At Relay, we believe that all children — regardless of income, creed, race, gender or other distinction — deserve an equal chance to learn and to lead lives full of choice and opportunity. This belief is embodied through a bold statement on our website: “Education Creates Freedom.”
So when we talk about diversity, and respect for it, we know where it begins. The school, a community built for learning, crumbles when it does not embrace the diversity of its children and their families. At Relay, our ultimate work is to foster healthy schools — little worlds where children thrive with each other and with the support of the adults who guide them. But our work does not end there. Healthy schools must feed into healthy workplaces, and so it falls upon us to have a deep and abiding respect for diversity within the walls of our own institution. Every day, we keep a commitment to recognize and appreciate the differences that, together, make our organization stronger.
Since our founding in 2011, Relay has experienced modest success in this area, nearly doubling the percentage of full-time staff at Relay who identify as an underrepresented minority, and more than doubling the percentage of women in senior leadership positions. We’re not ready to pat ourselves on the back just yet, but we are encouraged to see that our staff have responded positively and that others have started to take notice.
Recently, Koya Leadership Partners and Education Pioneers cited Relay as one of several organizations with notable diversity practices in a report (PDF) on racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion in the education sector. The report shone a spotlight on Relay’s Diversity Steering Committee (DSC) and its efforts to train, discuss, and plan around issues of cultural competence, identity, and staff diversity.
“This committee crafted a diversity statement and identified ways to live up to that statement,” the report’s authors observed. “Two years later, almost all staff members participate by attending events, leading initiatives, or engaging with either the subcommittees or the DSC to drive larger efforts.”
“We know the process to become truly inclusive and representative starts with a reflection on where we are strong and where we have to grow,” says Pamela Inbasekaran, Relay’s chief talent officer and one of the Diversity Steering Committee’s founding members. “It’s this continual reflection and the dedication to improve that will eventually create the type of culture that attracts high-quality, diverse talent who want to build careers at Relay for the long haul.”
Below, Inbasekaran shares her thoughts on what Koya and Education Pioneers identified as “four key areas of opportunity to close the gap between intention and action:”
- Customized vision and strategy for diversity and inclusion. First, Inbasekaran says, “we needed to have a really clear vision of where we wanted to go.” That need led us to create the Diversity Steering Committee in 2012, which initially resulted in a diversity statement, institution-wide training in cultural competence, organized discussion groups about identity, and research and planning on ways to increase staff diversity. Currently, Relay is crafting a three-year strategic plan that will provide a longer-term framework to advance this work.
- Leadership and accountability. “We needed strong leadership involvement,” Inbasekaran says. While our president, Norman Atkins, and our chief operating officer, Tim Saintsing, were early champions for diversity, we knew that it could not be merely a top-down priority. “It needed to be driven by the institution and not just a few people,” Inbasekaran says. “We needed a really strong structure.” To that end, Relay created subcommittees of the DSC dedicated to addressing specific focus areas. Composed of staff members of diverse roles and backgrounds, the committee and subcommittees meet bi-monthly and monthly, respectively, to discuss recruitment, outreach, retention, and training.
- Talent recruitment and staff development practices. Building a diverse staff begins with recruiting diverse and talented individuals who operate at the highest levels, and Relay is always looking for them on our job board. But that’s just the first step; a subsequent challenge is keeping them. Relay constantly reviews its retention data — and is developing new ways to understand what’s behind it — to “make sure our staff has really good trajectories here,” Inbasekaran says. A large part of improving Relay’s recruitment and development efforts is evaluating their efficacy — both by strengthening our metrics and by seeking firsthand feedback from our team.
- Intentional and strategic dialogue about diversity. At Relay, it all comes down to reflection. That’s why Saintsing and Inbasekaran spent the majority of the winter conducting a “listening tour” with Relay staff. For nearly 75 hours, they listened to and synthesized what staff members believed was working well institutionally, as well as where they thought Relay still had room to improve. Relay invited every staff member to give feedback, and they will have a chance to listen to parts of it during this year’s all-staff retreat in September.
Relay is confident that the many wheels we’ve put in motion will generate momentum toward an ever-stronger and more diverse team. It’s one of many efforts we’re making to ensure that education creates freedom — for all.