George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, was senseless and sickening. As is the horrifying news from the New York Times that at least 70 people have died in law enforcement custody over the past decade after saying the same words – “I can’t breathe.” More than half were Black. I join with the people of conscience in this world. I condemn police brutality and I say loud and clear Black Lives Matter. This broader awakening of privileged people to see and want to change the ugly and relentless reality of institutionalized racism—that extinguishes hope, breaks spirits, limits potential, and steals futures—has been a long time in coming. And it must not fade from view.
So, what’s my role in this transformation? As a consultant, I’m a truth-teller. I’m retained to push people and organizations past their comfort zones. The purpose of my practice is to help philanthropists use their wealth more purposefully and effectively, identifying all the ways they hold themselves back. I look for root causes and patterns of behavior, like a lack of accountability, the way too much bureaucracy creates barriers and limits potential, or how exclusive and isolating behavior undermines relationships and creates power differentials.
Almost always, these behaviors perpetuate privilege and undermine social justice and equity.
When I’m in a board room, it’s my job to ask things others might not like, “Have you looked at this through a racial equity lens?” Or, if we’re examining data, “Have you desegregated by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability status?” Or, “Who else needs to be involved in this decision? Have you engaged with those most impacted by your work?” Or, “Have you heard of this racial equity consultant who can help your board and staff evolve?”
In this work, every person and sector exists on a moving continuum of what they understand and how they act to denounce the status quo and remake the future. In the philanthropy sector, many would say that change isn’t happening fast enough. But we can also point to those who have changed the conversation, advanced knowledge, and provided leadership and resources to help funders work differently and do better. I’m proud of the collaborative work my firm has done with clients in this area, including:
- The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity, produced for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- A Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) blog post entitled, What the Heck Does Equity Mean?
- Operationalizing Equity: Putting the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Racial and Ethnic and Inclusion Framework Into Action
- Tools for Thought: Using Racial Equity Impact Assessments for Effective Policymaking
- Considering Culture: Building the Best Evidence-Based Practice for Children of Color
As a member of the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers’ DEI Task Force, I’m honored to have helped create the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit for Consultants to Grantmakers, so that all consultants have tools and resources to help their philanthropic clients advance diversity, equity and inclusion.
I also recognize that in the face of hundreds of years of oppression and denial, everything feels grossly inadequate. I acknowledge that I’m a white person of significant privilege. Also, although my work involves advancing equity and social justice, I’m not an “equity expert.” That said, I’m committed to continuing to learn, grow, change, and advance this work as quickly and effectively as possible. That includes me, in my family, and in my community.
In addition to my commitment to grow and act, I ask my clients to consistently and intentionally move themselves and this work forward. Listen. Learn. Take risks. Speak up. Partner with and fund organizations led by people of color. Take action on anti-Black racism. Sign the Investment Manager Diversity Pledge. Don’t just fund racial equity efforts but also commit to operationalizing equity within your organization. In these ways and many, many more we’ll create a new path forward to a place where George Floyd (to name one) would have lived and thrived.
Philanthropy Ohio member and president of Putnam Consulting Group
This blog originally appeared on Putnam Consulting Group’s blog and was reposted with permission.