By Janie L. Payne, vice president of administration at Equal Justice Works
At Equal Justice Works, we facilitate opportunities for lawyers to transform their passion for equal justice into a lifelong commitment to public service. We believe that through building a community of lawyers committed to equal justice and public service, we can achieve our nation’s promise of equal justice for all. We are incredibly proud of the work that our Fellows, program participants, and alums do to advocate for equal justice, dismantle systems of oppression, and shape our country to be more equitable and inclusive. It is central to our mission to honor and operationalize our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Championing these values is an ongoing journey and we will undoubtedly make missteps along the way, but we are determined to hold ourselves accountable, learn from our mistakes, and do better. We will continue to take action to ensure we are upholding our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in every facet of our work. The first step is to share how we define these values to better articulate our desired future state as an organization—an organization that is diverse, inclusive, and equitable—and to be sure that we are holding ourselves accountable to operationalizing these values.
We created the following definitions through a collaborative effort across the organization:
- Diversity is the valued representation of unique experiences, backgrounds, identity, cultures, and personal traits at Equal Justice Works reflected in the composition of our staff, board of directors, Fellows, and the communities we serve.
- Equity is an approach taken that ensures all employees have the opportunity to grow, contribute, and advance while striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of communities that suffer disproportionately.
- Inclusion is our continuing effort to create a supportive and respectful community where all staff can authentically participate and embrace and value their differences.
Through shared knowledge, commitment, and participation, we believe we can move as an organization to honor and operationalize these values.
Knowledge: To chart our path forward, we completed a cultural assessment to establish where we are, including conducting a series of conversations and trainings with all levels of the organization. By comparing our defined values of diversity, equity, and inclusion against the reality of our cultural assessment, we are developing priorities and benchmarks to make progress and hold us accountable. We know education, training, and skill-building are essential to develop the level of understanding and emotional intelligence it takes to evolve to conscious competence, and the realization of our values. We will continue to identify and use resources and development opportunities to improve our internal capacity and culture to act consistently with our diversity, equity, and inclusion values.
Commitment: Our commitment to this work extends beyond our staff to our programs and our board of directors to ensure these values are embedded in our organizational DNA. We believe reliability builds trust, and over time, that trust earns respect. We will honor the work of every team member and create organizational policies and procedures with our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront. We know that this evolution will not happen overnight, but we are committed to a sustained, daily effort.
Participation: Last summer, a member of our board of directors and I co-facilitated a powerful listening session where employees shared heartfelt emotions about what was happening in the world and within Equal Justice Works. Employees are modeling their engagement in diversity, equity, and inclusion both in and outside of the workplace, as are the law students, Fellows, and community organizers participating in our programs. As an organization, we also dedicate ourselves to evolving how we demonstrate and activate this commitment.
This organizational evolution requires personal assessment, as well as changes to policy and procedures. We will assess our progress by conducting additional cultural reviews to measure change. We will participate in this work at every level, and our board remains engaged in the journey through its own DEI and Culture committee that provides oversight and ensures sustainability.
We know we have a lot more work ahead of us, but we’re committed to this learning journey. We will share updates as we strive to make Equal Justice Works a more thriving and equitable organization, including actions we take, successes, and lessons learned along the way. As always, we are grateful to our full community for supporting Equal Justice Works, for working alongside us, and for helping us to lift up our values in pursuit of the promise of equal justice for all.
It is central to our mission to honor and operationalize our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Janie L. Payne /
Equal Justice Works Vice President of Administration