Race Forward recently launched the Racial Equity Core Team guide, which provides jurisdictions and organizations with the tools and strategies to establish and scale a cross-departmental Core Team. As a special GARE Webinar, Terry Keleher, Director of Strategic Innovation of Race Forward, and Gordon Goodwin, GARE Midwest Region Project Manager, spoke with three GARE Members featured in the guide who have successfully convened Racial Equity Core Teams in their jurisdictions. The discussion highlighted the successes and unique challenges of several teams working to implement their organizational racial equity plans, including Kimberlee Archie (Director, Office of Equity & Inclusion, City of Asheville, NC), Lisa Ramadhar and Nannette Blaize (New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and Matias Valenzuela (Director of the Office of Equity and Social Justice, King County, WA).
Laying the Ground Work for a Racial Equity Core Team
A Racial Equity Core Team is a primary leadership team responsible for designing, coordinating, and organizing racial equity plans and activities across a government jurisdiction or institution that is committed to equitable systems change. These teams serve as vehicles for institutional change and provide the structure for a diverse group of people to move in a common direction and build sustained momentum towards achieving equity goals. The jurisdiction can include a county, city, individual department, public utility, public school district, public library, park district, or other public institution. These teams can take on a variety of different functions, summarized by the seven “C”s:
- Catalyzing systems change;
- Coordinating action plans;
- Cultivating new racial equity leadership;
- Capacity-building to disseminate skills and tools;
- Communicating about racial equity;
- Collecting and analyzing data; and
- Championing racial and social justice.
Archie reflected on the first critical steps she took to get a core team off the ground. She met with every department director before the active recruitment phase to discuss expectations of members and clarify the energy and time commitment required to be a Core Team member. She also provided background documents about the various roles, expectations, and commitments required from team members and asked directors to help identify individuals in their department who would be positioned for success.
As a result of Archie’s internal organizing efforts, Asheville had 100% participation among departments and developed a complete Racial Equity Action Plan in their first year. After the first year was complete, she restructured the application process and made some significant changes that resulted in a group of members who applied directly to be a part of the team – as opposed to a top-down process where potential members were identified by departmental leadership. The first group was tasked with quickly developing an Equity Action Plan, and the second group was tasked with tracking the Action Plan and creating an Equity Budget Analysis tool.
Based on her experiences in her first year of operationalizing racial equity, she shared a few key strategies for other jurisdictions to consider. Presented below are tips for other jurisdictions:
- Reflect on previous efforts and be willing to make changes as needed.
- With the change to a more open application process, she felt she was able to better understand individual member’s experiences and motivations for applying to be a part of the team.
- Get quick wins by being action-oriented and operationalizing the work.
- By requiring the quick development of an Action Plan and Equity Budgeting Tool, team members are forced to make action-oriented decisions.
Moving into Action
Lisa Ramadhar and Nannette Blaize from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene provided valuable insights on the importance of buy-in from leadership for creating lasting institutional change. Specifically, they both emphasized how crucial the Commissioner mandate towards the creation of a Racial Equity Core Team was to their overall success. As a result of the Commissioner’s directive, the team was given more freedom and flexibility to meet and plan their activities during work hours without pushback from their direct supervisors. An additional component of their success was the overall diversity of the membership, including organizational hierarchical diversity, represented within the team itself. Lisa and Nannette also noted how important the celebration of “small wins” and specific instances of success was in sustaining team momentum. An additional factor in their success is making sure that individual members feel valued for their contributions, which helped to cement their investment in the process. Specifically, they stated how “it’s important to take care to prevent the Core Team dynamics from becoming a replication of the exploitative systems we’re trying to change.” Their recommendations and tips for other jurisdictions are summarized below:
- Cast a wide net when considering membership
- The open call for Core Team applications resulted in over 100 applicants for only 28 spots; this allowed the Core Team leadership to not only have diverse representation across identities and departments, but also hierarchical diversity among staff from all levels in the organization.
- Support from leadership can go a long way.
- Because the creation of the Core Team was a direct mandate from the Commissioner, the Team had all the justification it needed to meet on a regular basis and engage in intensive trainings for the purpose of establishing a strong foundational structure for the team.
- Maintain awareness of how the “taking” of time, resources and ideas from individual members can become exploitative if the team members aren’t seeing direct results from their actions.
- This can include making sure that a team member’s participation in the Core Team is recognized during their annual performance review.
- This could also include the provision of “comp time” (extra time off) when they’ve been working overtime on Core Team tasks, etc.
Communication and Coordination
Matias Valenzuela (Director of the Office of Equity and Social Justice, King County, WA) reflected on the team restructuring process that has taken place over the years. Although the King County Equity and Social Justice initiative was launched approximately 11 years ago, it struggled somewhat to get off the ground because it was initially launched as an executive initiative only (and therefore didn’t include agencies lead by elected officials). However, in 2010, an ordinance was passed that established the Inter-Branch team to oversee the work and included all departments and agencies (with nearly 40 representatives total).
Matias also touched on the importance of effective communication and coordination among multiple departments. Specifically, he mentioned how their Core team was structured a little bit differently from the others mentioned during the presentation, in that their team was comprised primarily of leadership positions. Additionally, departments and agencies have their own teams (and larger departments have teams at the division level), which highlights the necessity of effective collaboration. Given that there are so many departments and divisions involved, a culture of transparency is extremely important to ensure that the team is remaining on track. Matias mentioned how the use of “tier boards” (further described below) by departments track progress on work. Since the Equity and Social Justice Inter-Branch Team operates outside of any other department, and includes strong advocates, this helps to maintain a culture that encourages vulnerability and growth. The Advocacy Team is especially well-suited towards researching and presenting more novel or “cutting-edge” equity policies, as they’re not beholden to any one particular department. He also described the steps they took to resolve lack of representation issues, specifically regarding the American Indian community in King County.
Key tips are summarized below:
- Don’t underestimate the importance of codification for building necessary structure.
- The 2010 ordinance passed by City Council was a hugely important step in the Team’s development.
- Promote a culture of transparency and vulnerability.
- Every department displays their progress with the use of visual and performance management systems known as “tier boards”
- Actively work to address issues in representativeness of team composition.
- Team members recognized the lack of Native American representation and requested the help of a Native American affinity group to serve as part of the team.
- Ensure that potential Team members understand the time and energy commitment.
- It’s a requirement that Inter-Branch members devote at least one-fifth of their total working time to the Core Team.
This webinar addressed some of the fundamental aspects of developing and managing a Core Team, and provided some real-life examples of successful Core Teams at various stages in their development. As important as it is to develop these teams as a way to move the dial on institutional change, it’s even more important to take steps to ensure that Team members are feeling valued in their work, and that the Team itself doesn’t accidentally “turn into a replication of the systems that we’re trying to change” (as mentioned by Lisa and Nannette.)
For more information on how Core Teams can work to design, implement and organize racial equity plans and activities, click here.