Tag Archives: Inclusion

A Day in the Life: Bellwether Analyst Andrew Rayner

Andrew Rayner

Bellwether Talent Services analyst Andrew Rayner

Bellwether analyst and Chicago native Andrew Rayner always wanted to be a teacher. From a very young age, he says, he loved school, learning, and teaching people things. Teaching in the Marshall Islands and Bosnia after college reinforced his love for the world of education, so when he came back to the U.S., he worked as a behavioral specialist for kids with mental health and behavioral challenges. The following year, he was one of the founding teachers at a charter school in Boston, where he taught math and special education. “To see changes in my students, even over the course of a year, was so amazing,” Andrew explains about his love of teaching.

After five years in the classroom, Andrew joined Bellwether’s Talent Services team in August 2016. Below, we talk to him about his path from a classroom educator to an education graduate student to a member of our own nonprofit firm.

Why did you transition out of the classroom and into other branches of the education field?

My behavioral work with kids made me see the importance of organizational culture as a whole in terms of lifting up kids. The culture and environment you create for students, both in the classroom and in the school building, matter. I also saw how things outside the school building were affecting and enticing kids. When I was a charter school teacher, I taught the same group of kids for two years. Getting to know them reiterated the need to influence the culture inside the classroom, inside the school as a whole, and in the community outside of the school.

I love teaching. It is rewarding but also incredibly challenging. I wanted to find another way to impact the field. I’m a big believer that if you want to become an expert in a field, you should see it from as many angles as you possibly can. So, while five years is not an extensive period of time teaching in comparison to many people, I felt ready to see the field from a different perspective.

I went on to get my master’s degree with an interest in how to create safe and brave spaces in organizations to discuss issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). I went to graduate school thinking I was going to do that work with kids, but I realized that adults actually need a lot of support to deeply and authentically engage in discussions about how to accelerate progress toward building and running DEI organizations.

Can you speak to your identities and how they inform your passion for DEI work?

As a person of color, I loved teaching in the Marshall Islands. You wouldn’t think that anything while living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would remind me of home (and the place itself didn’t, really), but the kids looked somewhat like me. They shared my complexion. Then, I did work in Bosnia, where my students didn’t look like me at all. It seemed like every conversation happening in sidewalk cafes would stop as I walked by. People would literally stare at me and point. It wasn’t malicious at all. They just had never seen a black person in the flesh. I felt like such a unicorn.

Working outside the country reminded me of the work that was needed in our country, especially in communities where the people looked like me. I was driven to go back to the United States and work in urban environments with historically marginalized and underserved youth, which is why I started work as a behavioral specialist.

My other salient identity is my queer sexuality. I came out to my parents during my second year of teaching in Boston. I never came out to my students — I was still figuring out what it meant to be a queer teacher.

However, during my third year of teaching, sexuality started to be talked about between the students themselves. The administrators wanted someone to talk to the seventh graders about it, particularly because bisexuality was “trending” in the seventh grade. I was asked by an administrator to consider talking to the students, and one of the reasons that was given for my involvement was because I was gay myself. At first, I thought it was an opportunity to leverage my identity for the betterment of the students. But then I realized I didn’t know how to do it! It also felt really uncomfortable that I would be asked to do it because I was gay.

It ended up being addressed by someone in that grade-level team, but it was the first time I really thought about how to talk about sexuality in a way that was beneficial and productive to the students and not just about me coming out as a gay teacher. I began to ask school administrators if there were any internal school policies or structures in place to support me as a queer-identified teacher if I were to have come out to the students and something went wrong (e.g., a student felt uncomfortable or a parent complained). The administrators said that there were no policies or structures in place and that they had never thought about it before. That was mortifying to me.

There are still challenges for queer educators. Where I am positioned now will hopefully allow me the opportunity to create safe spaces through talent planning in organizations. Through Bellwether, I hope to have opportunities to lead the field in this work.

What attracted you to working at Bellwether?

By the end of grad school, I was looking for work in diversity consulting and found it a really hard thing to break into. I stumbled upon Bellwether, and what started out as an informational interview turned into the first of multiple interviews. I knew education consulting would give me that different-altitude look at the field and the opportunity to see what it is like to enact systems-level change.

I was drawn to Bellwether because it is mission-driven, and I had not seen that in a lot of other firms. I also thought it was incredibly impressive that the organization spanned across talent, strategy, and policy. This organization embodied the mantra I shared earlier by getting its feet wet in three different views of the same field.

My eyes have been opened in ways I didn’t think they would be, particularly about the impact that talent services work has on perceptions of DEI on the ground. For example, I never realized that how you are compensated, how you move along a compensation schedule, and perceptions of the two are all very much issues of equity. It has been great to learn that by implementing certain strategies along the talent life cycle, you can affect the experience of DEI that individuals have at an organization.

Is there anything that stands out for you about the work environment at Bellwether?

I have been lucky in that I’ve always worked at organizations that are extremely passionate about the work they are doing. That’s no different at Bellwether: People care very much about what they are working on and about impacting education. And they do it with a smile and love to laugh with one another. They bring that joy both to the seriousness with which they do the work and also to the clients to whom they’re delivering the work.

I am fortunate to be at Bellwether as we are fleshing out our DEI offerings and services for clients. I’m excited to see how we are going to codify the practices we are establishing and how the solutions we are coming up with evolve.

 

Dispatch from #EP2016

Veterans in Education Organizations May be Overlooked, Isolated

Photo by Ian Koski.

Photo by Ian Koski.

Today is Veterans Day and an opportunity to express our gratitude for those who have served in a military conflict. More importantly, it’s a time to consider if education leaders and their organizations are doing enough to hire and support veterans.

So we decided to dig into data generated by Bellwether’s Talent Ready Diagnostic (TRD), a proprietary framework that we use collaboratively with organizations to assess their “talent readiness” along 16 key talent dimensions including core values, leadership, culture, diversity, equity and inclusion, competencies, talent acquisition, on-boarding, performance development, career development, total rewards, decision making, communications, and work/life mix. The results provide us with a window into how “talent ready” an organization is — that is that degree to which they are innovative, effectively managed, great places to work that generate sustainable results and have durable, authentic relationships with the communities they serve. Importantly, it provides us and our clients with valuable data on the diversity of their employees and whether their employees feel that the work culture is inclusive. Thousands of employees from 36 education organizations across the sector, including 14 nonprofits, 13 CMOs, and 9 districts, have submitted responses.

We wanted to see if we could get a picture of the sentiments expressed by education organization employees who identify as military veterans. Our data set is small, so all the requisite interpretation caveats apply, but clear themes emerged.

What we found is discouraging.

Overall, there are incredibly few areas where the veteran group reports more positive perceptions of talent dimensions than the non-veteran group, suggesting that the identities and experiences of veterans may be isolated or overlooked.

Here are some concrete findings: Continue reading

Bellwether at #Dreamforce16: What We Can Learn about Gender Inclusion

As an Operations Assistant at Bellwether, I had the privilege of being one of three Bellwarians to attend Dreamforce ‘16, Salesforce.com’s annual 4-day user conference in San Francisco. At Bellwether, we use Salesforce as our primary data and client management system, and I was looking forward to learning more about what Salesforce has to offer to take our operations to the next level. This was my first time attending, and I had been looking forward to it for months. I spent hours poring over the schedule and the 500+ sessions per day, trying to strategize which ones I (and, as an extension, Bellwether) would get the most value out of. I mentally prepared to be overwhelmed by the crowd of more than 100,000 attendees descending upon this small section of San Francisco. The last thing I ever expected to think about was my gender identity and how it would play out at the conference.

One of the first of many articles of swag available to attendees was a Dreamforce backpack. Inside it were brochures of sponsors, a water bottle, and a button pin attached to a card and stickers of pronouns, including one that simply stated, “Ask me.”

Pronoun card

Photo by author. Click to expand.

The card explained, “As part of Saleforce’s commitment to equality for all, Dreamforce welcomes Trailblazers of all gender identities.” The card, as well as various other communications I had seen before and throughout the conference, informed attendees that there were “all gender restrooms” in one of the main conference centers. 

Gender neutral restroom sign

Photo by author. Click to expand.

I don’t think I can adequately explain how this display of inclusivity made me feel, particularly because I hadn’t even been expecting it. I felt seen and welcomed, like I would be able to bring most of my whole self to this conference. My existence as a genderqueer person was validated by the restroom signs and this 4×6 card and button. I immediately chose the “Ask Me” sticker, and proudly fastened the button to my lanyard, front and center, just above my badge. I wasn’t sure what I would say when someone asked me, but I was hoping that someone would. Continue reading

Diversity: Necessary (But Insufficient)

Our country has a long history of social movements that fight inequity, injustice, and institutionalized oppression and which are led by marginalized or oppressed groups. But the educational equity “movement” is unique in that it has, from the beginning, been led largely by white, economically privileged leaders and funders, while the communities most impacted by educational injustice are largely brown, black, and poor.

The outcomes of this disconnect are approaches, practices, and structures that are not deeply and authentically informed by the communities being served. They often lack sociological and cultural context and relevance. This reinforces power dynamics between school leaders and families, educators and students, and organizational leaders and their key constituencies. And these dynamics perpetuate dominant white culture, practices, and beliefs and maintain the systemic oppression living comfortably and largely untouched at the root of educational inequity.

In recent years, the consciousness about this disconnect has risen in our field, and with that increased awareness has come a desire to change. School leaders have started to shift away from zero-tolerance discipline policies that fuel the school-to-prison pipeline and towards restorative justice approaches. Educators have started to examine pedagogy for cultural relevance. Organizational leaders have started to prioritize diversifying their organizations. Funders have started to see the dramatic lack of ways to track data and metrics related to diversifying school staff, organizational leaders, and volunteer bases and boards.

As more nonprofits, charter schools and networks, and district leaders have come to our Bellwether Talent Advising practice frustrated by lack of progress on their diversity, equity, and inclusion aspirations, we have articulated an approach called the Funnel of Impact. This approach helps organizational leaders to build and run educational equity organizations that are what we call “talent-ready,” organizations that live and act in deep alignment with beliefs around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Continue reading