Assessing Racial Equity In Your Organization

By Kylie Bayer-Fertterer, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District

Today we’re buzzin’ about racial equity and organizational assessments!

The Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, along with a few other organizational members of The Intertwine Alliance, is in the midst of an organizational assessment on racial equity. Lemme back up just a bit… The Intertwine Alliance is a coalition of 150+ public, private and nonprofit organizations working to integrate nature more deeply into the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region. The Intertwine does a fantastic job of rooting out issues affecting the environmental community in the Portland area and finds ways for member organizations to engage on those issues. Recently The Intertwine began to engage organizations in dialogues on racial equity.

Our cohort decided to assess our organizational responses to racial equity by working with two facilitators: Julia Meier and Dr. Ann Curry-Stevens, two Portland area women who are well-versed in racial equity work. Julia and Ann meet with our cohort each month to share content on different topics as they relate to racial equity. This month we focused on infusing racial equity into HR practices like hiring and training. While the monthly meetings are engaging and each session ends with great takeaways on how to improve our organizations, the real meat of the cohort experience comes from actually assessing racial equity practices within our organizations.

The Assessment

The Tool For Organizational Self Assessment Related To Racial Equity is available (“The Tool” from here on out) on the Coalition of Communities of Color’s (CCC) website. The CCC addresses the socioeconomic disparities, institutional racism and inequity of services experienced by our families, children and communities; and to organize our communities for collective action resulting in social change to obtain self-determination, wellness, justice and prosperity. Julia is the former executive director of the CCC and was instrumental in developing the assessment tool itself. Full disclosure, Julia said the name of the assessment is too wordy and she isn’t a fan, so if you read through and think of something better, send her your idea!

The Tool itself is a series of 76 questions designed to get at what your organization does well and what it can improve upon regarding racial equity. The questions each focus on one of nine domains:

  1. Organizational Commitment, Leadership & Governance
  2. Racial Equity Policies & Implementation Practices
  3. Organizational Climate, Culture & Communications
  4. Service-Based Equity
  5. Service-User Voice & Influence (community engagement & decision-making power)
  6. Workforce Composition & Quality
  7. Community Collaboration
  8. Resource Allocation & Contracting Practices
  9. Data, Metrics & Continuous Quality Improvement

This assessment was developed by the CCC to be applicable across all sectors so rest easy knowing that many public agencies have already used it to assess their racial equity practices.

The Process

76 questions sounds like a lot. It is. It took my organization about 6 hours spread over two sessions to complete the answers. Here’s how Julia and Ann advised we do it.

1. Establish a diverse team

Diverse in many senses of the word. If your organization is already racially diverse, your team should be racially diverse. Please (for the love of local gov) do not just select team members because they are people of color. Ask employees who seem engaged in the topic to be a part of the team. If you don’t know if anyone is even engaged on the topic, make an announcement and ask folks to apply! In addition to racial diversity, you’ll want departmental diversity and hierarchical diversity as well. THPRD recruited a team of employees from a variety of departments and included part-time/seasonal employees as well as managers and a senior director. If everyone in the room has a similar role in the organization it will be difficult to effectively complete the assessment.

2. Find a space 

You’re going to spend more than a few hours in a room with your team. Find a location with windows! Our first session was in a conference room lacking in ambience making it hard for team members to stay engaged. Go off site if you can…

3. Bring your materials

You’ll need those giant post-it notes, or a whiteboard, or a computer. Bring something to take notes on so ideas don’t get lost in the process. Print enough copies of the questions for everyone, plus one extra as the master copy. #ProTip bring some snacks and drinks too. These are tough questions to ask of employees, might as well keep them happy with refreshments.

4. Establish ground rules

Before getting started get everyone on the same page by establishing ground rules. I do this for regular meetings and it helps get people ready to work cooperatively.

My go-to ground rules:

  • If you talk a lot, ask yourself “Why am I talking?”
  • If you don’t talk a lot, give yourself a goal to contribute
  • Assume positive intent
  • Listen to understand
  • Maintain confidentiality

5. A few miscellaneous things…

Try not to share the questions with your team beforehand. The process is key in this assessment and talking through each question as a team is what yields the best answers. Coming in with preconceived answers won’t serve you well.

Be mindful of who you invite to your team. Employees who constantly take over conversations will bulldoze this process. If you’re curious about their opinion on the topic, ask them one-on-one.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not further along in this process. The assessment is just a snapshot in time. I wish we were further along, but we’re not. No sense in feeling bad about that.

What We Learned & Next Steps

After hammering out 76 questions we learned a lot about what our organization already does well regarding racial equity. We also learned we have a lot of work to do (no surprise there.) We can make the biggest strides by improving our ability to capture racial equity data on our employees and constituents. As a special district we have less (readily) available data about our residents and we have been hesitant to ask demographic information in the past. Once we establish some data collection practices (coincidentally our next cohort training topic) we should begin to make progress in that area.

Ultimately learnings from the assessment will guide a revision of our internal diversity development plan and some improvements to our community engagement practices.

This process has been an awesome opportunity to take a critical look at our organization. Racial equity is something most organizations (especially local government) struggle with. Establishing a clear baseline of information on racial equity in your organization is a great place to get started. You don’t know what you don’t know!

#BigLocalGovBaller status to The Intertwine Alliance. Without their leadership, this cohort would not have happened!