Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Honestly, It’s for Everyone
Raising the Bar | From the Executive Director | March 2019
By: Jeff Kutash, Executive Director
A few months ago, Nebraska unveiled its new tourism slogan: Honestly, It’s Not for Everyone. It’s edgy. It’s self-deprecating. It’s disruptive. Stephen Colbert highlighted it on The Late Show. As a tourism slogan, it just may be pure marketing genius. But as a statement, it prompts a troubling question about inclusion in our state: If Nebraska is “not for everyone,” who exactly is it not for? And that is a question that’s been on our minds at Peter Kiewit Foundation. In June 2017, we developed a set of organizational values, one of which is inclusion. As a team, we believe diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is important to our culture, to our internal processes, and to our ability to have impact in a state with changing demographics, segregated communities, and deep disparities in outcomes for different socio-economic groups. So, over the past year, we’ve been working hard to embed DEI as a critical lens through which we pursue our work. We have learned a lot!
A-HA Number 1: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are critical for Nebraska.
We make grants, learn about, and work with communities across the entire state of Nebraska. The following learnings have led us to prioritize DEI:
- Demographics are changing. By 2040, the number of people of color is projected to double in the Omaha metro and people of color will be the majority in Douglas County. Statewide, Hispanics will account for 25% of our population by 2050.
- Poverty is highly concentrated. 9% of white Nebraskans are living in poverty compared to 29% of Black, 23% of Hispanic, and 33% of Native residents. Concentrations of poverty can be found in the Omaha metro, Lincoln, Scottsbluff, South Sioux City, Lexington, and a number of smaller rural communities.
- Our state has highly disparate outcomes based on race, ethnicity, gender, and economic status. The urban neighborhoods and rural communities with the highest Black, Hispanic, and Native populations have higher unemployment rates and lower income and education levels. For every dollar earned by a white male in Nebraska in 2016, a white woman earned .79, an African American woman earned .64, and a Latina woman earned .54.
- Our economy would greatly benefit from eliminating inequity. According to a study by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), the Omaha region alone would have increased the regional economy by almost $4.8 billion in 2015 simply by closing racial income gaps.
- Diversity enriches all of us. Diversity ensures that our communities have a variety of great restaurants, arts and cultural events, and representation across sectors. It also ensures that we experience and learn from different ways of thinking and different cultural norms. Diversity in the workplace is proven to increase creativity and innovation, improve decision making abilities, and contribute to the financial success of organizations.
- We need to make sure all Nebraskans feel welcome in Nebraska. Similar to other states, we have seen an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment in recent years. Women and minorities are significantly underrepresented in corporate and community leadership roles. The state of Nebraska still offers no state-wide workplace or housing protections for discrimination against an individual based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And in 2017, a survey conducted by the Urban League and The Greater Omaha Chamber found that Black young professionals were 5-6 times less likely than any other race to recommend Greater Omaha as a place to live and work. These populations are incredible resources for the state and we need to make sure they can contribute fully.
A-HA Number 2: In order for us to achieve our mission, DEI must be a priority in our work.
Our mission is to create opportunities for people to live in and contribute to strong and vibrant communities, achieve economic success, and enjoy a high quality of life. If we are to achieve this mission, we have to pay attention to Nebraskans who are further away from opportunity – especially people living in poverty and people of color.
A-HA Number 3: Our first step as an organization needed to be inwardly focused.
We recognized that before we could embed a DEI lens in our external work, it must first be a value we embrace in our culture and our organization. So, we did the following:
- We made it explicit. We formally adopted inclusion as an organizational value.
- We set three goals: Be authentic and live our value of inclusion, embed DEI in our internal and external processes, and apply a DEI lens to strengthen our relationships, better work with our partners, and increase our community impact.
- We defined what we meant by DEI. We identified diversity as the value we place on and the better results obtained when we embrace and learn from differences in race, ethnicity, gender, life experiences, and other factors. We identified equity as individuals getting the support and resources they need so our life outcomes can’t be predicted based on the color of our skin, the zip code we were born in, or other factors over which we have no control. And we defined inclusion as ensuring that diverse voices are engaged and empowered to inform and influence the decisions that impact their lives and their community.
- We put in the work. We hired a facilitator to guide us through six-months of intentional conversations and trainings for our team about diversity, equity, inclusion, implicit bias, and structural and other forms of racism. We took the Intercultural Development Inventory and discussed the results as individuals and as a team. We now hold monthly DEI “lunch and learn” sessions. And we hired the first African-American and Latinx program officers in the foundation’s history.