Photo: Getty Images
This is the first installment of a three-part series highlighting the racial equity commitments of three Detroit-based organizations in community non-profits, higher education, and media.
Diversity. Equity. Inclusion. We’ve all heard these words, aka DEI, whether it be as part political speeches or commercials and advertisements of an organization’s values within the last few years—but what do they mean?
There is a growing corporate buy-in to putting anti-racism work into internal practice. The Michigan Chronicle spoke with civil rights non-profit, Focus: Hope on how they implement DEI efforts and their goals toward racial equity.
What is DEI?
Since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked a heated national uprising against police brutality and systemic racism, many public-facing businesses have responded with a seeming aim toward accountability and reflection of their company’s culture and values.
Diversity refers to the numerous ways in which individuals differ (race, ethnicity, physical and mental abilities, age, religion, sex and gender identity, et) whereas equity refers to providing equal access to, opportunities for, and growth for everyone. Inclusion encompasses what diversity looks like in practice as the act of welcoming, supporting, and valuing all individuals and groups.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) emerged as a conceptual framework that calls upon the participation of all people toward justice-minded practices, especially in the workplace, including the focus of communities that have been historically underrepresented, overlooked, or experienced discriminated by a system embedded in all social institutions, structures, and relations within our society.
According to the International Labor Organization, “Companies with more inclusive business cultures and policies see a 59% increase in innovation and 37% better assessment of consumer interest and demand.”
DEI is best known as a form of corporate anti-racism training but can also be explored in other places such as education, health care, and art and culture spaces.
The driving mission is that by consciously implementing DEI as a social responsibility model, businesses and community group will be at a more receptive position to celebrate and leverage the connections and skillsets of different types of people and backgrounds to grow toward a collective stake in the well-being and understanding of others and ourselves.
Spotlight: Focus: Hope
Jasahn M. Larsosa is a DEI leader and principal consultant for Krystal Klir Communications and Founding Director of Advocacy, Equity, & Community Empowerment for the Detroit-based and nationally renowned civil rights and human services organization Focus: HOPE.
“When we talk about equity, we are talking about justice,” said Larsosa. “What we are looking at is a need for systems change. Why do we need systems to change? That’s because racism, sexism, ableism, Islamophobia, and other forms of oppression have compounding economic, social, emotional, and political consequences for certain populations.”
Founded over 50 years ago, Focus: Hope is a Detroit-based, nationally recognized civil rights and direct service organization serving community needs through all walks of life. The non-profit organization provides educational and employment opportunities, food distribution to families and seniors, and racial justice campaigns and training programs.
By raising money and creating training programs, Larsosa oversees the centralization of DEI and social justice within the organization. Since reinvigorating DEI efforts, Focus: Hope has collected more than $3 million in funding for initiatives promoting social justice, youth, economic mobility, and community-based research for marginalized populations. The organization has also received $1 million in state contracts for worker training and placement in addition to $200,000 in unrestricted earnings from new DEI corporate training.
“We developed four buckets of transformation: flexibility, compensation, opportunity, and culture,” said Larsosa.
“Each group I work with reflects on each to think about what gaps exist in the organization, from who to think about a work-life balance, ensuring the set pay for the work is fair, especially for women and women of color, to also in what ways are opportunities often not considered for others in a system that has benefited White men and usually men in general. Lastly, we think about how to operationalize new systems to hold companies accountable to facilitate folk’s ability to bring their entire selves to work.”
In both positions, Larsosa has guided Fortune 500 firms incorporate diversity, equality, and inclusion into their business models by educating over 4,000 executives and contributors across the United States and in six other countries. Trainings include identifying and discussing the systems of racism currently in place and understanding which communities are benefiting from the traditional mindsets and which of those groups of people are most adversely impacted.
GM Financial, one of Larsosa’s clients, was presented with the 2022 Impact Spotlight Award by Talent Dimensions and the Global ERG Network for their DEI work.
During workplace trainings, Larsosa said the ever-evolving language around DEI can sometimes be challenging to introduce for participants to comprehend and practice.
“Language is always changing and as soon as you get in front the language, you call out new language like “equity”,” said Larsosa. “When talking about racism, justice, and oppression in new ways some of the corporate media networks begin to co-opt that language (and) demonize that language. We know that this is a thing, so we anticipate that are always introducing a new language that is disarming, that is inclusive, and that’s welcoming. We want to intentionally avoid people feeling like they are othered or demonized because of the implicit biases that we carry in the associations we have with these words.”
When asked how organizations can cultivate a sustainable model of racial equity that isn’t merely a performative and reactive to the social times, Larsosa said the work needs to be rooted in the understanding that there is no end point but a continued learning process that is always evolving.
“Long term, our goals are centered on social, racial, and economic justice so that everybody can live and participate and enjoy all that our society has to offer,” said Larsosa.
“In the short term, we need to empower people who’ve been mostly impacted by these forms of oppression and bringing in more women, Black people, Latinx and Arab folks, centering their voices in positions of power and influence as a way not just to inform the work, but treated as the leaders they are.”