Equity is the cornerstone of our strategy. Understanding our own identities and biases is a critical first step in our journey as an organization. We have assessed our workplace and are implementing actions to address where Abt falls short and learn the skills necessary for us to be actively antiracist and inclusive.
Our Equity Journey
In 2021, we established a mandatory two-hour training for all Abt staff on social identity and unconscious bias, with an optional three-hour facilitated session. We hired our first ever Chief Global Equity Officer, Roslyn Brock, Chairman Emeritus of the National Board of Directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a recognized civil rights, health policy, and equity advocate in the United States. Brock is responsible for leading our Global Equity Team. Together they are developing a comprehensive global equity strategy—with a particular focus on race, gender, and ableism inequities—and a commitment to creating systems of change.
The Global Equity Team is one part of a broader equity mobilization strategy that includes equity specialists embedded in divisions, departments, and programs. “The need for this work is not new. What is new, however, is the window of opportunity and global momentum to do it,” Brock says. “This work can’t be rushed, and it is critically important that we get it right. This requires inward reflection, both as an organization and as individuals.”
To continue to advance our commitment to equity, we have signed a key pledge sponsored by the Coalition for Racial & Ethnic Equity in Development (CREED), a collective of U.S.-based international development and humanitarian assistance organizations. The pledge commits signatories to build racial and ethnic equity (REE) into their policies, systems, and culture and to instill REE in international development. Additionally, we continue to improve upon our certification from Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE), the leading global assessment methodology and business certification standard for gender equality. In 2021, EDGE certified Abt globally at the MOVE level, the second-highest rating available.
A key part of Abt’s strategy is to have a learning continuum between what our experts learn in the field through our work and our own internal equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) strategy. This ensures that we apply the absolute best thinking and latest knowledge to how we run the company, as well as how we implement programs on behalf of our clients. Our road may be uncomfortable at times, but we will emerge a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplace.
Equity-focused Workforce Capacity Building
Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance at the party. Equity is having a culturally diverse playlist. And belonging is an outcome of feeling comfortable to ask someone else to dance. That’s what we want to strive for at Abt as we evolve and mature along this journey.
– Roslyn Brock, Chief Global Equity Officer
Abt is continuously looking to expand and enhance strategies to ensure employees feel they belong. Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Working Groups in Australia provide not only a sense of community but a way for staff to bring their issues to management’s attention and work with leadership on solutions so that policies reflect the groups’ needs. In the US., Employee Network Groups (ENG) serve as voluntary, employee-led groups that focus on shared identities and life experiences. All ENG and D&I groups are committed to providing support to Abt staff in developing a more inclusive and diverse workplace and creating a safe environment for staff who identify with that particular group and their allies. In 2021, our Women at Abt and Emerging Leaders ENGs partnered up to develop a mentoring program for staff to promote diversity and inclusion and employees' professional growth and development, knowledge sharing, and community building.
Abt ensures a safe environment through multiple pathways to address conflict and workplace concerns, including a formal complaint process. Informally, Abt’s Workplace Relations team and network of Peer Support and Peer Advocacy Advisors act as neutral pathways to discuss workplace conflicts and provide support in cases where an employee doesn’t want to file a formal complaint or go to a supervisor right away. Whichever route an employee takes, it’s important to empower staff to create and demand an inclusive environment so they feel they belong at Abt.
Talent & Development
Attracting, recruiting, and retaining top talent requires a nuanced approach. In thinking equitably about the needs and experiences of potential candidates, we challenge the status quo of hiring and resist the urge to follow a one-size-fits-all approach. Our updated approach has led Abt to conduct unconscious bias training for recruiting staff—all of whom were diversity certified in 2021—and enhanced our screening and interviewing processes.
An unintended benefit of COVID has been the geographical expansion of our talent pool. Gone are the days where work is a place you go. Rather it’s something you do. Abt has been able to reduce and often eliminate location-based barriers to open positions, which further increases our ability to attract talent from anywhere, not just from those near our office locations.
Beyond recruitment, capacity building for career development is critical for equity. As part of our five-year corporate strategy, we are committed to strengthening our project management expertise by investing in our people, processes, and tools. In 2021, we sponsored our first cohort of over 30 global employees to become Project Management Professionals (PMPs) and Project DPro Practitioners—the world’s leading project management certifications. And we launched an internal Technical Assistance and Implementation (TA&I) Training Academy with the goal of boosting internal capacity to provide data-driven and solution-oriented technical assistance to clients and communities. Applicants for each of the above development opportunities were selected using an equity lens—evaluating them based on the training’s business purpose, diversity of candidates, and their capabilities. Across these opportunities, 69 percent of participants were women and 37 percent were people of color. We also formally trained nearly 100 employees on our updated internal Project Management Model to improve employee effectiveness in all aspects of their jobs.
All U.S.-based staff have access to Learning Accounts, which may be used to cover the time employees spend on professional development. Globally, staff have access to LinkedIn Learning at their fingertips, from any device, and across several languages to promote inclusivity. While the learning courses enable us to better deliver services to our clients and their beneficiaries, our staff are also empowered to control their current professional development and future career paths.
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