Embedding DEI in Grantmaking: From Vision to Action

BY Cynthia Barnes | February 09, 2024

Embracing our differences and lived experiences enhances innovation, creativity, decision-making, and better problem-solving. But it’s not always easy to turn aspirations into tangible actions. 

In a thought leadership spotlight session at From Day One’s Denver conference, Tanya Odom, director of equity and inclusion at the Walton Family Foundation, shared practical strategies and real-world examples of embedding DEI principles and practices into philanthropy, both internally and externally.

Odom painted a vivid picture of the Walton Family Foundation’s legacy, tracing its roots to its founding by Sam Walton and Helen Walton in 1987. “We’ve been in the space of diversity, equity, and inclusion for over 25 years,” said Odom. 

In 2020, the foundation awarded $749.5 million in grants. “We actually fund in three very specific areas that are determined by the family, which are education, which has taken different pathways and ways of looking at it, but that’s been since the beginning. Another is the environment, more specifically oceans and sustainability. And the third is the home region, Bentonville, Arkansas, and Arkansas’ Mississippi Delta,” said Odom. “We infuse all of them with a sensibility about diversity, equity inclusion.” 

“Our framework centers around three key pillars: embed, align, and amplify,” said Odom. Through these pillars, the foundation aims not only to incorporate DEI principles into its own operations, but also to foster similar initiatives among its grantees and partners. 

This holistic approach reflects the foundation’s recognition of the interconnectedness of issues, and its commitment to driving systemic change. “It's not just about what we do internally,” she said. “It's about how we leverage our influence to effect change on a broader scale.”

Navigating the Last Few Years

The conversation turned towards the challenges faced during the pivotal summer of 2020, a period marked by widespread social unrest and calls for racial justice. Odom reflected on the intense global efforts during that time. “Many of us had never worked as hard as we did in the summer of 2020,” she said. “That summer and I would say the year after that. And I think there was a sense of people finally understanding what we did.”

Tanya Odom of the Walton Family Foundation was interviewed by From Day One co-founder Steve Koepp during the thought leadership spotlight

Despite the challenges, Odom recalled this period as a catalyst for change. “We’ve been saying this, this is not new. Odom mentions the curb-cut theory, an awareness that once you find a pathway to address some of these inequities, or structural issues, you usually find ways to address other issues. “So while the summer of 2020 was called a racial reckoning, in Europe, it was also often called a social reckoning. It just highlighted so many other things.”

Leadership Buy-In and the Importance of Courage

Odom underscored the importance of courage in leadership and the willingness to take bold action. This call for courageous leadership highlighted the need for organizations to confront difficult conversations and actively engage in the work of dismantling systemic barriers to equity.

At the Foundation, Odom says, they held an interview with their board chair on the subject of diversity. “And that was very unusual. Our comms department actually got permission to have that go out onto social media. What was really important was that our board chair talked about how DEI connected to the thoughts and beliefs of Sam Walton. Sam Walton wasn't saying ‘diversity, equity and inclusion.’ But Sam Walton talked about access. So how do we connect it to the mission of the organization?”

Philanthropy's Roadblocks and Future Challenges

Despite the foundation's commendable efforts, Odom acknowledged the roadblocks and challenges facing philanthropy in its quest for DEI integration. “Dr. King has a quote,” she said. “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances, economic injustice, which makes philanthropy necessary.”

Odom remained optimistic about the future, emphasizing the importance of collective action and ongoing dialogue. “While the road ahead may be challenging,” she said, “I firmly believe that by working together, we can overcome these obstacles and create a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, the Walton Family Foundation, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight. 

Cynthia Barnes has written about everything from art to zebras from more than 30 countries. She currently calls Denver home.


The New Age of HR: Meeting Higher Corporate Performance Demands

While its applications are still being puzzled over, artificial intelligence is already gaining a foothold in human resources decision-making. Neil Taylor, vice president of product marketing for workforce planning software maker Visier, maintains that AI is in a position to be leveraged to improve the performance of company managers – and by extension, their employees.In a thought leadership spotlight titled “The New Age of HR: Meeting Higher Corporate Performance Demands,” at From Day One’s Minneapolis conference, Taylor points to generative AI, which can create new content and ideas, as a potential conduit to attracting and keeping the best talent.“I’m the first to admit that I think about Gen AI taking my job all the time,” said Taylor. “But I would just challenge everyone to think about how Gen AI can impact work for the better.”Taylor points to a generative AI assistant that can be trained to offer insights about personnel that might not be accessible by more conventional means.Neil Taylor, Vice President Product Marketing at Visier led the session titled, "The New Age of HR: Meeting Higher Corporate Performance Demands"“There are huge advancements in bringing in data – specifically, data about anyone in the organization,” says Taylor. “You can ask a natural language question and get a natural language response in seconds, and it's tailored to your organization's data. It really allows people who need to make decisions about people to get insights in a matter of seconds.”Taylor pointed to a Deloitte study saying that only about 3% of executives say they have sufficient information about their employees to make good HR decisions. That’s where AI technology has the potential to fill the gaps that can be left by intuition alone.“People managers are getting squeezed,” he said. “They’re under an immense amount of pressure to do more with less.”As a work in progress, generative AI is being employed mostly by early adopters at the moment. But Taylor encouraged managers to at least give it a test drive. Industry analyst Josh Bersin has stated that only a small percentage of HR teams even have a strategy around generative AI. That potential needs to be tapped soon, says Taylor.“AI is going to unlock this huge wave of productivity increase,” he said. “It has all this horsepower, but that horsepower is essentially sitting in the stable.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Visier, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Dan Heilman is a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.

Dan Heilman | June 19, 2024

Embracing a New Paradigm of Women’s Leadership

In the landscape of leadership today, there are still far fewer women at the senior levels than men—and it's not necessarily getting better.At From Day One’s May virtual conference, LeeAnn Mallorie, founder and CEO of Guts and Grace Leadership, spoke about a new paradigm of women's leadership, coaching, and training. “Since the pandemic, things may have gotten worse in certain industries and certain organizations. We know that there’s a gap. Sometimes it’s called the leadership cliff, meaning when you get to a certain level, it starts to be harder to get promoted,” Mallorie said.The business world continues to rapidly change, many women left the workforce during the pandemic, and this disruptive period can put diverse leaders at risk. Fortunately, it is also an excellent time for opportunities and advancement for these leaders. If we think about the old paradigm of leadership, where things were only done a certain way, this current level of disruption can also open the door for a different type of thinking. Mallorie says that with a new paradigm, we can bring ourselves to lead in a more holistic and resilient way.Mallorie says that women in leadership roles have fueled transformation during a volatile time. Research has also shown that feminine leadership embodies qualities that have been incredibly useful in times of change. Emotional intelligence, active listening, collaboration, creativity, and imagination shine through when women are fully activated in leadership positions. So then the question becomes, what makes the difference?LeeAnn Mallorie led the thought leadership spotlightThere’s a new paradigm of success in which women can be fully activated in the workplace, according to Mallorie. Per her 20 years of experience, when people are fully activated, they're more centered. “They’re feeling cared for in their 30s. They're the ones driving the innovation. Perhaps they’re building culture and leading visionary teams.”Under pressure, we often find ourselves in a different mode. Mallorie calls this an “old paradigm success model” where the internal dialogue sounds like, ‘I have to perform, and when I get there, things will be a certain way.’ With this mindset, women begin to plateau amidst all the pressure. There can also be a lot of resentment or burnout. During times like these, it’s important to look deeper and process how one can find their way through this state, says Mallorie.Effective coaching and training should focus on various things in order for women to move from surviving to thriving. First is advancing technical skills, like learning how to negotiate or get better at a tactical part of one’s job. The second is remaining conscious of bias.Mallorie discusses a third ingredient to help change the game: leading with grace. “We refer to embodiment, focusing on the self, working toward wholeness, working at the identity level,” Mallorie said. It’s about understanding other people’s traumas and motivations as well.“During the early career survival strategies, what’s getting in the way might be the baggage [like internalized oppression] that one is carrying,” she said. “I will often talk about dismantling the patriarchy within. As women in leadership, there's often something we’re carrying or performing to, or that has just become part of our DNA and trying to get into these types of workplaces. And when that’s not addressed, we don’t fully solve the problem.”There are four domains that leaders can focus on when coaching others, says Mallorie. These include, embody, empower, activate, and inspire. As an embodied leader, you must use your body, energy, and time in ways that serve yourself and others well. An empowered leader has a positive mindset, and she navigates her emotions effectively under pressure. An activated leader acts with integrity and purpose and takes healthy risks to serve her organization. An inspired leader shares her vision and naturally inspires others to follow her lead.By embracing a new paradigm of leadership that harnesses feminine strength rather than going against it and suppressing natural qualities in favor of patriarchal standards, we may find a new brand of leadership and new ways of working that can bring more growth and success.Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Guts and Grace Leadership, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Keren's love for words saw her transition from a corporate employee into a freelance writer during the pandemic. When she is not at her desk whipping up compelling narratives and sipping on endless cups of coffee, you can find her curled up with a book, playing with her dog, or pottering about in the garden.

Keren Dinkin | June 18, 2024

Applying Machine Learning and AI in HR: Proven Playbooks and Approaches

Jason Radisson, founder and CEO of Movo has a simple request of human resources executives: Don’t be afraid of the future.Movo is an AI-powered human capital management tool for the frontline. In a thought leadership spotlight at From Day One’s Minneapolis event, Radisson led a presentation titled “Applying Machine Learning and AI in HR: Proven Playbooks and Approaches,” where he went over some potential applications of innovative technology.“It doesn’t have to be scary, and it doesn’t have to be vague,” said Radisson, who previously was a general manager for Uber. “When I started Movo, I wanted to try to figure out how to bring a modern, flexible experience to everybody else’s workforce.”This early in its adoption process, Radisson says that AI is mostly reserved for the recruitment and retention of white-collar talent. But that could be changing.Jason Radisson of Movo led the thought leadership spotlight in Minneapolis“Now, what we’re talking about is a little bit more like outsourcing,” he says. “If you look at a lot of the different operations that we run in H.R., those are the classic things that already can be automated.“We’re starting to see globally that there just aren’t enough people to take these jobs. How long have we not had traders on the stock floor at most of the major markets in the world? How long has it been since an airline ticket was manually priced? There are all kinds of areas where AI and advanced systems already can generate a lot of value.”Another use case for AI and machine learning in the HR realm could be the ability to treat remote locations and distributed work locations just like you would an office building, says Radisson.“We’re in a flex, multiple-location kind of a world,” he says. “With today’s AI, a person at the head office with a smart system can distribute tasks and follow up on those tasks, wherever the’'re happening in the world.”Radisson left the audience with a piece of advice to continue to progress and stay ahead of innovative technological transformations: “I think all of us right now should have some kind of AI counsel,” he said.Referring to “somebody in the company that’s really looking forward to six months or 12 months trying to see what’s coming: Where would it make sense to pilot this? Do we have the developers we need? Do we need to borrow somebody else's developer platform? What’s the cost benefit? Just experimenting, seeing if a piece of automation adds value to the company.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Movo, for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.Dan Heilman is a writer and editor based in St. Paul, Minn.

Dan Heilman | June 17, 2024