Why Equality is actively harmful to Equity

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A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote speech to a large group of youth involved in philanthropy, along with a few of their parents and mentors. My topic was “The Role of Equity in Philanthropy.” It was awesome that we had kids ages 8 to 24 engaged in grantmaking and other aspects of philanthropy. They were smart and hungry and full of hope and possibilities, bright minds not yet beaten down to a haggard shell haunted by endless grant rejections and complex community dynamics and the sudden dawning realization of the ephemerality of existence, cowering in the supply closet on a fold-out cot, cradling a stuffed unicorn while Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” plays softly from a phone.

(What, like your Friday nights are soooo much more exciting.)

“As budding philanthropists,” I said to the youth, “you have probably seen the illustration of the difference between Equality and Equity. You know, the drawing of those kids standing on those boxes looking over a fence at people playing baseball.”

As if on cue, two kids came up to the stage with a drawing they had done earlier of the iconic image on easel paper. I stuck it to the lectern. “Get used to this image,” I said, “Have it burned into your mind. Because you will not be able to avoid it. It will haunt your dreams.” Continue reading “Why Equality is actively harmful to Equity”

Funders, your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity

minibarA few weeks ago, a fellow Executive Director of color and a friend of mine, “Maria,” was nearly in tears after failing for a second time to get a small grant. She doesn’t drink, or else I would have offered access to the personal minibar that I keep in my office. A shot of Wild Turkey and a brisk walk always cheer me up after a grant rejection.

“I’m so tired,” Maria said over the phone, “I can’t continue putting in my own money to keep this afloat. Maybe nonprofit is just not for me. It’s too hard.” She had spent over 40 hours on these two grants, and I had spent over 12 hours facilitating part of a board retreat, helping develop the logic model, revising the budgets, editing the narratives, and providing moral support.

The grant was a one-time award for less than 10K, and she had been told repeatedly, by different people at this foundation, that her work was important and much needed.

The purpose of this story is not to call out a particular foundation, but to highlight the fact that the standard grant application process needs a deep overhaul because it is leaving behind too many communities. Continue reading “Funders, your grant application process may be perpetuating inequity”

Weaponized data: How the obsession with data has been hurting marginalized communities

brass-knuckles-1258994_1280Hi everyone, I just came back from giving a keynote speech in Vancouver Canada, complete with pictures of baby animals. I am condensing the key concepts here. A couple of notes before we tackle today’s exciting topic. First, I want to thank my awesome colleague Dr. Jondou Chen for introducing me to the term “weaponized data.” If I ever start up an alternative rock band, I am going to invite Jondou, and we’ll call it “Weaponized Data.” Sample lyrics: “From the start/you returned begrudging correlation/to my foolish causation/like an icepick to my heart.”

Second, for the grammar geeks out there—and I am one—I’m going to do something blasphemous and use “data” as both a singular and a plural noun in this post, depending on context. I know, I know, technically “data” is the plural for “datum,” so we should be saying, “The data are inconclusive” and not “The data is inconclusive.” Kind of like “media” is the plural of “medium” and “panda” is the plural of “pandum.” But, fellow grammar geeks, we must choose our battles. Let us save our energy to fight, with patience and compassion, crimes against decency like “that time works for John and I” and “you were literally on fire during your presentation.”

So, data. Data is pretty awesome. As a proud nerd, I love a good set of data and can spend endless hours looking at a sexy chart full of numbers. If data were turned into a syrup, I would put it on my soy ice cream all the time, because it is just so sweet. In the past few years, there has been more and more pressure on nonprofits being able to produce good data. Getting more and better information on practices and outcomes can only be good for our sector.

However, like fire or Jager Bombs, data can be used for good or for evil. When poorly thought out and executed, data can be used as a weapon to screw over many communities. Usually this is unintentional, but I’ve seen way too many instances of good intentions gone horribly awry where data is concerned. Here are a few challenges we need to pay attention to regarding the game of data, which is a lot like The Game of Thrones, but with way less frontal nudity: Continue reading “Weaponized data: How the obsession with data has been hurting marginalized communities”

Are you guilty of Fakequity? If so, what to do about it.

onion-899102_960_720All right everyone, we need to talk about Equity. I know, I’ve talked a lot about it, including “Is Equity the new coconut water;” “The Equity of risk and failure,” “Which comes first, the Equity Egg, or the Accountability Chicken;” and “The inequitable distribution of hope.” (Yeah, you better hoard all the hope you can get right now!)

But, Equity is like exercise: It’s exhausting, sweaty, sometimes makes us feel bad about ourselves when we look in the mirror, but is good for us to do regularly, especially to 90’s Hip-Hop. (The 90’s Hip-Hop part is optional).

Today, I want to talk about Fakequity, a term and concept coined by two of my colleagues, Heidi K. Schillinger of Equity Matters and Erin Okuno of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC). They created this chart that shows the continuum from Fakequity to Equity Champion. These two have a good sense of humor, shown by the obsession with onions on their newly-launched Facebook page. Continue reading “Are you guilty of Fakequity? If so, what to do about it.”

Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion

unicorn memeThe question I am asked most frequently—after “Vu, have you tried using Proactiv?”—is “Vu, would you consider joining so-and-so board/committee? If not, can you connect me to other leaders of color who might be interested?” Apparently, everyone is having a hard time finding people of color for their board of directors and 80’s-karaoke-night planning team.

There are tons of reports and articles with depressing statistics about diversity in nonprofit leadership at all levels. Here’s an eye-opening article called “The Nonprofit Sector Has a Ferguson Problem,” which cites several stats that make me want to stay in bed streaming Netflix for the rest of the year:

  • only 8% of board members are people of color,
  • nearly a third of nonprofit boards don’t have a single board member of color
  • only 7% of CEO/EDs are people of color
  • only 18% of nonprofit staff are people of color
  • only 5% of philanthropic orgs are led by people of color

Continue reading “Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion”