Reflections on our Equity Work

Author: Tracy Sawicki

Last week, I shared our new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals. This week, I’ve asked three of our Trustees, Cindy Doyle, Jim Weiss, and Dave Welbourn, to join me in sharing reflections on this milestone. Each of these Trustees have championed the effort to bring an equity perspective to our work and were instrumental in developing the Foundation’s DEI goals. 

Why is it so important that the Foundation adopt DEI goals?

We know that significant disparities exist across our focus areas that we need to pay attention to. Adopting DEI goals is important to our Foundation because it helps us to consider equity in our decision-making and work toward increasing equity in the communities where we work. For example, we are learning how mental illness, substance use disorders, learning disabilities, and intellectual disabilities are experienced differently for people of color because of systemic racism, and we are eager to fund work that gets at the heart of these challenges.”- Tracy

These new goals will set the tone for all our work in the years to come. It is not enough for our grantmaking to do good work for the young people we attempt to serve; it must also do so from an equity perspective. These adopted goals help us pay attention to young people’s needs to be included, accepted, and valued as they work to become successful adults.” – Jim

As part of our equity process, we understand that to have meaningful impact we need to make room at our table, including in our work the grant partners and the people we want to impact through our funding. Listening and inviting others to share their perspectives is a way we can begin to model inclusion.” – Cindy

Despite their best intentions, a grantmaker can’t be effective without a DEI heart. While many of the grants we have given in the past have had equity implications, that focus has not driven our decisions. Thus, we’re on a course to correct some past inequities in our grantmaking. Now our work on understanding DEI is also making us think about the makeup of our board, the outreach of our staff, and the very nature of our grantmaking.”  – Dave

Have you had any “aha” moments along the way?

The Foundation’s DEI journey has been full of “aha” moments for me. Starting a couple of years ago, our staff began holding dedicated, regularly scheduled meetings to talk about these issues and challenge ourselves to grow and learn. We’ve read books (a few favorites: How to Be an Antiracist, The Person You Mean To Be), participated in webinars, and thought at length about how we can apply what we learn to our work. All of this inspired me, challenged me, and is helping me grow as an ally in this work.” – Tracy

I’m constantly surprised to learn how much I didn’t know and what I never learned in school about our country’s racist history. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and have the Foundation community as fellow partners on this journey.  This is not something I could do on my own.” – Cindy

For me, the DEI journey itself has been somewhat of an “aha” moment. I began this effort with the other Tower Foundation Trustees thinking that I was already in a good place when it comes to understanding my privileges and accepting and embracing the differences of those around me, and this work would merely solidify my thoughts. As the reading and discussions began, I came to understand that like many others I had much to learn and think about. Each book, article, and discussion raised more questions and forced me to re-think once strongly held beliefs, and I viewed others struggling with very similar issues. DEI work truly takes a great deal of time and effort. It is my wish that the learning and growing will continue for a long time to come.” – Jim

The biggest aha is that while we were making thoughtful, creative, grantee-centered grants,  we were missing some factors that are essential to equitable, inclusive philanthropy. Good, generous, agnostic intentions were not likely to have the impact we wanted,  because we weren’t asking the right questions.”  – Dave