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Why The Stories We Tell About Our DEIA Work Matter

Doing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) work—and getting the organization-wide buy-in to sustain it—can feel daunting.  

How do we hold ourselves accountable to broad goals like centering racial justice, creating an inclusive internal culture, or engaging with partners who share our vision for a more equitable future? And how do we message our organization’s DEIA commitment without it sounding like a bunch of jargon that doesn’t mean anything?  

These are questions we ask ourselves as two communications consultants serving on Campbell & Company’s internal DEIA Council, a dedicated team leading the conversation around the Firm’s next chapter in its DEIA journey. Campbell is at a turning point, having recently wrapped a plan to implement the activities of a three-year change framework, and is currently undergoing a process to define the priorities, metrics, and tactics for the next three years. 

We’re a far cry from experts, but have been elbows deep in this work for over a year—engaging folks at all levels across our firm, building consensus, and honing our collective DEIA vision and plans—and we have a few lessons that we think are worth sharing.  

Make it personal because DEIA work is personal—for everyone. 

This work is deeply personal for folks from traditionally marginalized backgrounds because existing and belonging in professional spaces that were not designed by or for us is exhausting.  

It’s personal for people who might not think of themselves as marginalized, but at one point have experienced barriers to belonging in their workplace or being able to perform on an equal basis with their peers. Maybe you’re recovering from an injury that’s severely inhibited your ability to do computer work. Maybe you’re dealing with grief from the loss of a loved one and having a hard time focusing on projects. Maybe you’re the youngest and least senior person on your team and are constantly being interrupted or ignored by your colleagues. 

DEIA is personal for everyone, regardless of privilege or advantage, because we each have a role to play in cultivating a culture where everyone is free to show up as their authentic selves. And because it requires vulnerability to confront and make radical change to our individual behaviors and to systems we’re accustomed to operating within.  

Bringing an entire workplace along in DEIA change management is personal and requires a vision with a personal touch. We’re not talking about exploiting testimonials of individual trauma, but we are talking about truthful and jargon-free storytelling.  

So, what are our organization’s values? How does our DEIA work connect to those values? What do employees appreciate most about our organization’s mission and impact? Where are we at in our DEIA journey today, and where do we want to be in the future? 

These questions are a key part of ensuring new policies and standards are followed in day-to-day work—because how can employees be active champions of DEIA if they can’t see themselves in it? 

Connect with both the head and the heart. 

For a lot of organizations, creating an environment that is not only diverse, but equitable, inclusive, and accessible will require deep, fundamental, systemic change—the type of change that will make some people uncomfortable, and require everyone to participate. 

It’s important that every member of an organization knows and understands what this work is about—not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level. For those who do not come from traditionally marginalized groups, many may need to be given opportunities to practice empathy and come to understand the experiences of their less-privileged colleagues. Those who come from traditionally marginalized groups may not have trouble understanding the why, but they may very well be skeptical of the DEIA commitments of any organization where they are in the minority. Building bridges of understanding, empathy, trust, and credibility will be essential to getting the whole organization on board with DEIA work. 

It’s very important to set specific goals—but it’s also important that everyone understands the why.  

It’s easy to get caught up in the nuts-and-bolts of policy and procedure. Doing the very detailed, data-driven work of setting and executing specific objectives—the “head” part of the work—is fundamentally important, but without a good grounding in the “heart” of the work, DEIA can become depersonalized and disconnected from the people for whom it is a matter of survival. 

At the same time, words and ideas can only go so far: actions have to back them up. An organization’s DEIA objectives should grow organically out of the underlying values and ideas that sit at the heart of the work. If everyone understands how these two aspects, the “head” and the “heart,” are connected, the journey toward systemic change will be much smoother. 

A bit about Campbell & Company’s journey: 

At Campbell and Company, we engaged in a rigorous learning and listening process grounded in quantitative data, lived experience, and personal storytelling. This included: 

  • Reviewing the results of a recent firm-wide employee engagement survey 
  • Engaging in candid, confidential one-on-one conversations with people from throughout the firm, which allowed us to go a level deeper than the data into the heart of what people across races, genders, sexualities and socioeconomic backgrounds were thinking and feeling about the firm and its commitment to DEIA  
  • Crafting a narrative statement that reflected the feelings and aspirations of the firm—centering the voices of those who typically exist on the margins

This was how we laid the foundation for the detailed change framework, and the objectives, metrics, and tactics that we created for the next three years of Campbell & Company’s DEIA initiatives. 

One of the key lessons we took from this process is that our firm very much feels the need to be vulnerable and accountable in this process. We can’t present ourselves as experts on DEIA, or pretend that we’ve “made it” and figured out how to fix all of our problems.  

We’re closer to the beginning than the end of what will be a very long journey, and we expect to make many mistakes along the way—and, hopefully, take responsibility for those mistakes and find ways to correct them. But we already know one critical key to success going forward—that we move forward by centering the voices and aspirations of those who would otherwise be obligated to do the work anyway, uncompensated and unrecognized, in order to survive. 

In the philanthropic sector, we’re working to make the world better. But we know that this sector is full of blind spots, flaws, and barriers to entry for those who have not historically been welcome here. Advancing DEIA in our organizations will allow us to do our work better than we ever have before—and go a long way toward building a more loving and more connected world. 

Campbell & Company has worked extensively within the nonprofit sector to help organizations advance their fundraising strategies and place visionary leaders to help move their missions forward. Contact us or call 877.957.0000 to launch the Campbell & Company team within your organization today.

Kara Eagens
Kara brings an intersectional and systems-focused lens to her work.  Her studies and professional experiences focused on a wide range of areas including international development, criminal justice, civil rights, and...
Trevor Persaud
A professional writer since age 15, Trevor (they/them) brings to Campbell & Company a wide-ranging background in the communications and nonprofit sectors, including work in journalism, marketing, public relations, higher...
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