Equity Rationale: Why You Need One, and How To Get Started

You might be thinking, “What the heck is a rationale, and what’s in it that’s not already covered by my mission, vision, strategic plan, theory of change, AND logic model?! TMC, isn’t it enough that I use MOCHA?”

Trust us, it’s worth it.

An equity rationale is a set of reasons for increasing equity and inclusion in your organization or team, both in your internal practices and policies and in the external impact you’re making in the world. It answers the fundamental question: Why is equity and inclusion critical to achieving your mission?

Why is a rationale important?

  1. It can shape your team, systems, and work. A great rationale should function like guardrails in a bowling lane, guiding how you: hire, develop, and retain staff; design processes, policies and procedures; and create roles and goals. You might not get a strike every time, but you’ll avoid the gutter balls.
  2. It gives you shared vocabulary to talk about equity. Make the implicit explicit by defining foundational concepts and how they connect to your mission, values, and strategies.
  3. It can be an ongoing accountability mechanism. Name your commitment to embedding equity into your organization at every level, and get clear on the consequences of success or failure.

Your rationale is a tool to spark and facilitate reflection, learning, and actionable commitments to equity and inclusion within your organization. It won’t solve all your equity problems, but it’s one step in a bigger process to build a diverse team of high performers, develop inclusive policies and culture, and get outstanding results.

Looking to create or fine-tune a rationale? We have some tips to get started!

  1. Build a team and don’t rush the process. Like eating dim sum, wrestling with equity-related questions is best done with others at an unhurried pace. Engage people of different identities and levels within the organization to get diverse perspectives.
  2. Consider both the spiritual and practical components of your rationale. A “business case” for diversity and inclusion that’s not anchored to a moral argument for equity and justice makes you likely to tokenize people of color and marginalized communities, doing more harm than good. And, when the moral argument isn’t tied to an understanding of how equitable practices concretely drive your organization’s impact, you’ll find yourself talking a good game with little to back it up. For the practical component, there are often two parts—one that’s applicable to most organizations (like “focusing on equity leads to better talent”) and one that’s unique to your mission (like “we won’t succeed at ending youth homelessness unless we understand and meet the needs of queer and trans youth of color”). Deeper transformation happens when you consider the spiritual and (both) practical reasons for equity.
  3. Try a “Worst Case Scenario” exercise. This will help you identify the practical reasons that are unique to your organization. What if your organization weren’t committed to equity? If everyone were racist (or classist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc…), what would be the outcomes? How would it affect your understanding of the problem you’re solving for? In what ways would you fail to meet your mission? Once you’ve sufficiently worked yourself into a tizzy from your equity doomsday scenario, build your equity bunker. How can you avoid these pitfalls? What different systems or practices would you need? Who would you need on your team?

Check out our list of suggested components and examples below. Note that these are suggestions because there aren’t any hard and fast rules—a rationale can be a standalone document, baked into your mission, vision, values, or other statements (we’ve found this to be true for many organizations that are by and for people of color and indigenous folks), or both!

Suggested Components Examples
Make an explicit commitment. [Demos is] committed to maintaining a work environment that recognizes, understands, respects, and encourages the unique contributions of each member of the Demos family.(Demos)

YWCA’s commitment to racial justice and civil rights runs deep. Since the 1800s, Black and Native women have been providing leadership in YWCA’s movement and, because of the leadership of women of color, in 1946 YWCA began working for integration throughout the organization, adopting an “interracial charter”…That work culminated in the creation of YWCA’s One Imperative in 1970: To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary. (YWCA)

Trace the connection between systemic oppression and your mission. How have racism and other intersecting oppressions shaped the issues you work on? Unequal  access to  opportunity along  lines of race, class,  and other aspects of identity  has deep roots in American history, and institutional racism and classism contribute to inequitable access to educational opportunity in our country today. Therefore, understanding race, class, and the intersectional nature of oppression along these and other lines is critical to eliminating educational inequity and creating an education system in which all students can flourish. (Teach For America)

We particularly acknowledge the pervasive inequalities faced by people of color in this country, across all other aspects of their identity, and consider racism to be the root of the inequity that many in our community inevitably face. Because of this country’s legacy of institutionalized racism, EHTP’s staff and stakeholders must face, honestly and directly, our own racial identities and our own conscious and unconscious biases. (East Harlem Scholars Academies)

Acknowledge your organization’s journey. If your organization has gotten it “wrong” in the past or had to shift its analysis, own it. Has your organization been colorblind or race silent? Have you previously excluded trans or non-binary people from your organization? Did your organization start off working on one issue, and then expand to include others? It hurts to share the appalling stories from the magazine’s past. But when we decided to devote our April magazine to the topic of race, we thought we should examine our own history before turning our reportorial gaze to others. (National Geographic)

Our work originally came out of a response to rising anti-Asian violence across the country, including the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982. As we publicized these cases, we developed a deeper analysis of the root causes of violence: that it wasn’t just random individuals, but part of the legacy of systemic and institutional racism; that as a result of systemic and institutional racism, immigrants and refugees were kept in poverty and forced to work in poor conditions; that women’s work has always remained invisible in and outside of the home; that LGBTQ folks bore the brunt of being marginalized to maintain the silence of others; and that the struggles our communities face in the United States are directly related to US policies abroad. (CAAAV)

Set concrete expectations for advancing equity and inclusion. How will your organization embed equity into your systems and culture? What is at stake if you don’t? How will you evaluate whether you’re meeting the expectations you’ve set? We are committed to anti-oppression. This includes reflecting on our own privilege, being open to hearing that we have work to do to address internalized oppressive values or dynamics, redistributing power and leadership away from ourselves when it benefits the collective and the community, participating in ongoing training and learning throughout our lives to address these persistent dynamics, communicating clearly, and supporting other’s communication. (Sylvia Rivera Law Project)

We are working hard to ensure that all members of our team have a baseline understanding of how to analyze and address bias and structural barriers in our work….We have also worked to identify common “stages” of our consulting projects and to identify considerations and resources at each stage that can help us more deeply and regularly examine disparities, name and assess root causes, and explore whether possible solutions might yield equitable or inequitable outcomes. (FSG)

Articulate how equitable practices will help you achieve better results and impact. This one is especially important for organizations for whom social justice isn’t already woven into everything you do. How will your external impact be better? Here, consider the two practical components we mentioned in tip #2. Diversity is a strategic goal as well as a just one. Diversity creates better policies. We are a multi-generational community committed to progress, and every year we understand better that progress will not be fast enough, or reach its potential, unless we include the voices of everyone who shares our common values. (EMILY’s List)

We will be better able to adapt to changing markets, respond to client and partner needs, and develop more effective business practices, which in turn will lead to greater success as a firm. (Arabella Advisors)

*Here’s our full list of examples:

Note: this piece is part one of two articles about equity rationales. In our next piece, we’ll discuss how to think through team and individual rationales!