How might we...
align our racial equity aspirations with our current strategic plan?

Seattle Jobs Initiative (SJI) is a nonprofit focused on creating career pathways for people from underinvested communities. Tackling structural racism is central to this work, which SJI strives to do by creating equitable workforce opportunities. To ensure that these efforts lead to meaningful change, SJI wanted to get clearer on its racial equity strategy, engaging us to work with them on creating a racial equity commitment.

The focus of our work together can be divided into two categories: defining the commitment itself and creating tools and a measurement framework to support it. The commitment includes how SJI as an organization defines racial equity, and the commitment is shared with partners, program participants, and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs). The other components of our work included developing a governance framework and practices, collecting and analyzing data to ensure progress, and integrating a racial equity lens to SJI’s work. Each is intended to align with the commitment and bring it to life.

How we did it.

Alongside folks at the nonprofit, we began by identifying key tenets and attributes of racial equity commitments developed by other organizations that aligned with our approach. We also wanted to better understand SJI staff perceptions of what the organization does and how it does it, and their understanding of its existing approach to equity. 

We designed and facilitated focus groups, conducted interviews, and distributed a survey to SJI employees. We also conducted interviews with a number of internal and external stakeholders, including board members, people who had gone through their career navigation program, and community members. The insights from this research helped guide the design of the workshops. 

In the workshops, we defined group norms to frame the collaboration, aligned on key terms related to racial equity, and dug deeper into the nonprofit’s approach to addressing structural racism and racial equity. Defining terms — like “racial equity” (and others) — was key to this process, as it meant that team members would share a common language and therefore understand one another when they used these complex terms at work.

Armed with this shared vocabulary, together we co-designed the racial equity commitment and a racial equity lens, both of which will continuously evolve with the organization. Built into each are tools designed to ensure that racial equity is considered in all parts of the organization — not just what it does and who it serves, but also how SJI operates internally.

The results

SJI is a mission-driven organization and has a long history of creating impact — but they wanted to more effectively and publicly demonstrate their efforts addressing structural racism and their commitment to racial equity. They accomplished this by generating a number of interrelated outputs: an equity commitment framework, a racial equity statement, and a racial equity check. 

SJI also knew that they needed a measurement framework to hold themselves accountable to their racial equity goals. Because many of the key tenets in the racial equity framework were processes and not necessarily outcomes, we worked with them to design a system to evaluate whether the key performance indicators (KPIs) in the strat plan are being met in a manner consistent with the organization's dedication to racial equity. While not a traditional measurement system, this will help them remain true to their commitment while continually pushing themselves to be better.

Finally, our work together drove a realization for SJI about what they do and why it is effective. Unlike many others in the workforce development sector, SJI provides people from low-income backgrounds with the opportunity to safely try out different careers — going far beyond simply helping them get any job. This allows participants in the program to identify what they’re passionate about, increasing the likelihood that they will stay in those roles. This realization challenged SJI’s thinking about workforce development and motivated them to talk differently about this important work.

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