You know your organization needs a dedicated team to address oppression and build a justice-oriented culture. But how do you get started?
After working with dozens of organizations that have attempted to institutionalize Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) leadership through committees, we, at Freedom Lifted, have witnessed varying degrees of success. We have seen some organizations create a team that fizzles out in months and others who make changes within weeks.
From our experience, the most successful organizations do these five things:
- Dedicate time.
- Choose areas of focus.
- Invite and empower leadership.
- Set specific goals.
- Partner and connect.
Let’s take a closer look at how to start your JEDI team with these 5 keys to success:
#1 — Dedicate Time
Shifting culture and adopting new practices will take time. When you schedule regular opportunities for your organization and your departments to learn and address justice and equity issues, you set your team up for success. Just make sure to include a variety of ways team members can engage.
Organizations that do this well have:
- Provided compensation or release time for team members who have elected to lead the work.
- Hosted lunch-and-learns for staff members at every level to learn about JEDI-related topics and share information about issues that are top of mind. (This information is shared and used by the team to set and refine goals.)
- Created off-site staff development opportunities to attend conferences and speaking events.
#2 — Choose Areas of Focus
Unless you have a large team that’s willing to break into self-starting work groups, do not try to tackle every area at once. The most successful JEDI teams will collect data from staff and the communities they serve first. You might also invite areas or departments to identify issues in their sphere of influence.
Here are common focus areas we see our clients tackle:
- Human Resources: JEDI teams address their organization’s inability to retain staff members who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC).
- Programming: When historically oppressed communities are underrepresented in programs or offerings or are underserved by the organization, JEDI teams work to remedy this.
- External Communications: If the language or style of communication the organization uses publicly is not accessible to people with oppressed identities, JEDI teams prioritize thoughtful action here.
#3 — Invite and Empower Leadership
To have the greatest success, your organization will identify and invite people to lead the team and compensate them for their work. A word of caution: Do not treat these JEDI team leaders like volunteers or outsiders. They are doing critical work that deserves pay and/or a release from other duties.
Organizations we admire have:
- Created limited terms for JEDI team members so the time people spend on the committee is not indefinite.
- Prioritize representation from the highest level of the organization’s leadership so there is a direct line of communication and investment from the top.
- Increased the salary or offered overtime for team leaders, especially chairs or coordinators.
- Shifted the workload of JEDI team members to accommodate and make time for both relationship-building work and professional development.
#4 — Set Specific Goals
Too many teams wander aimlessly toward justice. You know where your organization requires interventions. To be successful, your organization will need to create the big-picture vision and then define goals specific to each area that needs to be addressed. This ensures that your JEDI team knows what success looks like (which also makes it a measurable outcome you can track).
Here is an example of a set of specific and achievable goals from an organization struggling to retain BIPOC staff:
- “We will create time every three months for check-ins about job performance and satisfaction and decrease our emphasis on annual reviews.”
- “We will offer professional development funds to BIPOC staff to receive three JEDI-specific coaching sessions each year.”
- “We will create a process of accountability for staff who have been reported to create a safer environment for staff with oppressed identities.”
#5 — Partner and Connect
Remember, you do not have to do this work alone. In fact, the most successful JEDI teams we work with collaborate and partner with others. It’s important to connect with others who can help you move the work forward.
You can get support by:
- Identifying and reaching out to a local leader or organization with insights or experiences that relate to your goals. (Offer to compensate them for their help or figure out how to trade services.)
- Planning a field trip to get new ideas and learn from people outside your office. You could attend speaking events or visit another organization to observe how they incorporate JEDI into their practices.
- Bringing training to your staff that encourages honest conversations and provides a shared language related to justice and equity. (Our Justice at Work online program is specifically designed to bring self-paced training and coaching to organizations like yours.)
Bringing justice and equity to work in our organizations is no small feat, and change will not happen overnight.
However, by dedicating regular time, gathering a team of champions, getting specific about your focus and goals, and working with others, you will be well on your way.
If you’re ready to bring justice and equity training to your organization and create a highly successful JEDI team that gets things moving, check out our online program, Justice at Work.
Mia Henry is the CEO of Freedom Lifted, which offers hybrid justice + equity trainings for nonprofits, educational institutions, and public libraries. Check out the flagship training Justice at Work.