Becoming an Anti-Racist, Multicultural Organization 

By Stefani Coverson, Chief People & Equity Strategy Officer 

Treehouse is
committed to becoming an anti-racist, multicultural institution and has been on that journey for a few years. As part of the process, we’ve been asking ourselves some difficult questions such as who holds the power, and is this a broad diverse group of folks? Who is the organization accountable to? Who understands the budget? Is it just a couple of privileged people at the top, or is there a broader understanding of it?

According to the anti-racist, multicultural organizational continuum, in an “all-white club” organization, decisions are made by white people, often men and in private. At an anti-racist, multicultural organization, decisions are discussed and decided by a diverse group with people of color in leadership roles and everyone fully understanding the distribution of power and how decisions are made.

In total, there are nine characteristics we’re reviewing as we build our Racial Equity Action Plan: Decision Making, Budget, Money From, Accountable To, Power and Pay, Located, Members, Culture and Programs. We’re picking two of the nine characteristics each year to take a deep dive and implement changes. Deciding where to start is a difficult decision because all nine are absolutely critical, but we don’t want to be a jack of all trades, master of noneor just make performative or superficial change. This is a longer undertaking and will be ongoing as we infuse equity within all of our practices, policies, and procedures. Until we are successful in this work, we will not be effective agents of change in removing barriers and systems of oppression in the education and foster care systems.

Affinity Groups Key

Employee resource or affinity groups play an important part. They create a sense of belonging and give everyone the opportunity to benefit from diverse voices as they drive both employee engagement and ultimately larger changes. As examples, we have seven active affinity groups at Treehouse: Asian Pacific Islander Affinity Group, B.E.A.T – Black Employees at Treehouse, Jews at Treehouse Affinity Group, LatinX Affinity Group, Multiracial/Mixed Race Affinity Group, PRIDE @ Treehouse – LGBTQ+ Affinity Group and White Employees Disrupting Racism Affinity Group.

Because of systemic racism, most organizations in this country have historically been homogenous, segmenting equity where folks of color and other historically marginalized populations work in entry level positions levels with minimal influence. That’s unacceptable. Our staff, community—and most importantly our youth impacted by foster careall deserve an organization that is reflective throughout its structure and answerable to the communities we serve.

3 Aspects of Our Culture

We focus on leading with racial equity at Treehouse while also focusing on being trauma-informed and demonstrating emotional intelligence. I’ve heard those three aspects of our culture described as the three-legged stool that supports the organization. To me, we should view them more as interwoven into an extremely strong pedestal because they’re intertwined and each critical for our youth to be successful. 

The children, youth and young adults we serve all experience ongoing trauma even in the most supportive, wonderful foster care situation. There is trauma in being removed from their home, and there is trauma in those factors that caused them to be removed.

So how do we provide equitable support in a way that is not just checking the box? It takes training that creates awareness of our own trauma, our own racial equity journey, and how to support others who are experiencing trauma. Just like on an airplane when oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, we must take care of our mask first before assisting others.

Building Resiliency

We have to build our own resiliency as a precursor to supporting the growth of resiliency in our youth, particularly BIPOC youth who are disproportionately represented in the foster care system. We must be acutely aware of our emotional state and what is being activated within us. We must be able to take action in that moment to ground and center ourselves before interacting with youth who are experiencing trauma or other staff and/or community partners. Strong resiliency helps us connect with others and distance ourselves from burnout. It’s a preventative measure.

And emotions are contagious. We’ve all had that experience walking into a room, and folks have been fighting or sad or in grief. You walk into that room and although you weren’t a part of the conversation, you still feel that emotion. You start responding to it. Or it can be a very cheerful room and you walk in experiencing anger or frustration, and you take the happy energy out of the room. Our emotions have power over us as individuals and each other as a community.

For our youth, how we show up through our organizations and as people directly impacts their development as they learn from our behavior and build the self-advocacy tools they must have to thrive.

Join Treehouse as we partner with youth in foster care during the pandemic and beyond. Make a gift at treehouseforkids.org/donate.

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About the Author

Always calm and focused in any situation, Stefani brings a people-first commitment to Treehouse. An accomplished human resources leader with more than 20 years of experience, Coverson joined Treehouse in 2020 from Clark College where she served as Vice President of Human Resources & Compliance. She’s also worked for Seattle University, Seattle Public Schools and started her career at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

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