Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sightline Institute
Sightline Institute believes that true sustainability exists at the intersection of environmental health and social justice. Our core values—community, fairness, opportunity, and responsibility—center on that principle, and our work over the last 15-plus years to understand and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion have found a firm foundation there.
Early efforts: The term “diversity” didn’t formally enter our strategic plan until the mid-2000s. At that juncture, as a white-led and majority-white organization, most staff members at Sightline were only beginning to develop their cultural competency on these priorities. We did what Sightline does best—read and researched—attended workshops, and explored opportunities to collaborate with communities of color on research projects.
A plan takes hold: In 2009, we undertook an intensive board and staff planning process to advance diversity as a priority in all of our work areas. The Center for Diversity and the Environment performed an equity audit for us, and several rounds of staff and board work groups produced a 15-page “diversity plan” for the organization. For the first couple of years of implementation, we focused on relationship-building, research production, and new hiring and board recruitment practices, with numerical goals for each. Quantifying these efforts felt strange to us, but we initially observed this practice both for accountability’s sake and because it powerfully demonstrated to us how limited our networks were by the systems in which we actively worked: white-dominated policy and political circles.
The 2.0: As time passed and our relationships with communities and leaders of color deepened, we moved toward more qualitative goals and reporting—ones that value the process and the lessons learned over tangible, countable products. To help guide our reflections, we developed a “power lens checklist,” comprising questions to help staff identify the biases and power dynamics at play in our research, communications, and fundraising practices.
A new opportunity: In 2016, we received a uniquely challenging and transformative critique of a research series we had published from leaders of a coalition of organizations representing many communities of color in Washington. We discussed the matter at length among staff and board, ultimately identifying the moment as a powerful learning opportunity extended to us by these leaders. They took the time and care to call us out, and in response, we took the time to reflect and make changes to how we do our work.
Onward: Diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to drive learning and growth at Sightline, both internally and externally. We know the work is never finished and that, as a white-led and majority-white organization, we have blind spots and biases we need to check. But if the outcomes and relationships are as powerful as some we have experienced, as important to sustainability and justice as we believe, we cannot do better than to keep at it.