“What systems should we have, what approaches should we take, and what provisions do we need to put in place to ensure we are inclusive from top to bottom in everything we do?”

 

Written by Katie Fuhs

In anticipation of a new inclusion strategy, the Executive Director of Accountability Lab asked this question to frame a desk research request on organizational inclusion policies. As a young, nonbinary staff member interested and invested in all things diversity, equity, and inclusion, I jumped right in, taking note of every potential inclusion policy I came across. 

From tech tools like Accessibe and Wordly – which make websites accessible to people with disabilities and virtual meetings accessible in various languages, respectively – to policies and procedures like gender-affirming staff healthcare coverage and bereavement leave for staff who experience miscarriages, I came across a plethora of ways employers can be more inclusive for their staff, clients, stakeholders, and communities. You can look through this spreadsheet – organized by group (religion, disability, language, etc.), category (HR, comms, and programs), and whether the policy requires staff time and/or funding – for policies that are most relevant to your organization’s inclusion needs and capacities.

Nine months after the start of this research, we are still grappling with what we can implement from this list as the Accountability Lab Global team. In the process of looking into how the Lab can be more inclusive, we have come across a number of lessons, tensions, and even more questions. Here are four points we think all nonprofits should be thinking about when it comes to centering inclusion:

  1. Policies should be adapted to the team.

There are subtle policies that may change staff’s outlook or introduce them to new perspectives by centering the narratives of a more diverse group of people, and there are other policies that can actively support your diverse workforce. Some suggested inclusion policies I came across included recognizing national holidays like the National Day of Mourning over Thanksgiving or giving staff a day off for Juneteenth in addition to the Fourth of July. The differences in socio-historical perspective in both cases provides a meaningful shift in emphasis to particular marginalized groups – in this case, indigenous and black peoples – and their part in American history. However, in our organization’s case, only 15% of the Accountability Lab Global team were born in the US. In fact, our small team represents 7 nationalities over 4 continents as well as 3 religions. As such, we are considering giving Lab employees the means to observe whichever national, religious, and/or cultural holidays that they want by giving them an additional set of vacation days in lieu of the standardized American holidays. One approach to inclusion won’t fit all organizations. So, acknowledging the unique diversity of their team, organizations should customize policies to ensure that proposed plans effectively address the team’s inclusion needs. 

      2. Budgets should reflect inclusion priorities.

Organizations need to encourage donors to acknowledge inclusion policies as vital to their functioning without making inclusion an additional ‘expense.’ Inclusion policies such as paying interns living wages or developing an annual inclusion report can be expensive in terms of outright cost and/or staff time. And it can be tempting to send donors a list of inclusion policies outlining how much each one costs; however, this framing can be ultimately detrimental. By framing inclusion as expensive and something we will only do if we get direct funding, we describe inclusion as a project, not a fundamental pillar of the organization. Mainstreaming inclusion means using staff time without extra support for it – it just has to become part of an organization’s process and culture. Overhead costs will expand, but perhaps those costs should have always been included. For instance, if a multimillion dollar organization exists solely on the premise of unpaid labor, perhaps it is time to rethink its financial model.

     3. Access should be easy.

Creating an inclusive organization is about clearly and openly providing the chance for people to ask for the things they need – or better yet, they can access what they need without making it a ‘special’ situation or accommodation. Whether it is adding a comment box for dietary restrictions (halal, vegetarian, kosher, etc.) for a catered event or asking a question about accessibility accommodations for a virtual event, it is important to give your staff members, project participants, event attendees, and others what they need to be able to focus on and engage with you and your work. While these types of policies allow people to tell you what accomodations you need to make for them in a particular moment, there are inclusion policies that can go beyond specific, one-off asks: you can provide a multiple purpose room that can be used by anyone from those with light and/or noise sensitivities to those who require private space for pumping or breastfeeding; you can make your bathrooms accessible and unisex with menstrual products and a changing table; and you can establish flexible working hours as the norm, so staff can visit their grandparents during the week, drop off/pick up siblings or children at schools, or attend to their prayers. These types of inclusion policies can help create an overall inclusive work environment, more so than one-off accommodations.

     4. Solutions should address systems.

Organizational inclusion policies can serve as a stopgap measure to inequities caused by social and economic systems. For example, since the beginning of the pandemic, economic downturn, health challenges, and social isolation have led to a significant rise in mental health issues, especially for racial and ethnic minorities in the US. In response, organizations can help by providing employees with access to a mental health portal like LifeWorks or annual mental health days, for example. While these organizational policies can improve symptoms (declining mental health), they are not addressing one of the larger sources at play (unequitable health systems). As an alternative, higher wages and health insurance that comprehensively covers therapy and psychiatric hospitalizations alleviate mental health issues while getting closer to the root of the issue. As an organization, you obviously cannot end the pandemic, but you can ensure that your staff are able to receive the care they require that current systems are not readily providing. This is all to say that, if you want to make your organizations more inclusive, consider the possibilities for chipping away at the basis for systemic inequities in addition to putting bandaids on the manifestations of those inequities.

Since we are trying to establish inclusion as a foundational pillar to everything we do as an organization, reflecting on these lessons and identifying which policies to commit to will be an iterative process for the Accountability Lab Global team. This research into potential organizational inclusion policies has been a starting point for us, and we hope it can be for other organizations as well.

If you have ideas for additions to the organizational inclusion policies list, please send them to [email protected]