Gulf Restoration Network has begun a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiative that will inform all aspects of our work. From outreach, recruitment and hiring, to our programs, campaign work and everyday office operations. It is an organizational goal to embrace differences in race, gender, ethnicity, class, ability, religion & sexual orientation, work with communities and allies in a way that values people of all experiences, and to serve marginalized and oppressed communities facing environmental injustices.
GRN completed an Equity self-assessment with the help of Daria Torres, a consultant with the Walls Torres Group LLC, who leads organizations in the implementation of their Equity Maturity Model (EqMM) to diagnose current performance, identify gaps and chart a path for a group seeking the goal of equity. Twelve dimensions are used to measure how an organization incorporates equity into its daily work and overall mission. The progress in attaining these dimensions is measured on a scale that includes five levels. The path for an organization begins at Level 1 (Enlightened) and works to attain Level 5, at which equity has become institutionalized into the recruiting, hiring, leadership, human relations and procurement, and external partnerships and collaborations. Institutionalizing diversity, equity and inclusion requires an ongoing commitment from all staff, board and members to prioritize making GRN’s work and practices reflect the diversity of the Gulf South and the environmental challenges it presents.
On September 6th, during GRN’s quarterly meeting, the various DEI staff working groups, each focused on a sub-group of the twelve EqMM model dimensions, presented a summary of their progress since May when we took part in a day-long training seminar with Ms. Torres.
Unified Strategy and Equitable Procurement
Scott Eustis is leading the working group focused on the Unified Strategy and Equitable Procurement dimensions. This working group has asked for the GRN Board of Directors’ approval of a no-pay membership category for those who would have a hardship donating an annual membership amount to GRN, and requested the Board’s thoughtful input on developing financial investment policy guidelines that show a commitment to equity. A policy on equitable procurement is in the works that will prioritize buying the materials we need to do our work from diverse, local vendors. In addition, a progress report is being developed on GRN’s wetlands work in communities facing environmental racism, and the recruitment of diverse candidates for GRN jobs and fellowships is being prioritized.
Inclusive Culture and Deliberate Partnership
Ari Acevedo is leading the working group tasked with the Inclusive Culture and Deliberate Partnership dimensions. In terms of the “Courageous Leadership” category - skills training in DEI matters will be offered to management staff, and corporate and business donation policy will be published on GRN’s website. Each staff member has a goal of attending at least one conference, meeting or training each year that enriches their knowledge of equity and justice issues.
Ari also covered GRN’s intent to include representative storytellers in the affected communities we work with on water pollution or wetland issues. Other goals include creating a ladder of engagement for our issue work, finding diverse candidates for the board of directors, having the science and water policy team map how its work overlaps with indices of social vulnerability in places like fence-line communities around polluting industries or communities that are economically disadvantaged and live where it always floods.
Ari reported that Active Advocacy for diverse communities will initially be explored through a membership survey. Other goals on Active Advocacy include a commitment to adding requests for environmental justice analyses to permit comment letters and reporting of GRN’s progress on the Equity Maturity Model goals and levels on its website.
Explicit Commitment and Visible Accountability
The third working group is led by Natalie Montoya and is developing GRN’s approach to the Explicit Commitment and Visible Accountability dimensions. Since June, the group has reserved a few minutes at each GRN weekly staff meeting to develop a shared organizational DEI language by defining some of the terms and concepts that need a common understanding by staff. The whole staff takes part in the discussions leading to a group consensus on definitions. Also, to evaluate how we are doing with our DEI journey, other groups and individuals outside GRN are being asked to help us monitor our progress, and advise and share how they have institutionalized diversity, equity and inclusion. This group is also tasked with interviewing other working groups so that the progress in using the EqMM model can be shared among ourselves and externally.
By this time, individuals and working groups have evaluated how we measure up against levels 1-5 of the model, and most agree that we’ve achieved “Enlightened” (Level 1) and are headed to the next milestone, “Embraced”, at Level 2; meaning we are “Embracing” the language and framework. For a small organization like GRN with under 15 staff members, we think we are making good progress, but know there is much yet to be done and that we need to objectively evaluate it. Each person in the various work groups understands that in our line of work, we must reflect the world outside our walls and accordingly take intentional actions to pursue a diverse workforce and internalize the imperatives of equity and inclusion. The Equity Maturity Model is our path to those goals and we will continue to share the progress along the way.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Water Program Director.