Collective Loss, Collective Care

How can we show up with our full humanity at work? Pride Foundation CEO, Katie Carter, tackled this question as a speaker at R/evolution, the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) national virtual conference. In this session entitled “Collective Loss, Collective Care: What We Need From Our Institutions,” Katie and her fellow panelists Keri Gray and Storme Grey, talked about changes made amidst the pandemic to internal organizational cultures, learnings from the disability justice community that philanthropy would do well to embrace, and how to explicitly center the needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Color on your staff. Here is a synthesized excerpt from Katie’s responses to the questions asked during the panel.

How do you define care and what has care looked like in your organization or community work?

In traditional norms of white professionalism, the idea of even talking about care at work can seem out of place because care and personhood is something that you get from home, not work. This is a false dichotomy and creates the conditions for exploitation and burnout. As organizations focused on social, racial, gender, disability, and queer justice and liberation, we have to think about and deeply care for our people.

For me, care is about seeing, hearing, acknowledging, and feeling one another in our full humanity—as whole people with needs, desires, hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, grief, joy, feelings, histories, lineages, trauma, and healing. Care at work is about creating a space that can hold and embrace our full humanity.

Pride Foundation’s organizational vision is for all of us to be able to live safely and openly as our whole selves in all the places we call home. This vision guides not just our external work, but also the kind of organization we’re trying to build. We have been trying to intentionally create a culture of care and belonging at Pride Foundation for our staff and board, from the belief that paying specific attention to this internal work is foundational for it manifesting in our programmatic work.

This is of course a work in progress. We are continually reflecting on how we can bring this value even more deeply into our organization. It’s required us to make intentional space and time so that work does not consume our team—and to create structural boundaries. What this looks like in action:

  • Implementing 4 day (32 hour) work weeks and flexible schedules that can be modified based on the circumstances of individual people, without reducing pay
  • Holding expectations that we take our weekends and evenings off and typically don’t email or ask for things from one another, so that we can rest and practice those boundaries
  • Investing in our people through our benefits from salaries, to comprehensive healthcare, to vacations and sabbaticals (and creating the conditions and encouragement for the team to actually take advantage of them)
  • Providing stipends to support self-care without pre-defining what that looks like
  • Scaling our workloads and capacity to be more realistic in our expectations of ourselves and our team members, and removing unnecessary urgency and immediacy
  • Spending intentional time developing our organizational culture and our relationships with ourselves through intentional learning together as a team, building a shared understanding of our values and how we want to be in relationship, bringing healing practices into our work life and our retreat time—and building this work explicitly into everyone’s job descriptions.
  • Bringing joy and connection into our work in small ways like having a gratitude channel in Microsoft Teams, or carving out a check out at the end of each week to do something fun and creative together.

What are some lessons learned in building organization cultures that strive towards collective care? What are things you have needed to unlearn as you’ve built a culture of care in the workplace?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that with the right conditions in place, work can (and should) be affirming and cup-filling. It doesn’t have to grind us to a stress-filled pulp. Not only is that not necessary and absolutely the product of white supremacist patriarchal culture, but for organizations whose work is about justice and liberation, we are never going to get there if we don’t care for our people. We are literally working against ourselves and our work when we do that.

But undoing and unlearning that culture requires intentionality and time to change it—it’s not just going to change. As a leader in this organization, I have learned that undoing and unlearning this, and re-imagining and re-building, is every bit as much a part of my job as raising money or administering programs. Building a team in a thoughtful, careful, intentional way, and ensuring the team feels supported is an important indicator of organizational effectiveness.

To get even more specific—a key place of unlearning has been around perpetuating a false sense of urgency, immediacy, and everything being a crisis amidst actual crisis. That characteristic of white supremacist, patriarchal culture has been embedded deeply in our organization like so many.

Creating space for slowness, intentionality, thoughtfulness, clarity—creating time for pausing and processing and creativity—has helped us so much. It has created the space for our work to be better and more grounded in our values, instead of reactivity, and for us to have reflective pauses and be intentional in how we move forward with a fuller understanding.

What should care look like in the workplace going forward, and how does this care translate to our work in community?

We are trying to build a different kind of organization, and this requires creating new ways of doing things. It requires integrating the value of care into policies, practices, evaluations, and conversations, much like in the examples I shared earlier in the session of internal changes we’ve made at Pride Foundation. For many of us, it’s going to mean learning, growing, and changing.

A workplace should be caring and make space for our full humanity, and it should also create the conditions in which this care is possible. As Prentis Hemphill describes them, “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” Creating and practicing boundaries is a profound act of care, and one piece of that at work is structural.

In practice, that means that, for example, we’re not just offering vacation time as a benefit—we have practices in place that encourage staff to utilize this benefit, we have workplans that enable work to be paused or reasonably transferred, and we normalize things like having away messages. 

Externally speaking, if our teams are practicing this kind of care with one another, it lays the foundation for living it in our work with grantee partners, scholars, fundraising, and in public education. What are we asking of our partners and stakeholders, and what other pressures are they under? How are we creating space for their full humanity through our programmatic practices?

Tangibly, this looks like challenging ourselves to ask ourselves questions like: Who are we centering in this approach? Is this actually necessary?

Our job is to allocate resources where they are needed most. Our challenge is to create a process and a system that reduces burdens, creates the least harm, and offers the most opportunities for healing, joy, and care.

Together, leaders in philanthropy must keep having conversations like this one. We must ask ourselves whether our current processes humanize and care for our partners. We must be honest and courageous with ourselves and our peers—and move forward in the same spirit of learning, growing, and changing.

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