The purpose of this equity framework is to articulate the Heising-Simons Foundation’s commitment and orientation toward equity in our work. This document is not intended to dictate a uniform approach across our program areas and departments. Specific activities and priorities will be described elsewhere to help keep this document evergreen. The Equity Framework itself is also a living document that we will revisit over time as we learn and evolve.
Who are we and what is our commitment?
The Heising-Simons Foundation is a family foundation located in Northern California, charged with unlocking knowledge, opportunity, and possibilities in the areas our Board believes are most vital to our society. Our priorities include improving educational outcomes for young children, pushing the frontiers of science research, dismantling mass incarceration and immigrant detention, and the criminalization that underlies both, curbing climate change, and improving the lives of those in our local community. Our programs fund at the local, state, and federal level, with a small proportion distributed internationally.
The inequities we see today are a product of discriminatory policies and practices enacted and designed to preserve historical power structures. We cannot ignore our country’s history of identity-based marginalization, exclusion, and exploitation if we want to achieve equity. As a grantmaking institution that is responsible for allocating significant resources for the public good and desires to contribute to a more equitable future, we have an obligation to ensure our Board, leadership, and staff cultivate self-awareness, understand the complicated power dynamics we must balance as funders, and consider the history of racial, gender, and other forms of discrimination in the United States and in each of the fields in which we fund.
Our core values of integrity, humility, courage, innovation, justice, opportunity, sustainability, and relationships are a solid foundation for an organizational culture that centers equity. We strive to demonstrate these values when we work with one another inside our Foundation and with people outside of our Foundation.
When we talk about equity, here is what we mean:
- All people have access to knowledge, opportunities, and possibilities, regardless of identity. Outcomes are not determined by an individual’s identity.
- To get there, we must identify disparities, their root causes, and the structures that maintain the status quo. We must actively work toward better social outcomes for those who have been affected by persistent inequity and injustice. These individuals include Black and Indigenous peoples, People of Color, women, those with disabilities, those identifying as gender non-conforming, and other marginalized identities. We recognize intersectionality: that individuals experience overlapping forms of discrimination based on their multiple identities, including those listed above as well as others.
- Equity must be practiced – it is both an outcome and a process – an equitable approach engages those closest to the problems in the development of its solution.
How does our commitment translate into action?
We commit to applying an equity lens to how we approach our work, including how we analyze problems, how we engage a diversity of perspectives and partners, how we develop strategies, and how we structure our grantmaking processes to be most accessible. We are working toward developing internal practices and decision-making processes that center equity and promote a culture of inclusion and belonging where all staff can thrive and do their best work.
We are committed to continuous learning and growth.
We recognize that committing to equity requires a process of ongoing learning to continuously examine our choices and their impacts. As we embark on aligning our actions with our commitment to equity, we are holding ourselves accountable to changing and evolving with specific goals, training and support, and opportunities to reflect on our progress.
We apply a set of guiding questions to our decisions.
Because our decisions can unlock opportunity or perpetuate inequity, we have an obligation to consider the consequences of our choices to ensure our intent aligns with our impact. Our guiding questions don’t have right and wrong answers, but are intended to help us slow down, consider those affected by our decisions, and sharpen our focus on the implications of our choices.
a. What are we trying to achieve with this (policy or practice)? What is our intent?
b. Who will this policy or practice affect?Have we considered the impact on those most affected and those furthest from power and resources? Have we considered the specific cultural context of those affected?
c. How can we engage those closest to the problem to help us understand the issue and develop a more inclusive and culturally responsive solution?
d. Given that we hold the resources and/or the decision-making power, how will we communicate clearly and openly about the choices we have made and their equity implications?
We learn from our decisions by applying a set of reflection questions.
a. Did our decisions have the intended impact? How do we know?
b. Were there any unintended consequences? Who was affected and how?
c. What did we learn? What would we change as a result?
We align our actions with our values in our grantmaking and internal practices.
In our partnerships with grantees, funding partners, and beneficiaries, we are working to:
- Understand root causes and use our resources to address inequities in each field of focus,
- Listen and learn with open minds and hearts from those closest to the problems we seek to help solve,
- Consider how we build, share, and wield power to advance our issue areas most effectively,
- Build trusting relationships with partners that allow for candor and collaboration,
- Adapt our grantmaking processes so that they are not a barrier to entry,
- Communicate clearly and with transparency about our priorities and decisions,
- Use our power to lift up voices that do not have as much opportunity to be heard,
- Reflect on the reach and impact of our grantmaking, including interrogating who has access to our resources and who does not,
- Engage with colleague organizations to share learnings and contribute to building a more equitable philanthropic sector.
In our internal operations, we are working to:
- Model leadership that cultivates belonging by unlearning and addressing behaviors and cultural norms that contribute to experiences of bias or exclusion,
- Practice balancing the demands of urgency and intentionality,
- Create an inclusive working environment in which all employees feel valued, heard and able to bring their best and most authentic selves to the work,
- Ensure that our HR practices and policies align with our commitment to equity and opportunity,
- Value our staff talent, providing opportunities to grow and excel,
- Select vendors with attention to equity,
- Build strong and trusting relationships, based on mutual respect and accountability,
- Communicate clearly and transparently about priorities and decisions,
- Continually learn and grow as individuals and as an organization.