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Deb Re Talks Equity in the BBJ

Posted 02/22/2022

The following OpEd was printed in the Boston Business Journal on February 18, 2022, and can also be viewed online here.

Viewpoint: For this nonprofit, equity began by looking inward

Heritage months are a time to celebrate the history and achievements of groups in our country who have been underrepresented and marginalized. Heritage months not only give us the opportunity to learn about the achievements of a particular group, they also give us the chance to assess and reassess our own place in that history today.

I have often, perhaps cynically, thought these months gave companies the chance to check off a box by simply putting up a banner celebrating a particular cause, or posting a platitude on their social media or making a statement on their website, and then moving on. What I know for sure is that there is only one way to move on: with knowledge of a group’s history, an understanding of why folks are marginalized, and how to change the paradigm that created the need for heritage months in the first place.

The path forward begins with equity. As the head of an organization serving girls, a majority of whom are Black, I see Black History Month as a time to look at my personal investment in advancing equity for Black girls, as well as Big Sister, as an organization.  

What has become clear over the past year is the link between the girls we support and the staff who support them. If we wanted to create a future for Black girls to be financially independent, to have equity in education and employment, then it was imperative to look at pathways and possibilities for our staff. We started with staff compensation.

We hired a consulting firm to review all salaries within Big Sister from the newbies to the more experienced staff. We learned that other than those in leadership positions who may have negotiated their salaries, and were predominantly white, most staff members could not make ends meet working at Big Sister and living in Greater Boston.

By examining compensation, we took the power game out of the equation. There is a privilege that comes from being in leadership that affords someone the chance to negotiate. The board of directors of Big Sister voted unanimously to raise staff salaries by 20% as well as sustain salary increases every year going forward.

We are now an organization where no one can negotiate their salary, because we have eliminated the need to negotiate. While learning how to negotiate is a critical skill, it should not be necessary when it comes to salaries. Employees should know that they are being paid a fair, living wage that takes their skills, and life experiences into consideration.

We did check a box for Black History Month: It’s a check towards equity.