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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

HPN's DEI Commitment Isn't Waning

Critics say the field of DEI is ineffective. But we are hearing very different opinions from our clients.

“Objectively, we’ve gotten better because of this work,” says Chuck Wehrwein, COO of Housing Partnership Network, a national collaborative of housing and community development organizations. “Our fundraising is up. Our capital placement is up. We're thriving.”

I asked HPN’s leadership team to share their story as an example for others—and they jumped at the chance. They described a journey that grew organically in order to solve specific organizational challenges:

  1. Data. When HPN initially invested in DEI work years ago, their goal was to retain employees and increase the diversity of their team. Gievaughann Brown, Senior Talent & Culture Associate, brought data-driven tools to mitigate bias in every step of the recruitment journey, from job descriptions to candidate sourcing, interviews, and selection. “I've seen from our past data points till now the increase in Black and brown people and people of color that have been hired throughout the organization over the years.”

  2. Conversations. This increased diversity led to deeper shifts. “As our staff has changed, it influences the conversations that we have about the programs and services that we deliver to our members,” says Robin Hughes, who became HPN’s first Black President & CEO in 2022. At a recent meeting of member organizations, participants bravely shared real-life experiences and stressed the importance of centering racial equity in serving their mission.

  3. Skill Building. The staff realized they needed support to overcome discomfort and translate the conversations into actionable change. Sherry Burton, Vice President of Talent & Culture, took on this challenge, alongside her colleague Gievaughann. “How do we more formally approach this, outside of just ‘how are we feeling?’” Sherry asked. Fletcher Consulting was honored to provide a year-long learning series to provide tools to the entire organization: clarifying terms, analyzing case studies, and practicing core skills like interrupting bias, sustaining an inclusive culture, and identifying systemic barriers to equity.

  4. Strategy. Now, DEI is deeply integrated into all aspects of the organization. “We are not just checking off a box,” Robin stresses. “It's not just in Talent and Culture—it's in how we procure vendors, how we engage with members, and how they engage with their residents. It’s in our strategic framework and operational plan, where we've given a lot of priority to housing justice and racial equity.” 

As proud as HPN’s leaders are of the progress and impact of DEI, they are frustrated by the growing backlash in the field. “Our members have experienced waning philanthropic support funding DEI work,” Robin shared. “They also have expressed concerns that those commitments made by corporate America are not being realized.“

But she emphasizes that HPN is an example of why it’s worth persisting. “In terms of our commitment as an organization,” Robin confirms, “I don't see that waning at all. It makes us better as a company. And it's the right thing to do.”

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