Walk the Walk
Are you serious about creating a diverse and equitable company? Thanks to a local nonprofit, there’s an app for that.
Connect with Awa by Beloved awabybeloved.com
More than ever before, companies are seeing the value of creating a diverse and equitable work environment isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a solid business practice.
According to a February 2021 article in Forbes, diverse teams innovate faster, diverse cultures reach a wider audience, and inclusion can help combat work-from-home burnout. When it comes to ROI, according to a LinkedIn August 2021 report, “Research by McKinsey shows that companies that actively promote diversity and inclusion strategies are 35% more likely to achieve above-average returns — with business performance increased by 31%.
A separate 2018 Deloitte study found that businesses with an inclusive culture were twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial targets.
To help organizations of all types realize these benefits and more, New Orleans-based nonprofit Beloved Community — whose goal is to provide structural support in areas of diversity and inclusion to organizations across the area — launched their latest initiative last October, an innovative software program called Awa that offers “equity audits” via a free app.
“The equity audit is a tool to assess what is going on in your organization from an equity lens,” said Rhonda Broussard, founder and CEO of Beloved Community. “Once you create a profile on Awa, you are guided through a series of questions that examine the internal structure and culture of your organization. You should be prepared to dive deep. The Beloved Community Equity Audit is a practice-based self-study that measures DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) indicators across all functional areas of an organization’s operations and stakeholders.”
So far, nearly 300 organizations, schools and businesses have completed an equity audit and 2,766 employees have completed a professional development assessment. The new tool has also garnered the support of business and community leaders including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Bridgespan.
According to Lesley Brown Rawlings, vice president of strategy, Beloved Community not only provides equity audits to companies of all sizes, it then provides the tools to make changes to a company’s culture, including workshops, leadership initiatives, equity planning and “train-the-trainer support.” The Awa app can help to streamline this process at all levels of a business, from small startups to corporations.
“If a company or organization is ready to make a DEI commitment, Awa will empower the organization to assess individual and organizational DEI capacity, set priorities, and build plans for sustainable, long-term change,” Broussard continued. “We support the organization in understanding the results of their assessment. When an organization requests personalized support, our team first determines if we are a good fit; if so, we provide full access to our team of equity experts to meet whatever goals and needs our client partner may have.”
Within Awa by Beloved, organizations can access additional reports and assessments, whose costs start at $1,000. Fees for trainings and facilitations begin at $5,000 and vary based upon topic, length and number of participants. Deep dive consulting services — which typically represent projects that span 12 or more months — are customized based upon organizational needs and goals and start at $75,000.
For Broussard, building the Awa app became a true team effort within her Beloved Community staff, now numbered at more than 25 members and growing.
“In transparency, I didn’t know the first thing about building a tech tool,” she said. “A few years ago, [our director of data and analysis] Lauren Young and I started building the equity audit in our free time with [no] funding behind us. I was fortunate to find a team of ‘Beloveds’ who answered my calls, told me what questions to ask and what foundational resources we would need — from staffing and timelines and legal representation and business model implications, [including] the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and more specifically our program officers Gabriela Lopez and Titilola Harley. We worked with a team of tech advisors to amplify our existing Equity Tools suite and we took our time to make sure it was done right.”
Beloved Community is committed to creating real change for companies that are serious about creating a truly equitable workplace.
“We designed Awa to make it easier for large, complex entities — from school districts to multinational companies — to diagnose their diversity, equity and inclusion needs,” said Broussard. “Awa is more than a measurement tool. It is an opportunity for leadership teams to deepen their community of practice and design a more equitable future.”
For Broussard, having a DEI policy and culture is not about what’s on paper in a company’s policies, it’s about the actions, intent and practice in the everyday culture throughout the business.
“There are many organizations that speak about equity and don’t live it,” she said. “…It’s easy to say you can be a more equitable company, but do you follow through on that? At Beloved, we’re honest about our own growth needs. We deeply believe that everyone has work to do, regardless of where you are on your professional or equity journey. We don’t trust people who struggle to name growth areas. This loops back to being self-aware. You’re going to get constant feedback from partners and teammates at Beloved. This collective awareness supports us in constantly getting closer to our ideal workplace.”
According to Broussard, New Orleans is the perfect birthplace for work of this kind.
“The depth of lived experiences in our New Orleans community informs a great deal of my work — there really is no better place for us to be,” she said. “We recently found a new home for our office in the Tate, Etienne, Prevost (TEP) Center, that is inside of the old McDonogh 19 school, integrated by the center’s founders. I’m proud to be leading in this work surrounded by the stories, places and people that helped raise me.”
According to the Extension Foundation at Tuskegee University:
Diversity is the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective.
Equity is promoting justice, impartiality and fairness within the procedures, processes and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of outcome disparities within our society.
Inclusion is an outcome to ensure those that are diverse feel and/or are welcomed. Inclusion outcomes are met when you, your institution and your program are truly inviting to all.