YW Boston partners with the Boston Foundation to advance equity and inclusion within ten local nonprofits

April 21, 2020 

By Sarah Faude, Ph.D., Director of Research and Evaluation, YW Boston; Leigh Chandler, Marketing and Communications Manager, YW Boston

YW Boston has had the incredible opportunity to partner with the Boston Foundation and a number of their grantees. The Boston Foundation funded ten nonprofits’ participation in InclusionBoston. Together we made the opportunity accessible to organizations from a range of non-profit sectors and served different communities in and beyond Boston.  

YW Boston knows that diversity without inclusion is not enough. Our services are designed to achieve and catapult organizational change on the cultural, behavioral, systemic, and structural levels. During this opportunity, YW Boston worked closely with each of the ten organizations throughout the InclusionBoston process. First, we met with representatives of each organization to introduce the model, vet organizational capacity and fit, and begin to establish goals for participation. Our expert facilitators then led a cohort from each organization through five 2-hour sessions focused on active listening, relationship building, development of shared language and frameworks, and connecting observation to action. Throughout the process, YW Boston worked with organizations to create and implement a customized and measurable action plan. This action plan took into consideration organizational feedback, capacity, and existing internal efforts, as well as insights gathered during facilitator debriefs and formal participant evaluations. These action plans became the guiding documents for the yearlong follow-up process that YW Boston supports, and continue to be the roadmap for these organizations as they continue to focus on creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.

Alongside the Boston Foundation, YW Boston is working to publish the results and learnings from this partnership. We will also be holding a lunchtime virtual convening on May 7, 2020. At this event, we will present on InclusionBoston and hear from participating organizations. Check out our sneak preview of some of the topics we will discuss in the report and at the convening:

Meeting nonprofits where they are 

Collaborating with the Boston Foundation provided YW Boston the opportunity to work with organizations of varying sizes and missions. With the Foundation’s help, we chose to host our InclusionBoston series at the following organizations:

Bottom Line
Citizen Schools
Friends of the Children, Boston
Health Care for All
Health Leads
Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC)
Massachusetts Nonprofit Network (MNN) 
Parenting Journey
Raw Art Works
United South End Settlements (USES) 

The organizations began with varying levels of experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion work. For instance, Health Leads felt prepared to dive in because they had previously held DE&I conversations with other organizations. Other organizations began their work with YW Boston following difficult situations, with multiple organizations having experienced high employee turnover. United South End Settlements was facing a public relations situation after the sale of one of their buildings. In response, they recognized the importance of strengthening their internal equity and inclusion work. 

Cohort selection was an important aspect of the process to be sure the right people were around the table to influence change. Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, with five full-time staff members, gathered a cohort of staff, board, and community partners to participate. In contrast, United South End Settlements, with their much larger staff, had only leadership team members participate in the series. (United South End Settlements hopes to engage YW Boston again in order to include front-line staff. Two organizations we worked with, Health Leads and Parenting Journey, have staff working remotely outside of Massachusetts. While Health Leads focused their series on their Boston-based staff, Parenting Journey worked with YW Boston to include staff working in their New York office. 

Partnering to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Once they selected their participating cohorts, each organization participated in the five two-hour dialogue sessions. These dialogues are a crucial part of the overall project focused on active listening, relationship building, development of shared language and frameworks, and connecting observation to action. Friends of the Children reflected on the dialogue sessions, “I do think that before the dialogue we had a cohesive team, but as we went through the dialogues we found that people really did need the space to talk about race and diversity issues. We thought people [were] very comfortable talking about these things, but we found out people were not that comfortable talking about it.” Bottom Line similarly found that while many of their staff “thought they had done work around vocabulary, the way things were happening and a general sense of racial equity work,” the series helped them realize there was more work for them to do. Jerrell Cox, VP of Development and External Relations at United South End Settlements remarked, “This is the best training that I have been through in my professional career.” 

While all five sessions of the InclusionBoston dialogue series are designed to prepare participating organizations for action, sessions four and five in particular are focused on the development of organizational action plans. It was during these sessions, for instance, that Health Leads staff deepened their understanding about the racial discrepancy amongst internal promotions, leading them to develop interventions to address this trend. 

Action planning: Where the change happens

Following the dialogue sessions, YW Boston followed up quarterly with the organizations to check in on their progress toward their work-plan and to provide tools and recommendations along the way. We also used this time to gather feedback about successes and challenges that the organizations were observing. The InclusionBoston team identified five major areas of focus where our InclusionBoston partners aspired to make change: leadership, processes, hiring, retention, and culture. Here are just a few of the ways these ten nonprofits made strides in these five areas:

Leadership: Friends of the Children’s leadership team learned through this process that diversity, equity, and inclusion require investment. As leaders, they learned to lean into the fact that “the process is messy and you are always asking a lot of questions.”

Processes: In realizing that they did not have many people of color in leadership roles in their organization, Bottom Line conducted a compensation review and sought ways to hire more staff members of color. They also reviewed the ways in which they listen to the voices of their students, to ensure they are addressing the needs of students of color.

Hiring: One of United South End Settlement’s “big wins,” as they put it, was that the organization created new policies for hiring and promotion. In doing so, they have hired more people of color and refined their “on-boarding process to encourage people of color to speak up.”

Retention: From the InclusionBoston series, Health Leads as an organization began to recognize that in the previous two years, only White women had been submitted for promotions. The leadership team looked at their promotion process. In addition, the organization’s African American affinity group gathered data about their personal experiences at the organization and presented findings to the leadership team.

Culture: Parenting Journey focused on creating an internal equity statement, developed with input of staff from all levels and with buy-in from their Executive Director. As they stated, “We don’t just want the statement to be something we put on the wall. We want to use the statement to infiltrate the way we work with each other and the way we work with the families we serve.” 

Each organization created an action plan, the majority of which touched on each of these five focus areas. In working in partnership with YW Boston to create and become accountable for these action plans, the organizations began to make progress on their inclusion goals. Joe Kriseberg, President & CEO of MACDC stated, “InclusionBoston made it possible to connect in a deeper way with new board members and gain tangible strategies to use moving forward.” 

A man sits between two women at a table. They're talking to him as he looks at the woman to his left. He's holding pencil to paper.

What does it take to drive lasting organizational change? Learn more about the challenges and successes of our partner organizations.

Join us for a lunchtime virtual convening with the Boston Foundation on May 7th. We will hear from representatives of a number of the participating organizations, as well as the Boston Foundation and YW Boston staff. Please be on the lookout an official invitation from the Boston Foundation, which we will share on YW Boston’s social media, our events page, and email newsletter. 

Alongside the event, we will debut a report detailing YW Boston’s unique InclusionBoston change management model, along with results from our ten participating organizations. 

We are thankful to the Boston Foundation for helping us bring InclusionBoston to these ten nonprofits. Our program works with all sectors, and in addition to these organizations, we have partnered with others such as Vertex and Massachusetts General Hospital to create more diverse and equitable spaces all over Boston. Learn more about our InclusionBoston program and reach out to Sheera Bornstein at sbornstein@ywboston.org to schedule a consultation. 

This blog post was originally published on YW Boston’s blog here.


About InclusionBoston

InclusionBoston advances diversity, equity, and inclusion by partnering with organizations looking for improved results. Using our advanced assessment tool and the latest research on behavioral and organizational change, we partner with organizations to create an action plan and provide them with the resources needed to drive lasting change. Our customized, evidence-based approach builds internal capacity and promotes cultural change while supporting organizations throughout their journey.

During this time of COVID-19, YW Boston is working to provide organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. As part of that work, we are helping organizations become socially connected while staying physically distant. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at sbornstein@ywboston.org.

Ready to unlock the power of diversity in the workplace? Click here to learn more about InclusionBoston and request your free consultation.