Operationalizing Equity at FAM

Nationwide, women of color are underrepresented as funders and as recipients of philanthropy, (NY Times: “Philanthropists Bench Women of Color, the M.V.P.s of Social Change”). At FAM, women of color are central to our leadership and funding priorities. FAM’s executive director, Tamara Wrenn, is successfully working with the board of directors to create racially equitable standards of giving in philanthropy and democratize the giving process. For many years, FAM has had birth equity as one of our four core funding areas and has been making grants to community-based organizations and organizations led by people of color. More recently, FAM’s Community Movement Builder program, launched in 2018, has been evolving in partnership with women of color grantees to address the priorities and needs they identify within their own communities. (See FAM’s grantmaking principles, which we highlighted in our last newsletter.) Over the past few years, FAM has also had a focused effort to intentionally diversify our board and build equity into our organizational culture and processes. It has been rewarding to see FAM’s donors join us in prioritizing racial equity by recognizing and supporting this work.

The urgency of our maternal health crisis requires our focus. Racism magnifies the impact of this crisis causing disproportionate harm, particularly to our Black and Indigenous communities. The history and current reality of racism in obstetrics and midwifery in the United States must be dismantled to end these preventable harms and inequities. Creating a culture of equity within FAM is essential to achieving our vision for access to respectful and culturally appropriate maternity care from community-based midwives available to all families and recognized as a human right.

FAM Board member RaShaunda Lugrand: “I came to FAM while the board was transitioning and adding new members. I was happy to be among those members selected. I have learned a great deal being a part of this board about the importance of diversity, equity, and movement building in midwifery. It is an honor to be a part of the current transition that is focused on amplifying the voices and works of Black Women. In regard to grantmaking and the importance of building equitable relationships, FAM is a beacon of hope for cultural competence and social influence for good practices leading with intersectional ideas of eliminating and dismantling racial bias in midwifery.”

Operationalizing equity is a layered and incremental process, and an ongoing one. While FAM is now led by four Black women and six White women (compared to one Black woman and eight White women two years ago), there are many more communities and life experiences not yet represented within the organization. Furthermore, representation must be accompanied by a shift in culture and power dynamics. Remaining present with focused attention to the ongoing nature of that shift is a priority for FAM, in order to ensure systemic change.

FAM Board Member Tanya Smith-Johnson: “FAM has done the work of not only transforming the ‘look’ of the board, but its composition, by adding the voices of thought leaders and community members that can speak from a variety of lived and professional experiences that help inform the way we do this work. FAM has been willing to ask the hard questions, have the hard conversations, and not only listen to Black women, but ACT. With any organization embarking on changing the status quo, it requires trust building, courage and action behind the words. We have much more work to do as we continue to unravel and grapple with all the ways we must use our platform, but I am more than confident that we at FAM are on our way and I am happy to be a part of the journey.”

To create an equitable organizational culture, every member must buy into the value of equity and be willing to examine their own internal biases and assumptions. White women working alongside women of color must be willing to cede power and share power, to learn about whiteness and racism, and to respect and trust women of color. Slowing down, changing course, revisiting previous decisions, changing the way we have “always done” things can be uncomfortable. For FAM, it has been an essential part of the process to resist the tendency to let a sense of urgency supersede equity. As FAM Board Member Chanel Porchia-Albert so succinctly stated in her 2018 MANA Conference keynote: “Be humble!”

FAM Board member Kirsten Kowalski-Lane: “Going through this process (which is really a continual process), we have learned to become comfortable with discomfort knowing that it is through honoring and exploring this discomfort that we actually grow and deepen our capacity. Gone are the days of settling for a false harmony that only leads to further marginalization.”

FAM’s journey of operationalizing equity continues as we seek to deepen our engagement with the principles of decolonizing philanthropy and creating a sustainable culture of community. We look forward to sharing more about this journey with you and providing resources for other organizations to use. Stay tuned.