Ten Reactions to “From Intention to Action,” a Report by Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners

Last week, Bellwether Partner, Tina Fernandez, and I provided commentary on the importance of  understanding why organizations fail to move from commitment to action when pursuing diversity initiatives. The post was prompted by From Intention to Action: Building Diverse, Inclusive Teams in Education to Deepen Impact, a report released last week by  Education Pioneers and Koya Leadership Partners.

In the process of reviewing the report, my colleagues amassed a list of reactions that include plusses, minuses, methodological quibbles, and questions that were provoked. While we all agreed that the topic is important and necessary to examine, there were aspects of the report that I wished were more rigorous and comprehensive.

Let me pause here to say that I’m a huge fan of Education Pioneers. I’m an active alumnus and I worked there happily for six years. In my last post, I worked in close partnership with the Koya team, which was phenomenal. So raising critical questions about Intention to Action caused me great consternation. Through conversations with numerous colleagues (many of which are EP alums), I was ultimately able to separate my backing for Education Pioneers’ programs from my analysis of their report.

I believe we’ll make more progress as a field if we push each other to do our best work as individuals and organizations, keep exchanges centered on issues, and assume best intentions. I try to model that here.

Plusses:

  1. We commend EP and Koya for calling out that diversity initiatives require funding and accountability to be effective. This is goes unquestioned for programmatic and strategic initiatives but often isn’t seen as necessary for diversity work.
  2. The role of boards of directors are also usually given short shrift when implementing diversity strategies, but they come up twice in this report – first as a mechanism for holding the CEO accountable and again when the diversity of board members is under scrutiny itself.
  3. The authors note that organizations that responded to the survey didn’t have or couldn’t access HR data disaggregated by race. Without good data, leaders can’t make good decisions about where to invest time and resources so we’re glad to see a “focus on impact and metrics” as the second best practice in the roadmap.
  4. Creating a diverse and inclusive organization requires deep and sustained work, but the report suggests some practices that organizations can employ relatively easily. The audit checklist at the end of the report will quickly give you an idea of how much work your organization has in front of it.

Minuses:

  1. Unfortunately, it seems like there’s a tendency for these conversations to start, generate general agreement that something must be done, and then go nowhere. For instance, this report closely mirrors a 2011 report by Commongood Careers and the Level Playing Field Institute called The Voice of Talent: Diversity in the Workplace which analyzes survey responses from over 1,600 current and former nonprofit employees. The chief finding: “There is a perceived gap between the intentions and actions of nonprofit organizations when it comes to promoting staff diversity.” Both reports recommend similar actions. Our last post posits one possible reason for why we’re not getting the traction we need to show real gains.
  2. The survey and report only consider racial diversity even though the first study they cite to demonstrate the benefits of diverse teams tracks 16 dimensions of inherent and acquired diversity.  While race is especially salient in educational equity work and is clearly the focus of this report, diversity is multi-faceted and nuanced. Some dimensions are visible and some are not and it is important that full diversity be valued to truly improve inclusion, productivity, and impact. An acknowledgement of this and explanation of the racial focus would have been valuable.
  3. The report states that, “At the director level, only 39 percent of leaders are people of color. At the vice president level, the number dips to 18 percent. At the CEO level, 25 percent of leaders are people of color.” It calls out the VP level as where the breakdown in the pipeline occurs but it’s difficult to derive exactly what is happening to impede people of color from advancing into leadership positions. Is it a supply problem? Is it a function of biases in the hiring or advancement process? Is it that senior positions are more often sourced from networks and therefore reflect other senior leaders? Questions abound.
  4. There are some solid recommendations for retaining and developing leaders, but they’re applicable to all employees rather than catering to the specific needs of leaders of color. Matching young leaders with senior mentors or champions, establishing employee resource groups (ERGs), and holding all managers accountable for inclusive hiring and management practices are just a few additional practices that can help retain and develop leaders of color.
  5. Two claims strike us as intuitively correct but we’d like to see more data to support them. The first is that candidates of color get screened out in the selection process due to a lack of anti-bias training and diverse interview panels. The second is that, “A lack of robust recruitment pipelines, the absence of tools for ensuring fit with the role, and a lack of retention initiatives that support employee and career growth are leading to a less diverse workforce and to poor hiring decisions across the board.” These may be true, but we would have liked to see better cases that clearly link the conclusion to the evidence.
  6. For a report about diversity, we were disappointed that it didn’t include the voices of leaders of color and their experiences working in education organizations. Quantitative and qualitative data illustrating how institutional practices affect individuals would have added a depth and critical perspective to the report.

Despite the above criticisms, Intention to Action successfully prompted critical conversations about how to move beyond the rhetoric into the work to change institutions here at Bellwether as we undertake our own diversity initiative and help other organizations plan and execute theirs.

Special thanks to my colleagues Tina Fernandez, Becky Crowe, Steph Wilson, and Andy Rotherham for their feedback and support for this post.