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ORS Takes a Stand on Equity

CEO Reflection:  Taking a Stand and Setting an Intention around Equity

On September 20th of this year, I had had enough.  There was more news of unarmed black people being shot by police.  The Pulse Nightclub shooting, the deadliest hate crime against LGBT people in US history, had happened.  It was not possible any longer to deny the impact these external events were having on my staff and on myself.  It was no longer enough to speak to people one-on-one or send emails to the team to express empathy, frustration, and solidarity.  It was time for us to do more.

Of course, it is because of the privilege I hold that I could decide now to have urgency around issues of social justice.  Privilege allowed me to be well-intentioned but do little, to make nods to the implicit ways in which we seek to improve the world with our clients without taking real action.  While perhaps late, I wanted to do something, to stop being a bystander to the social justice issues that show no signs of abating.

I was not alone in this.  A number of staff had formed a Social Justice Working Group to think more about how we could be more intentional around these issues, but I had advised them to take a “slow and steady” approach to their work.  I had feared that taking a stand around issues of racism and oppression could be alienating or threatening to staff.  Was it right to make people do the sometimes difficult and deeply personal work of recognizing our own biases and privilege in their workplace?  Was it risky to take a public stand as a company that needs to have integrity, impartiality and avoid biases within our own work?

Again, it is because of the privilege I hold that I could come to work and choose not to deal with bias and privilege.  And by not thinking explicitly about issues of race and oppression, I was avoiding the fact that we are actually introducing a different kind of bias into our work.

So I was ready to do something.  But what?

Rather than run headlong into something alone, I brought interested staff together to think collectively about what actions we could take.  As a group, we decided to make a company statement, create an action plan, hold ourselves accountable, and share back what we learn.  We are motivated to think about how we promote greater equity in our company processes, how our commitment to equity should show up in our consulting work, and how we work together as a team.

This reflection and statement is just our first step.  Words alone will never be enough.  But without taking a stand and setting an intention, we can’t expect change.

ORS Impact and Our Role in Equity

ORS Impact works with those seeking social impact to strengthen their work with data, evaluation and useful frameworks.  “Impact” is not just part of our name:  it is a core value for why we do this work.  Implicit in this value is the belief that the world can be more equitable, that accelerating social progress will lead to better lives for everyone.

These statements, however, do not explicitly address the systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally, particularly based on race, but also based on age, sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, or disability.  These systems underlie the issues our clients seek to address and can be perpetuated and strengthened even as well-intentioned people seek to make positive social change.

These days, an implicit focus on how we stand as a company against racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of oppression feels insufficient.  Not working to more proactively confront and tackle inequities makes us complicit in perpetuating systems that oppress.

We believe that diversity makes us stronger.  We believe that all people are equal and that holding some groups of people down holds all of us down.  We believe that these issues are complex and that we will stumble in our efforts.  However, the goal of a more just, fair, and inclusive society requires changing how we work together, how we work with clients, and proactively finding ways for our organization to make a difference in the fight for a more equitable world.

We know the footprint of our efforts in the broader face of systemic oppression may be small, but doing nothing is not an option.

(Click here to see our follow -up post on taking action in 2017)

Missions Accomplished