DEI Opportunities and Challenges: A Follow-up Webinar with NCEO

On January 18, 2024, members of NMR’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee and consultant Rosita Choy met with the National Center For Employee Ownership (NCEO) to talk about our challenges and progress since 2020. You can view a recording of the webinar here.

NMR was built on core values that guide not only our work but our relationships. Living those values inspired NMR to pursue employee-ownership, a process that began in 2017.

Around the same time, the nation was focusing more deeply than ever on institutional inequities and oppression – an often painful reckoning. Our predominantly white staff began to assess privilege and ways to foster DEI through discussions, lending libraries, and other ad hoc programs.

In early 2020, NMR founded our DEI committee, now known as the Social Justice Working Group (SJWG), to codify our practices and goals. Part of that process was to hire Rosita as a facilitator. With this new momentum, the committee and Rosita first collaborated with NCEO in 2020.

This January, SJWG and NCEO met again virtually to share progress and insights into the journey.

As with any learning process, the first step was to have conversations. Staff examined topics like diversifying hiring practices, introducing internship opportunities, and expanding environmental justice in our work. Our team sought to be vulnerable, honest, and nonjudgmental. To that end, the team established Community Agreements and Understandings to support and guide our discussions, which include confronting our different familiarity and comfort levels, acknowledging our emotions, and fully engaging and listening.

At the same time, we embodied our value to produce the best work possible by approaching our DEI efforts as research and evaluation experts: by establishing baselines, engaging in literature reviews, and collecting and analyzing data through employee surveys. This helped us approach the process using a toolkit and speaking a language we understood well.

The team encountered obstacles that still vex our and many others’ DEI work, like sustaining interest over time in the face of external backlash to DEI across the nation, and more practical issues like scheduling demands. NMR’s regular “Conversations about Race” meetings and follow-up worksheets help sustain interest.

The team stressed the nonlinear nature of the process. They emphasized putting time and effort into building relationships, internally and externally, and offering education and insight rather than debating contrary attitudes.

Despite the obstacles, short- and long-term goals emerged from the data. We’ve made strides in standardizing our hiring process, addressing barriers that may discourage candidates from less privileged backgrounds. We also began working with a local non-profit organization focused on environmental and racial justice, which will bolster our mission to reflect historically underrepresented and disadvantaged communities. We also created a database to follow state and federal groups’ progress on passing legislation to advance environmental justice measures. Other goals include investigating the need for a targeted, paid internship program and offering workshops for employees.

Longer term DEI goals present a never-ending educational opportunity for NMR. These and other goals will be presented in the SJWG’s Accountability Report, currently in its final stages and expected to be ready in June.

We continue to learn from each other, our DEI resources, and our partners. As employee-owners invested in our success, our work, and each other, it has helped us to live our values more fully.