On Equity, Power and Diversity: A Webinar (Summary)

We are living in a new context. The ripple effects of the rise of populism have caused concern across the world, but have also created an opening to talk about how we can share power and rebuild society more equitably.

Against this background, there has been a sharp rise in interest in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. On 18th October 2019, TPW invited two thought leaders in the space, Nicole Anand and An Xiao Mina, to lead a webinar exploring what DEI really means and why it is so important for philanthropists and other power-holders.

What is DEI?

Nicole begins by sharing her understanding of DEI principles:

“I think of diversity as representation, inclusion as belonging and equity as shared decision making, or shared power.”

The growing interest in DEI is a positive trend. But like all philanthropy, good intentions do not necessarily lead to effective solutions, particularly when the complexity and the systemic nature of the problem are overlooked. Nicole and An discuss how the centering of diversity without sharing power has often led to a mechanical “checkbox” approach which has “led to harmful outcomes and potentially distracted us from getting to equity.”

To dive deeper into the meaning of equity taking a racial lens, Nicole cites Dr. Kira Banks:

“When people have access and opportunity regardless of race, that’s when you’ve reached equity… Racial equity is an outcome. Yet this outcome requires an intentional process and targeted practices and strategies. Racial equity requires that we: 1) develop an awareness of how race as a social construct impacts experiences and outcomes for others, 2) examine how systems and institutions create and perpetuate inequities on the basis of race, and finally 3) transform our institutions so that within and across we can no longer predict outcomes by race.”

Nicole adds simply:

“If equity is the aim, then the problems are concentrated power and unchecked privilege… by starting with these problems, we can start to design solutions.” 

DEI and Systems Change 

As the definition above makes clear, effective DEI requires a systems approach. Nicole gives the example of police violence: 

“When an innocent person of colour is shot by a police officer, the question that often arises is whether or not the police officer is racist. While this logic may make sense, it can also distract from thinking how the police officer is part of a profession that is built on a set of values, training programmes, reward systems that incentivise and motivate these racist actions. When you understand it in this way, you can start to change the debate from “he’s racist and I’m not” to “how do we change the way the system is teaching us how to abuse power and leverage racist behaviours.” 

Nicole recommends building a shared understanding of history and how it connects to our current system. This is challenging in the US, where slavery and its legacy, for example, are quite literally buried beneath the surface. 

Having understood what we have inherited from history, seeing how we fit into this system is essential. There is a tendency to “externalise the system,” thinking it is something that we need to change without recognising how we fit, how we influence things and how we also need to change. For power-holders, including philanthropists, moving from an objective to a more reflective approach is therefore critical to effective systems change.

Where does philanthropy fit?

Throughout the webinar, Nicole and An give examples of how philanthropists can centre equity in their work.

“A more equitable system requires participatory practices – a genuine co-creation of decision making processes. For example, it’s not just a grant to a minority-owned organisation, but also a true partnership in which they might lead the process or shape the grant based on their own expertise and knowledge of the people and communities they serve.”

“The key to this is not to think of power sharing as a loss of one’s own power. Power is amorphous, it changes into something different. If more grantees begun to shape your grant portfolio, that doesn’t mean that you as a funder have lost power. You’ve shared it – but you’ve gained a sort of power in that the shape of the portfolio now better meets the needs of those you seek to support. Thinking of power as zero-sum isn’t helpful.”

Nicole also gave her vision of what success might look like in the field of DEI in the near future, focusing on leadership and normative change:

“We aren’t nurturing leaders who emphasise facilitating a multitude of diverse voices. Instead we have leaders who lead by control. In 5-10 years we’ll need to see that there isn’t just a change in representation, but also a fundamental shift in how leaders lead… Philanthropists have a big role to play here – often we’re investing in leadership, so philanthropy can work with leaders who showcase an understanding and capabilities in sharing power. This would look very different to funding great fundraisers, speakers or even sharp programme implementers.”

“We are hyper focussed on productivity, growth, scale, often to the detriment of impact. We’re failing to question how power relates to these norms. Underlying this is what we value, which is often unspoken or implicit. In 5-10 years we can shift our values system, first by making our implicit norms explicit, and then questioning whether or not these norms and values are shared and whether or not they are serving the purpose we intended them to.”

An concludes with a five step roadmap to shifting power:

  • Recognise the new context
  • Help change the conversation about power and DEI
  • Collaborate with peer organisations
  • Build capacity for DEI
  • Change yourself and the system

You can download the video and audio recordings of the webinar by clicking here. If you have any questions about the webinar or would like to reach out to Nicole or An, please contact Sam at

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