Embedding and advancing DEIJ: the distance we’ve travelled and the distance still to go

The steps we've taken and the steps still needed on our journey to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice as an employer and social sector player

Over the last few years, companies and established structures have been rightly pushed to look inwards and address the historically unaddressed challenges of diversity, inclusion, equity and justice in the workplace. At Spring Impact too, our journey to be more inclusive has been shaped and challenged by our team members and the many partners we work with. We have focussed on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice – not just as an employer but also as a social sector player striving for social justice.

Being an inclusive and equity-centred employer means to us that our organisation allows everyone within it to engage as their authentic selves to the extent that they want to bring them – credit to Lily Zheng who facilitated a great session with the team on this topic. As a social sector player, we want to show up as anti-racist, anti-colonialist, and actively leverage our power to advance equity.

On the advice of several experts, we’ve challenged ourselves to look inwards and consider long-term changes that involve the team and focus on culture, rather than focusing on the quick wins that we know aren’t sufficient for overcoming issues that are so embedded in our society. 

Whether you are thinking of partnering with us on your scale journey, or applying for a job with us, we wanted to be transparent about the steps we’ve taken and the steps we still need to take. We still have a lot to learn, and a lot to do, but we would like to share Part 1 of our journey with you. We are grateful to the DEIJ experts who have supported us on this journey.

How have we been trying to live up to our ambition as a diverse, inclusive, equitable and just employer?

1. Increasing the fairness and transparency of our remuneration and appraisal system

Our former appraisal and performance-based pay system was set up with good intentions to value and reward staff, but when we looked at the system from a DEIJ lens, we realised that it was less transparent, formalised and equitable than it could be – with discrepancies between how and when performance was measured.

We’ve now changed our appraisal system so that each staff member has the opportunity for their pay to be increased at six-monthly intervals (and not outside of this). Performance is now assessed in a more standardised way against clearer metrics and a greater amount of 360 degree feedback. 

We know that individuals from certain backgrounds and/or with certain protected characteristics are less likely to advocate for higher pay. For this reason, we’ve also ensured that each individual’s salary is based on an objective assessment of performance and demonstration of skills.

2. Educating ourselves and building solidarity

We have brought in experts to provide training and facilitate conversations on different aspects of DEIJ (and we will continue to do this). But it has arguably been the internal staff groups – set up by team members passionate about supporting one another – that have given the team the greatest opportunity to learn, process and provide mutual support.

One team member established a Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) cohort to ensure a safe, supportive space for team members who identify as BIPOC. Another team member set up an education group, enabling team members that identify as white to educate themselves about race without placing the burden on people of colour within the organisation. 

These groups have provided a much needed space for the team to learn and discuss these issues in a safe environment. Our next step is to work together with team members to ensure everyone feels comfortable to discuss these topics openly in our whole-staff spaces too. It’s been fantastic to see how proactive the team has been and how they have embraced the organisational journey as a personal educational journey too. 

3. Taking deliberate steps to de-bias our recruitment process

A few years ago, we did what we thought was an unbiased review of applications for a consulting team job in the UK and found that nearly all of the top 10 candidates had attended Oxbridge. Our staff team at the time was also dominated by Oxbridge and Ivy League graduates. This was the hook that made us really see the need to do things differently.

We could identify a few obvious reasons why we were continuing to prioritise people with similarities in their educational background. For one thing, we still hired based on CVs and cover letters which automatically prioritises those with top-tier education and the means or connections to break into the charity sector. For another, all of our team members had their education listed in their biographies on our website, and everyone posted the job ads on their personal social media and university alumni channels – meaning that the people who were most likely to hear about our jobs and see themselves fitting into Spring Impact were the people most similar to our current staff base.

The biggest shift we have made to try and combat this has been implementing anonymous skills-based hiring, using the BeApplied system – and we have been hugely impressed with the calibre of candidates who have risen to the top as a result. 

We also made other tweaks to our application process with the aim of ensuring that candidates from a variety of backgrounds can see themselves in the role and have an equal footing in the application process. These include: 

  • asking team members to refrain from sharing job ads within their personal networks
  • removing educational profiles from our staff biographies
  • refusing informal conversations with candidates prior to the application
  • reimbursing interview travel costs
  • improving the diversity of interview panels. 

None of these tweaks is revolutionary, but they have all been important in bringing a greater diversity of candidates to the fore, and we hope will continue to do so.

How have we been trying to live up to our ambition as a social sector player that prioritises diversity, inclusivity, equity and justice?

4. Choosing our partners more deliberately

We have begun to better integrate our DEIJ values when identifying organisations to partner with.

Historically, when we ran open calls requiring organisations to be assessed against selection criteria, we had a laser-focus on whether the applicants were likely to scale successfully: is their solution proven, do they have a strong leadership team and organisational structure, is their solution financially sustainable, etc.

We still care about all of these things, but we have realised that we should be taking more responsibility for which solutions are scaled and who scales them. We now complement our ‘scale readiness’ criteria with consideration of other factors, such as whether the organisations are ambitious about solving social justice issues; to what extent they are considering wider systems (both social and increasingly natural systems) as they scale; and whether the organisations are led or influenced by people with lived experience of the problem they are addressing. We are also endeavouring to integrate these questions into conversations with potential partners that reach out to us, to understand the alignment between our values and those of the organisations we support.

We are also being more deliberate about the partners we choose to work with more broadly to achieve our mission, not just those organisations we directly support – for example, collaborating with mission-aligned funders and thought leaders to ensure the norms, mindsets and behaviours in the sector facilitate a wide range of organisations to solve problems at scale. 

5. Making our support accessible to a range of organisations

Alongside thinking more intentionally about which types of solutions and organisations should be supported to scale, we have been testing new ways of making our support accessible to a wider range of organisations beyond the usual suspects. This has included:

  • Investing time in ensuring that the materials, application processes, and outreach channels for our programmes reach organisations that wouldn’t usually access our support. We are grateful to our programme funders for enabling us to take the significant amount of time that has been needed to do this in a deliberate, inclusive way.
  • Seeking to make our services more affordable and accessible to a wider range of organisations through our digital training programmes. Our consultancy is more accessible for organisations that have already fundraised for scale support and are plugged into supportive ecosystems – but these organisations only make up a fraction of those that could benefit from the methods, knowledge and skills needed to scale. Our new Getting Scale Ready course is an example of our endeavours to bring offers to a wider range of mission-driven organisations.

6. Better incorporating cultural experience into our teams

We are very conscious that, despite being a charity that works across the world, most of our projects are staffed with teams based in the UK and US. 

When we set up our Southern Africa-based Scale Accelerator: Women’s Empowerment programme, we had an opportunity to think differently about our team make-up.. We have now recruited a team of associates based in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa, who will work closely with our UK-based staff. We have also formed an Advisory Board for this programme to ensure that decision-making takes account of local context. 

We are committed to taking a similar approach whenever we set up a large-scale programme based in a region where our current team doesn’t have significant experience.. We will also be expanding our associate network to build the cultural experience and diversity of our team more generally.

What next?

We recently engaged The Better Org to help us understand how the team felt about our DEIJ work so far, and what needs to change moving forward. Some of the results were really positive. In addition to team members celebrating some of the areas above, people reported feeling heard, empowered to drive the DEIJ agenda; and believing that our DEIJ intention is present in the work.

Some of the findings showed how far we still have to travel. A few key themes that emerged, which are key next steps for us to address, include:

  • Encouraging people to contribute more openly to DEIJ discussions and overcome a lack of confidence in talking about DEIJ issues 
  • Our team is still not representative of the communities we serve
  • Some of our policies need to be re-worked to reflect DEIJ principles beyond the usual considerations like flexible working and providing better support for carers.
  • Continuing to work to ensure our communications are accessible to different audiences
  • We still don’t have good data to measure progress on our DEIJ goals

We also found out that we weren’t celebrating progress effectively enough. So this article is an attempt to share the distance we’ve travelled, whilst acknowledging the distance still to go.

Some resources that the team have found helpful along our DEIJ journey:

Press enter to search or esc to cancel