In 2021 VBSR made a formal commitment to center equity within our organization and consulted with Claire Wheeler from REWORK to draft a Strategic Plan that embodies this principle, including our vision for centering equity:
“VBSR has a strong culture that welcomes, includes, and empowers identities historically underrepresented in our organization. Operationally, equity is a primary lens through which we design, implement, and evaluate our work: governance, operations, branding, programming, and policy. Our philosophy and practice of centering equity inspires and influences all VBSR stakeholders. Our internal transformation creates the necessary conditions for VBSR and our partners to contribute to the shared goal of expanded economic opportunity for all, including the redistribution of power, wealth, and access.
We see delivering on this commitment as an unending journey. We have challenged our community to lean into discomfort, hold ourselves accountable, and support each other in new ways as we learn/unlearn.
While equity has always been part of VBSR’s ethos, prior to 2020 it was on the periphery of our work. To truly CENTER equity we realized that we needed to begin with the self-education of board and staff members and transforming our organizational culture. We read “Me & White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad in book discussion groups and engaged in dialogue about power, privilege, and access as a board, staff, and committees. Out of these conversations, we decided to first focus on revisioning our board and committees – reducing bureaucracy and creating an environment where all board and committee members feel not only that they are heard, but that they are valued and belong. Some specific changes:
• Replaced the traditional nonprofit system of procedural governance, Robert’s Rules, with Roberta’s Rules, Fist to Five, the Circle Way and other governance procedures and facilitation methods that encourage input and participation by all board and committee members, not just the loudest voices.
• Established board and committee term limits to ensure new voices are included in VBSR’s input-gathering, decision-making, and future-shaping.
• Created charters for each of our committees to have clear shared expectations for all involved and “level the playing field” for newer and more experienced committee members.
• Made board service more accessible by reducing the board term from three years to two years and making clear that there are a variety of ways to contribute to VBSR’s financial goals, including in-kind support. We are also exploring compensation for board members.
• Increased our focus on relationship building and the experience of board members as individual people with complex lives, not just as volunteers or even VBSR members.
• Committed to evolve the language we use, both how we talk to each other and how we talk about others as well as the assumptions we make and how we define progress and success.
• Committed to avoid the use of acronyms and references without explanation/context (goal: anyone should be able to walk into a board meeting, understand what has been shared, and fully participate, even if it’s their first meeting).
For the past ten years VBSR has proactively recruited and prioritized leadership on VBSR’s board and committees who identify as women and nonbinary, black, indigenous and people of color, veterans, individuals of all abilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, rural businesses, and other identities and lived experiences traditionally underrepresented in dominant business culture. After 2020 we deepened this commitment and made it more transparent. VBSR’s board now includes 4 people who identify at LGBTQ+ and 2 who identify as second-generation American. 50% of board members identify as female or trans. In 2022 we contracted Think Again Training and Consulting to conduct an equity audit of VBSR’s board, staff, and committees to identify where we need to do better and where we should focus next.
Concurrent with creating this foundation of culture, policies, and practices internally within VBSR, we have been providing our membership with opportunities to engage in education and training focused on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI); and actively working to influence Vermont legislation. In our policy work we have partnered with the Social Equity Caucus, Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, and Vermont Professionals of Color. In our educational programming we have partnered with numerous Vermont leaders and leading organizations to deliver content that aims to shift power dynamics in workplaces, create people-centered workplaces grounded in JEDI; and support new ways of thinking and doing in an effort to reshape the public dialogue around race, gender, class, ability, and identity.
To create greater access to VBSR and bring new voices to our movement, we offer free and discounted memberships and event fees for small and rural businesses, individuals who identify as black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) or low-income; BIPOC-led organizations, students, and start-up businesses.
In addition to our educational programming, to support our members in doing more, more effectively, and with deeper impact, VBSR hosts a monthly JEDI Impact Circle open to employees at any level of a member organization who are actively involved in their organization’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion journey. VBSR Impact Circles are peer-to-peer networking and discussion groups that provide Vermont business leaders with a forum to connect through shared experiences, grow their network, learn from each other, identify opportunities for potential collaboration, and generate greater impact.