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The urgent, messy, imperfect work none of us should hide from

Kauffman associates

Doing the work to build self-awareness and deep relationships in order to sustain diversity, equity, and inclusion not as an “initiative” but as the fundamental “how” of our work.

Our Bootstrap Obsession

There were days when I wanted to hide from DEI.

We launched our internal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy at the Kauffman Foundation without fanfare or public proclamations, but instead with a team of six associates from across the Foundation who spent more than a year building relationships so that we would be able to talk about why impact matters more than intent. Instead of quietly shrinking while reading a piece on how damaging it can be to ask others to “assume positive intent,” I took a deep breath and “whisper-shared” that “assume positive intent” had been my mantra.

I needed to learn more.

At Kauffman, we’re working with communities of educators and entrepreneurs to ensure that every person has the opportunity to learn, take risks, and own their success. Work that helps us understand our own blind spots and create diverse, equitable, and inclusive teams is central to our ability to carry out our mission. We call it “REDI” work (Race, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion). It positions us to be better at listening and collaborating with others – and achieve better results. It also has the power to help us become better versions of ourselves. These are the most important muscles we can build individually and as a team.

Our approach is quiet, messy, and imperfect. I’ve wanted to hide, because sometimes self-awareness is painful and embarrassing. I’ve wanted to hide, because our pace is too slow for some and too fast for others. I’ve wanted to hide, because my ego wants to be an expert and instead, I’m a beginner.

Our process has been clunky and slow, but it’s also been about building relationships, connection, and trust. Our process is about building the resilience to continue to look at ourselves honestly, with compassion and with an urgency for improvement.

We’ve overhauled our talent attraction processes and launched a year of Foundation-wide REDI skill-building that’s led by our CEO, a 15-person REDI Change Team, and our Senior Leadership Team. We don’t have a checklist we’re ticking our way through. Instead – I hope – we’re building self-awareness and deep relationships to sustain REDI not as an “initiative” but as the fundamental “how” of our work.

I think our best contribution to the DEI/REDI conversation is to share what we’re learning. So, from our perfectly imperfect initial REDI working group of six, here are our insights.

Travel together

Kathleen Boyle Dalen“I am regularly re-learning that the ideas I want to advance (as carefully crafted and thoughtful as I might believe them to be) represent only one point of view – mine. There’s no way to claim those ideas are inclusive or represent our best work. I once came out of a full-day session with our REDI committee where my colleagues had shared how important it is for their voices to be truly represented in our REDI work, only to turn around the next morning and send the team a proposed REDI statement for the Foundation. And … it took me more than a minute to realize that I’d trampled the very trust we’d started to build by choosing to write a Foundation-wide statement, by myself. That statement now has permanent residency in my inbox – as a reminder that going it alone is the antithesis of the very work we’re trying to do.”

Kathleen Boyle Dalen, Chief Talent, Integration, and Culture Officer

Begin with you

Veronica Solis“We all have biases, regardless of how genuine and kindhearted we intend to be, regardless of the color of our skin and our background. We all need, and should have, the opportunity to learn from each other – and about each other – with an open heart and an open mind. We need this not only to do better work, but to be better and kinder people. I learned that I have to start to heal myself first in order to be able to help others and to make an impact. The only way to do this work is to be vulnerable and true to myself by not suppressing my genuine feelings.”

Veronica Solis, Executive Administrative Assistant, Entrepreneurship

Ground in authenticity and vulnerability

Philip Gaskin “Through our REDI journey, we worked hard to create a safe environment for team members to open their hearts, minds, and souls to new experiences. Never easy – concern, fear, confusion, experiencing emotions never felt before – all of those can be present when entering authenticity and vulnerability, and we experienced those emotions and feelings and more. However, once we shared our personal stories, allowing others to see us and be at one with us, that is when progress began. Some of the most impactful social movements in history were founded in people telling their stories and inspiring others in the process, moving from disconnection to connection, from misunderstanding to understanding. And REDI is an important platform for meaningful societal and organizational effectiveness.”

Philip Gaskin, Vice President, Entrepreneurship

Allow grace and space

Tanesha Ford“Any REDI journey, if pushed appropriately, will present moments of discomfort, offense, and harm. Though agreements for courageous conversation are established from the beginning, some norms are easier to follow than others. Maintain confidentiality, stay engaged, and notice patterns of participation … a breeze! Grace with ourselves, grace with others … when on the receiving end of an offensive comment. Ouch! Granting grace can be difficult when you’ve personally been hurt by an action or statement. I have learned that allowing grace, sometimes also requires allowing space. If I’ve personally been offended, it may take some time (even with acknowledgment and apology) to be able to move forward. Once that space is granted, on both sides, you are better positioned for repair and healing.”

Tanesha Ford, Executive Director, Kauffman Scholars, Inc.

Listen … and share

Brett Hembree“We spent a lot of time in our first year asking associates for input on their experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion at the Foundation. That listening was important. But … we left associates wondering what we were doing with their feedback, because we took too long to share what we were hearing. In trying to find the perfect process, format, and timing for sharing, we got in our own way. We learned that delays lead to doubts about how serious we are about this work. We’ve also seen trust begin to blossom when we close the gap and get information shared more quickly.”

Brett Hembree, Senior Analyst, Evaluation

Accept non-closure

Corey Scholes“REDI requires us to know that the issue of racial equity is not likely something we can “solve.” It is complex and layered. When we attempt to take two steps forward, we also might end up taking one step backward. A norm that we have in this work is to ‘accept non-closure.’ This is difficult. So often we want to tie everything up with a bow and check it off of our to-do lists. That will not work with REDI work. We have to be prepared to sit in the discomfort and know that there will likely always be ‘unfinished business.’ As we get more well-versed in the untidiness of that concept, I think we will be able to be more open to one another because we will not be entering in the work only to problem solve, but to listen and learn.”

Corey Scholes, Director, Education

Our Bootstrap Obsession: Let each of us own our success, exhibit the grit and determination it takes to forge our own paths to define and achieve it, but with the recognition that we don’t get there alone.