5 Lessons We Have Learned about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at Omidyar Network
Omidyar Network began an earnest internal conversation on racial equity in the summer of 2016. Our efforts on this front are just becoming institutionalized. Nevertheless, we wanted to share what we have learned so far and where we are heading so I asked Masha Lisak, one of the key staff involved with this effort to summarize these lessons. Please share your thoughts in comments!
(1) Political crises open the door to conversation
In 2016, police brutality towards black men reached an intensity that could not be ignored. Yet some of our staff could not discuss the real feeling of crisis it brought to their lives. In August of that year, one of our colleagues organized a brown-bag lunch in which she talked about her family’s history and experience with racism. That initial event opened the door to sustained dialogue on structural racism and opportunities to counteract it in our work. In subsequent months, a group of over 30 employees came together in a grassroots effort to think through what Omidyar Network can do on the topic.
(2) Staff knows your organization best
The working group generated recommendations in three areas: (1) Hiring and culture; (2) Portfolio; and (3) Thought leadership. We drew on best practices and advice from DEI consultants. But most importantly, we couched recommendations in our strategy and mission — something no outside advisor could do nearly as well. Even as our DEI approach has evolved, this initial document has remained a touchstone. It has credibility in the eyes of senior leadership and buy-in across the organization.
(3) Use peak experiences to build momentum
A year after the initial conversation on DEI, we were not seeing much traction on our recommendations. Omidyar Network was going through a strategy refresh, and DEI considerations were not top of mind. Yet DEI champions among us saw that the refresh presents an opportunity to embed DEI more deeply. We used the platform of an all-staff convening to run a 90-minute session on implicit bias facilitated by Inclusion Ventures. This staff-wide conversation resurfaced DEI as a key topic. More importantly, the staff now felt like they owned it.
(4) Resources signal commitment
On the heels of the all-staff event, we approached leadership with an updated set of recommendations. Our #1 request was to hire a DEI lead to manage and coordinate efforts across Omidyar Network. Leadership approved the headcount and we are in the process of recruiting for this position. The commitment of budget and bandwidth to embedding DEI within the firm’s processes and culture signal a new phase in our journey.
(5) Use partners to bolster your efforts
One of our immediate priorities is to hire more diverse talent that reflects our end users and gives us access to different networks. We recognized that, to do so quickly and effectively, we needed support beyond what we had in-house. That is why, earlier this year, we partnered with Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT). MLT coaches and develops talent from underrepresented groups to prepare them for leadership roles. As the first order of business, we are partnering with MLT to hire our DEI lead.
It is a fertile time for DEI efforts at Omidyar Network. Teams are tailoring their DEI strategy to align with priorities. For example, the Intellectual Capital team is emphasizing internal recruiting to make sure our thought leadership reflects a diversity of voices. Meanwhile, our Financial Inclusion team is starting with tracking diversity characteristics of their portfolio because they see it as their greatest opportunity for leverage.
A big question that still needs to be answered is, what does DEI look like outside the US? We started with the US because of the urgency of the current moment. However, we need to adapt our DEI strategy to the geographic and political contexts of our other offices.
We will continue to share our successes and challenges. What has worked for you? What roadblocks are you encountering?