How can we advance racial equity through organizational change?


For over ten years, YW Boston’s InclusionBoston has helped businesses and organizations across all sectors and industries harness the power of diversity to shift organizational culture and create lasting change. On May 7, 2020, YW Boston partnered with the Boston Foundation to host “Advancing Racial Equity Through Organizational Change: Lessons from InclusionBoston.” This webinar brought together three InclusionBoston clients from a nonprofit cohort generously funded by the Boston Foundation. Over 500 individuals tuned in to explore some of the challenges and solutions to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

After an introduction from the Boston Foundation’s Associate VP for Programs Jennifer Aronson, YW Boston President & CEO Beth Chandler moderated a discussion among nonprofit leaders who had participated in InclusionBoston: 

  • Yi-Chin Chen, Executive Director, Friends of the Children-Boston 
  • Imari K. Paris Jeffries, Executive Director, Parenting Journey 
  • Jim Klocke, CEO, Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) 

These representatives from the Boston Foundation-funded nonprofit cohort shared results from their engagement with InclusionBoston, including outcomes and lessons learned during the development and implementation of their action plans. YW Boston’s Vice President for Programs Kemarah Sika prefaced the conversation with an introduction of the InclusionBoston model. Kemarah explained that evaluation is baked into the InclusionBoston process from the beginning as a way to ensure that it is not just feel-good work. “It’s continual growth, an everyday process,” she said, “not a checkbox. We need measurable action plans and leadership to own it to make sure it happens. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts may feel like an add-on, but part of our work is to place it as lens over everything.” 

Kemarah also discussed some of the findings from the report that inspired this gathering, Facilitating Organizational Change: Lessons from InclusionBoston. This report, published by YW Boston in partnership with the Boston Foundation, uses the InclusionBoston model along with ten case studies to provide insight on how to successfully advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. In the report, executive and nonprofit leaders, DEI practitioners, and organizations longing to advance DEI will find solutions to common barriers that prevent them from achieving cultural and organizational change.

Access a recording of the webinar â€śAdvancing Racial Equity Through Organizational Change: Lessons from InclusionBoston” below: 

Unlocking the power of diversity in the workplace: InclusionBoston as a solution

YW Boston’s InclusionBoston engages organizations in over a year of diversity, equity, and inclusion work, starting with ten hours of structured dialogue sessions around race and ethnicity. InclusionBoston intervenes at all levels necessary for change: individual (micro), interpersonal (meso), and institutional (macro). The dialogue series develops shared knowledge, trust, and skills in all participants, which are prerequisites to creating change within an organization. Most importantly, follow up processes ensure action is not just planned, but actually occurs. This helps organizations accomplish tasks quickly and create momentum for future work.

Yi-Chin Chen, Executive Director of Friends of the Children-Boston, spoke on their experience engaging with InclusionBoston during the May 7th webinar: 

Yi-Chin Chen, Executive Director, Friends of the Children-Boston
“As a leader, it was challenging for me to see the pre-survey results that there are people within my organization that feel like there was implicit bias that they were experiencing. Racial equity work within organizations requires vulnerability, honesty, and accountability. Our YW Boston facilitators really held it together for us in terms of helping us sit in our discomfort and guide us through really challenging weeks of conversation.” 

Ultimately, InclusionBoston resulted in a more cohesive team and equitable decision making processes for Friends of the Children.

The InclusionBoston Model

Historically, DEI work has focused on explanatory theories and training models to identify changes needed from individuals or organizations. Innovating from the historical approach, YW Boston’s approach resides solidly in change theory practice, both for individuals and organizations. This change theory practice borrows from public health, organizational learning, organizational change, strategic renewal, and policy change. InclusionBoston offers a variety of services that help advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within organizations. Our DEI services influence cultural, behavioral, and structural changes through the following components: 

  • Organizational assessment and process design 
  • Dialogue-based sessions empowering individuals and groups to take positive action 
  • Action plan development and implementation support 

The InclusionBoston model includes a thirteen-month plus partnership between an organization and YW Boston staff: 

Navigating challenges along the pathway to organizational change

Staff turnover and diverging levels of interest, participation, and buy-in are cited amongst some of the most common obstacles to advancing DEI in the workplace. InclusionBoston helps partners assess strengths and areas for growth to then develop and implement solutions to these challenges. In Facilitating Organizational Change, we focus on six challenges shared by our cohort—turnover, pre-existing organizational priorities, uneven staff buy-in, lack of alignment, organizational silos, and insufficient support. With the support of YW Boston staff and facilitators, participants from our Boston Foundation-funded cohort overcame these barriers, advancing DEI by: 

  • Creating racial affinity groups 
  • Establishing learning libraries or compilations of educational resources 
  • Revising hiring practices 
  • Reexamining promotion plans 
  • Establishing an equity steering committee 
  • Encouraging informal mentorship opportunities for staff of color 

Driving change into the future post-COVID-19

When Beth Chandler asked whether InclusionBoston had helped any of the organizations manage through the COVID-19 crisis, all agreed it had helped them more easily determine how people were experiencing the pandemic differently. Imari Paris Jeffries found it made him think even more about the future. “The pandemic and stay-at-home order are like a ‘walk of privilege.’ We can’t help but see who is taking a step forward and who steps back. We’ve been asking, What do we change to do things differently? Almost every issue we are fighting now has its roots in racism. I hope that when we go back, people ask those questions about why inequities are there in the first place. I hope people don’t want to go back to that normal.”


Facilitating Organizational Change: Lessons from InclusionBoston

To receive a copy of our report, which includes opportunities and recommendations for leaders and DEI practitioners, please fill out the form below. If you would like to learn more about partnering with InclusionBoston, including in-person and online partnership opportunities, click here to schedule a free consultation.