In its work with stakeholders, CBI aims to ensure that all who may be affected by a decision have a voice in the conversation. We emphasize the importance of bringing in under-represented or marginalized perspectives, both because it is the right thing to do, and because it is necessary to ensure solutions are wise and durable. For years, this fundamental tenet of our organization’s philosophy has existed in tension with the reality of our organization’s and our field’s demographics: predominantly white and upper middle class.
Beginning in 2016, we decided it was worth exploring how well we are living the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The conversation began organically at a board meeting, when staff, leadership, and the board discussed our shared interest in becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization, both internally and with clients. We took a series of steps, evolving our approach as we went:
CBI leadership, staff, and board are working to finalize a DEI plan for CBI to be implemented in the coming years. Our DEI plan will focus on four key areas:
Although it is too early to identify concrete lessons learned, our efforts point to some initial insights that might be relevant to organizations interested in doing similar work.
Understanding what it means to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion within one’s organization — and defining the boundaries of the effort — requires an articulation of organizational values. Early conversations around questions like, “What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean for us, and why do we care about them?” may feel slow-moving, and some staff might feel impatient to get from the “talking” to the “doing” part of the initiative. But building a shared understanding of the scope and focus of the effort is a critical first step.
At CBI, we recognized from the start that this initiative couldn’t be just about changing the internal composition of our staff, given our small size and low turnover. Through the process, we discovered many additional issues that we have opportunities to address, including how we shape our organizational culture and live our values in our work with clients. We also recognized that we needed to look at bigger issues, such as organizational awareness, structure, and systems. We are now setting a positive baseline for equity and inclusion, which all staff can continue to work on as we grow and diversify our team.
Bringing in an outside partner to observe and reflect on our organizational culture was a critical component of the work. No matter how reflective and self-aware we may be as practitioners, we still cannot fully see our own cultural blind spots. Our partner, the Adaway Group, injected a critical voice into our conversation that helped us to move the process forward.
Our equity audit revealed some expected and some surprising findings. Overall, it confirmed that CBI has a strong, collaborative, and caring culture, and a deep interest in pursuing DEI through our organizational practices. That was the good news. But the audit also highlighted that we need to clarify key policies and norms, and make them more transparent to all staff. If we want to accomplish our goals, we need to improve on issues such as mentorship, and provide more clarity on staff evaluation, compensation, and advancement. These findings helped us define our priorities and articulate the four focus areas for our DEI plan noted above.
Overall, we know that we must engage in organizational conversations around who we are and the kind of work we want to do that might feel challenging, in order to move forward together. We will need to consider expanding into new areas, engaging in partnerships with new practitioners, and wrestling with important puzzles around how to protect our role and reputation as neutrals while committing ourselves to pursue equity both internally, with our staff, and externally, through our client-facing work. We expect this to be complex and potentially messy work, but we are committed to it, and confident in our capacity to improve as individuals and as an organization.
Senior Associate Toby Berkman, Junior Associate Osamu Kumasaka, and Associate Managing Director Stacie Smith are members of CBI’s DEI work group.