iF's DEI Journey

Our internal cultural awareness and integration trainings and learnings
"The hope is that this will create a foundation of trust that we can build on with other DEI exercises, and this was a beautiful way to start that." –Victoria Burwell, President, Intentional Futures

Phase #1: The Tree of Life

Intentional Futures as an agency and collection of individuals is on a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) journey. The intent of this journey is to evaluate the current state of our policies, practices, client work and culture with a DEI lens, but also to celebrate the unique cultures, backgrounds and expertise of iFsters. As we continue on this journey of self discovery and critical thinking, we invite you to join us and welcome all that you will contribute to make this a transformative and fulfilling process.

During the first phase of iF’s DEI work, we spent five hours together over two sessions with the following goals:

  1. Organizational members increase personal self-awareness
  2. Organizational members experience each other as individuals

This “Tree of Life” activity was designed to help members of the organization reflect on their life and how it has come to shape them as individuals. Prior to meeting, all iFsters were provided with questions for the activity. iFsters were asked to envision themselves as trees: the roots are the past which shaped you, the trunk is what makes you who you are, and the branches are your connection to your community and the world. All participants had up to seven minutes for their presentation. Observers were not allowed to ask any questions and they listened silently until it was their turn to present. The result was a powerful experience in discovery and connection– one that is difficult to come by in a virtual workplace.

Not only did iFsters learn about their coworkers in an entirely new light, they began to understand that bringing your whole self to work is not an easy or normalized task for many: “It allowed us to collectively acknowledge that everyone is dealing with their own things in the background, and I think the exercise allowed us to do it in a healthy way that didn’t force us to compare. Our experiences shape how we see the world, which is important to keep in mind when you have tension with a colleague.” -Tynan Gable, Strategist

As the company moves forward in this journey, our understanding of ourselves as trees, and the experiences that have shaped and driven us will serve as a foundation from which we can collectively begin to explore the concepts of DEI: “The hope is that this will create a foundation of trust that we can build on with other DEI exercises, and this was a beautiful way to start that.” -Victoria Burwell, President

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Jackie St. Louis, iF’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Tree of Life’s creator reflects on the intention behind the activity:

“Racial Equity is both a process and a destination. Though seemingly straightforward, attaining a state of true equity has proven elusive. The United States of America is among the most racially and culturally diverse countries in the world and this is increasingly reflected in the places that we work. The events that led up to the summer of 2020 brought to the fore, the ongoing challenges we face as a nation in relating to each other. Cultural clashes do not always end in death but are almost always violent. The reasons for which we have these negative interactions have their root in longstanding beliefs about human beings-what makes them alike and different. To say that our problem is one of distrust would not be too far off the mark.

To be a part of the solution, many organizations embarked on their respective journeys toward being more equitable and antiracist, with perhaps many having done so exclusively focused on the destination rather than the journey to get there. There is a reason why the scourge of sins past still cast a shadow over this country in the form of discrimination, racism, and gender-based oppression. Despite all our advances and progress, we collectively hold on to the manufactured belief that we are fundamentally different based on: race, gender, age, ability, culture, ethnicity, identity, and socio-economic status. Yes, we are different, but not in ways that would account for or justify our mistreatment of each other.

The “Tree of Life” activity was designed for the specific purpose of bringing together people collectively moving toward the destination, to ground ourselves in the shared humanity of each other and for developing a greater understanding of our own internal processes and motivations. We hope that after having done this activity, participants would have realized their endless capacity to extend grace toward each other in humility and be resolute in doing the same for themselves.”

"Oftentimes when talking about race-related issues, we immediately feel consumed by emotions. We feel rage and disgust from the undercurrent of the history of oppression and slavery, and our thoughts go to the questions and confusion." –iFster

Phase #2: A Brief History of Race

Intentional Futures as an agency and collection of individuals is on a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) journey. The intent of this journey is to evaluate the current state of our policies, practices, client work and culture with a DEI lens, but also to celebrate the unique cultures, backgrounds and expertise of iFsters. As we continue on this journey of self discovery and critical thinking, we invite you to join us and welcome all that you will contribute to make this a transformative and fulfilling process.

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We’d like to first note that iF’s DEI work now falls under the title of “Cultural Integration and Awareness.” Jackie, iF's Cultural Integration and Awareness Director explains the decision for the change as follows: “'DEI' tends to feel focused on destination or outcome so much that we neglect the journey and process that it takes to get there. We want to recognize that our practice at iF is intended to be a process, thus the name change.”

Cultural awareness is the ability to perceive the differences that exist between cultures. It facilitates the understanding of how one’s culture differs from others and the ways in which they interact.

Cultural integration is the process through which one leverages their awareness in practical ways to engage with, integrate, and validate a culture different from their own. This could include the responsible adoption of another culture or its integration into the dominant culture without erasure or appropriation.

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After an introductory session where iFsters were allowed the space to share about themselves and learn about each other, a three-hour training session titled “A Brief History of Race in America” was facilitated by Jackie St. Louis, Director of Cultural Integration and Awareness. The goals of this session were:

  • Learn about the early history of America
  • Learn how and why race was constructed &
  • How it continues to shape America
  • How race and racism manifests in our modern society
  • Develop a framework for understanding socio-cultural-economic dynamics within a modern context

This training centers the history of Indigenous Americans and people of African descent because of the uniqueness of their experiences in North America, and the significance of their story as it relates to the creation of white dominant culture. These two groups more than any other bore the brunt of the brutality at the foundation of North American history, including the slave trade and Indigenous American genocide. The stories of these two groups of people in the United States are indispensable in understanding the country’s origin, and race and culture as they exist today. The suffering and experiences of other marginalized groups were acknowledged and briefly touched upon but not explored in-depth due to time constraints. Participants were encouraged to continue their learning journey by pursuing further knowledge on this subject matter.

iFsters were challenged to confront not only the past of the United States but also racism’s new frontier and how it manifests in white privilege, hyper-activism, white guilt and and white fragility.

At three points in the three hour period, participants were asked to evaluate and share on the basis of:

  1. Head: what I think, or the intellectual
  2. Heart: what I feel, or the emotions
  3. Hands: what I do, or the actions

This sharing activity was designed to engage the many expressed feelings of sadness but also expressed their desire to further the discussion and effect positive change.

This session “The History of Race in North America” aims to help participants from the organization develop a lens through which they can evaluate equity and apply it to their lives and work, and create a common starting point from which to do so.

The immediate next step was establishing small groups of iFsters to continue the discussion that began during the training. These groups will be led by volunteers who will support this process by facilitating and taking notes that can be shared out to the entire company. We thank all iFsters for their participation and are look forward to sharing what we learn from the small group gatherings.

List of resources shared by iFsters to educate, act and donate, particularly specific to the Native communities of the Seattle area:

  • King Leopold's Ghost is a compelling book on Belgium's exploitation:
  • Eighth Generation provides a strong, ethical alternative to “Native-inspired” art and products through its artist-centric approach and 100% Native designed products.
  • Real Rent calls on people who live and work in Seattle to make rent payments to the Duwamish Tribe. Though the city named for the Duwamish leader Chief Seattle thrives.
  • Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, By Isabel Wilkerson.
  • The Duwamish Tribe of Indians was recently denied federal recognition, but they know who they are. Here’s 10 things you should know about them.
  • Seattle Urban Native Nonprofits (SUNN) collaborative serves the Seattle-King County area, a region that is home to a thriving and vibrant Native community encompassing a rich blend of Tribal cultures, multi-generational families, and individuals with many talents and professions.
  • Little Justice Leaders (subscription box) and Honest History (magazine) are kid-resources to learn about race and justice
  • They Were Her Property by author Stephanie E. Jones Rogers- A bold and searing investigation into the role of white women in the American slave economy.
"The 'Who am I?' activity was super interesting because it concretized how complex and unique each of our identities are, and at the same time showed how we all have things in common." –iFster

Phase #3: Who am I?

Arriving at phase three of our DEI journey, iFsters have already spent time reflecting on and sharing vulnerably with one another, delving into the racial history of the United States, and spending time processing in small groups. With this foundation of knowledge of themselves, the world and their peers, iFsters were tasked with sharing who they are outside the narrow construct of race.

Titled aptly: “Who am I?” this activity challenged participants to present themselves in two minutes or less in the following categories:

  • Ethnicity
  • Nationality
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Heritage

Much like the previous session, iFsters were asked post-activity to share with the group in a “Head, heart, hands” format– how they were thinking, feeling and desiring to act after the experience. Many iFsters noted that broadcasting the multi-faceted parts of their identities was challenging, as many did not have the answers as others did, or they felt they did not fit neatly into boxes. The experience also made apparent the differences and similarities between peers, and fostered a sense of kinship amongst those with similar identities and experiences.

Apart from the DEI work iF embarked upon, a goal for the agency is to build out psychological safety, and it’s clear that our cultural awareness and integration work has been a natural part of making progress towards this goal.

Moving forward, this activity laid the groundwork for the next session “Undoing the Fallacy of Otherness” which focuses on reconciliation and coming together.

"I appreciated that our DEI journey was tied so explicitly to our work as consultants in this session!" –iFster

Phase #4: Undoing the Assumption of Otherness

Emerging from sessions intended to help iFsters develop the capacity to engage in transparent and vulnerable communication, build trust with each other, and create appreciation for the diversity of culture at iF, “Undoing of the Assumption of Otherness” sought to have attendees think more deeply about the transformative power of coming together and working as a collective.

Goals for this training were:

  • Solidify and and explore how to implement the concepts that that have been introduced
  • Build on the collective socio-cultural lens
  • Synthesize the information we have learned and begin practicing
  • Begin the process of thinking about how we responsibly respond to the call to action
  • Learn concepts that inform the socio-cultural lens
  • Continue building accountability with each other

Prior to jumping into the material, iFsters were asked to share how they have been impacted by the journey to this point, including how they were implementing the learning and concepts. It was noted that as a result of the sessions, individuals were able to break from analysis and the paralysis of feeling “bad” about the situation and move toward action.

iFsters were first asked to consider when they first became aware of culture, and when they first began thinking critically about it. More so than the other sessions, this training emphasized Intentional Futures’ positionality, and how the history of consulting as an industry shapes the culture of the practice today. From there, the culture of iF was discussed, inclding how that culture clashes with those we interact with. In a global sense, some of iF’s clients are across oceans, thus leading to obvious differences in communication styles, meeting preferences and general best practices in work. Closer to home, some clients of iF favor pedigree and subject matter expertise over other strengths which is not typically how iF operates.

"These sessions have been the most intentional, vulnerable, honest, and impactful DEI sessions that I've been a part of (which are several). The rigor and honesty that we took to look at the organization and ourselves was unique and refreshing – most organizations don't look in the mirror as directly as we did." –iFster

Phase #5: Organizational Self-Assessment

After a series of four trainings that built upon one another, iFsters were ready to critically evaluate the organization from a standpoint of DEI.

iFsters, using the tools previously learned, conducted an assessment of the state of the company. The evaluation focused on the following areas:

  • History: What is the organization?
  • Purpose: Why is the organization?
  • People: Composition of staff and leadership

iFsters were then asked to assess the state of racial equity in the following focus areas:

  • Preparedness: Prioritization of conversations and trainings on equity
  • Position: Where is the organization?
  • Practice: To what extent does the organization actively participate in equity and social justice initiatives?
  • Projection: Are the evaluation, strategic plan, and structure of the organization reflective of a diverse and equitable community?

After rating iF on a binary scale of either 0 (not currently applicable) or 1 (currently in practice at the organization), an overall score was presented. Based on the score, it is evident that the organization is in the preparation stage of change. More specifically, iFsters value this work, desire to sustain the momentum and are actively taking steps to move toward being an equitable and antiracist organization.

With a numerical value assigned to iF’s DEI standing, iFsters are now awaiting assignment to cohort groups based upon their interests. Moving forward, these cohorts will make progress towards the assessment points that are weaker within the organization.

Phase #6: Implicit Bias Training

"The implicit bias training was a powerful reminder that we all have biases. I appreciated how the training shed light on those biases, how systematically entrenched they are, and how we can dismantle them." -iFster

Following the previous activity, the "Organizational Self-assessment" iFsters convened for a training on implicit bias. The training built on previous stages, including the self-assessment, during which attendees were provided a brief history of the organization. Subsequently, using the framework developed in the earlier stages, iFsters evaluated the organization's current state in comparison to its DEI goals.

The trainer, Jackie St. Louis, provided a framework for understanding implicit bias, one which accounted for its roots in evolution. The group was helped in understanding how this evolutionary necessity is maladapted to the current world in which we live. As a large group, iFsters discussed when they first became aware of prejudice and bias in their own lives. Further learnings included that implicit bias:

  • Can occur outside of our consciousness
  • Affects attitudes and perceptions
  • Impacts decision-making
  • May result in harm or hurt
  • Can be reinforced by the dominant culture

Following the discussion about the negative implications implicit bias can have for individuals, groups and organizations, the trainer presented strategies for accounting for personal biases and how to address them.

Finally, small groups discussed the ways that implicit bias can show up in the workplace, and what policies can be put in place to overcome them.

Looking ahead, iFsters now are equipped with the language and tactics to approach and address implicit bias when they encounter it in their work and amongst their peers.


iFsters learned techniques to overcome their own implicit biases

Equitable Hiring Practices at iF: A Recent Case Study

Just over a year ago, iF launched our Equitable Hiring process. This came out of an internal working group aimed to ensure:

  1. Normalize interviewing and hiring processes as much as possible for all
  2. Create stopgaps to bias check candidate pools, descriptive language, and hiring team decisions
  3. Clarify outlier situations (e.g. long-term contractors-to-hires; in-org candidates)

Our recent recruitment for the new iF President position was a great opportunity to apply our process.

The below is a message from Jackie St. Louis, iF’s Director of Cultural Awareness and Integration, and a member of the President hiring committee:

"From the onset our priority was to ensure that the process was fair, inclusive, competitive, equitable and transparent. We began by outlining our internal process, including interviewers, an internal advisory group to observe the process and alert the team to potential biases real time as well as shared evaluation criteria. There was an overwhelming response to the job posting with applicants from across the country. The team developed a process to screen applicants for fit, experience and suitability. 8 folks were initially screened. Following the first round of telephone screenings, we conducted a thorough review to determine the makeup of the group and more specifically, where there was sufficient representation of BIPOC and women. Upon this screening, it was determined that we had fallen somewhat short of our intended goal and as such the team went back to the original applicants and re-evaluated, specifically for women and BIPOC candidates. Following this second round of screenings, the team recommended an additional 4 persons for screenings – one African American male, one Asian Male, one woman of Latin descent, a Caucasian woman, and a man of Middle Eastern descent. Five people moved on to in-person (virtual interviews) across 3 panels and 3 interview rounds.

The process itself was very competitive with all of the candidates bringing similar and diverse strengths and backgrounds. Members of iF leadership who conducted the earlier screenings and in-person interviews were adamant about the inclusion of iFsters from all levels of the company in the decision-making process. With feedback from members of the organization, we developed a rubric for scoring the applicants based on their experience, expertise, fit with the company and performance during the interviews. Four candidates emerged from the interviews as having the requisite skills and competencies to effectively perform in the role of president, but there was not yet a clear consensus as to who should be selected.

The team designed two follow-up assignments – a writing assignment and scenario exercise to further evaluate the candidates. The exercises were observed by iFsters who had the opportunity to evaluate them. Upon conclusion of the scheduled activities, the team met with Michael to provide feedback and recommendations. At this juncture, there were three candidates being considered with one having been eliminated (an African American male). The final three were a Caucasian female, Asian male, and Caucasian male – Rich Crandall. From the vetting and evaluation that had been done, we were clear that each one of these candidates had the ability to serve in the role of President and would bring their own unique approach to iF. We were left with the question of whether we wanted value add or value fit, eventually we settled on value add being important but not at the expense of changing the culture that so many have worked to create – a place of mutual positive regard, collaboration, and imaginative work. It was clear to us that Rich was the best fit for the organization, but the question of his experience was one that lingered throughout. The other two candidates had significantly more experience, one on a global scale. That said we questioned the fit of the most experienced candidate and could not be certain that his approach would not be disruptive to the culture. The other candidate presented the question of “how deliberate does iF want to be about its growth?” Michael was clear that iF should grow, but that it should not be done at the expense of the people or culture.

Toward the conclusion of our discussion, and perhaps even at the start, it was clear that Rich Crandall was the right person for this job. To a person, Rich was spoken of as someone that is kind, considerate, respectful, and brilliant. The questions that we have about Rich can in no way be attributed to some shortcoming on his part as he has always risen to the occasion and expressed excitement to take on this challenge.

My final words were “I am making a decision not for me, but for all of iF, and Rich is the best person for this job.” Words cannot begin to express how proud I am to have been part of such an inclusive process. It was not without its challenges, but in doing equity work, this is to be expected.”


To learn more about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Intentional Futures, send a message to jackie@intentionalfutures.com

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