing each objective. Example:  

Identified Need Objective added to REAP 2.0   

Gaps in procedures   

Review existing feedback policies, and procedures to identify strengths, weakness and inconsistency with a DEI lens

Insufficient training to develop inclusive leadership skills  

Cultivate DEI Approach to all work by promoting internal awareness of DEI, with a focus on racial equity; and ensuring that professional development opportunities are accessible for all staff  

Advocates staff got to work, with YW Boston staff supporting them throughout. Meetings were held at 3 month intervals to review progress on goals, roadblocks, and to identify resource and support needs. During this phase, staff from a range of roles and perspectives had the opportunity to see how things put on paper were put into practice, and to experience the complexity of systemic change. This had an unexpected positive impact on organizational culture, by increasing engagement, the willingness to ask questions, and to consider others’ perspectives.   

To learn more about Advocates and their DEI efforts, visit their website.