Sierra Club’s Multi-Year Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan

The Sierra Club is a grassroots nonprofit environmental organization in the United States. Founded by John Muir in 1892, the Sierra Club seeks to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; and educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment. The Sierra Club is known for its work on issues like protecting millions of acres of wilderness and helping pass environmental policy like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. The Sierra Club has 2.1 million members and supporters, 64 state or regionally based chapters, and over 400 local groups.

   KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Developing a DEI plan takes intentional effort and deep commitment from the highest levels of leadership, including executives and board members.

 

  • In pursuing a DEI plan, it is important that organizations assess where they are, what resources they have, and where opportunities for growth exists by engaging staff at all levels of the organization to share their insights.

In 2015, the Sierra Club’s Board of Directors approved a Multi-Year Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Organizational Plan as a roadmap toward becoming a multicultural organization that engages, values, and learns from diverse cultures and people. Multicultural transformation is a complex, ever-evolving, and intentional process. The plan, which has commitment from the highest levels of leadership, outlines three goals that encompass all parts of the organization. Implementation of the plan is managed by the Sierra Club’s Department of Equity, Inclusion and Justice, which is overseen by a Director and Initiatives Manager.

Adoption of the DEI plan was the result of decades of internal organizing by staff and volunteer leaders who were committed to building a more inclusive organization that could tackle oppression and dismantle racism. The Board President also partnered with the Executive Team to dedicate consistent and committed resources to exploring how the Sierra Club could transform into the inclusive organization it envisioned.

Before ever drafting the DEI plan, the Sierra Club engaged in a layered process that would become the foundation for the DEI plan. Spurred by Sierra Club’s Board President and facilitated by DEI experts, the Board discussed what it meant to take on the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion and requested a deeper analysis for the organization. From there, the organization worked with InPartnership Consulting to develop an internal assessment to understand where they were, what resources they had, and where opportunities for growth existed. Hundreds of staff and volunteers were invited to take the assessment and share their experiences anonymously. The Sierra Club invested 16 months to conduct the assessment, analyze the assessment data, and use the data as the building blocks for its DEI Plan. The Diversity Steering Committee, which is a Sierra Club board committee which advises the board on DEI-related matters, shepherded this process by which the organization could develop benchmarks and outline a path forward.

Implementing the DEI plan has brought organizational change on various levels.

  • The Sierra Club now has a DEI department with dedicated resources. The department has defined how it will support all parts of the organization and this includes training opportunities for staff and volunteer leaders on the application of the organization’s justice and equity values. Each staff member has a justice and equity goal in their individual work-plan and managers are supported by the DEI department to ensure their teams achieve these goals.
  • The DEI plan called for the Sierra Club to revisit its anti-harassment policy and expand it to include not only sexual harassment but also micro-aggressions and other toxic behaviors that contribute to an exclusive culture.
  • Now,  the three diversity teams that pre-dated the DEI plan fall under the purview of the DEI department and its collective vision.  These teams have corresponding budgets that sustain DEI implementation. The Diversity Steering Committee works to advise the Board of Directors, the Staff Diversity Team works to advise the Executive Team, and the DEI Support Team supports and coaches the organization’s 64 chapters across the U.S. and Puerto Rico in their development of local work furthering intersectional justice.
  • The Sierra Club also continues to work to reframe its environmental campaigns and programs to ensure they align with their values of equity and justice. This shift has also impacted how the organization interacts and pitches its work to donors.

The Sierra Club’s DEI plan represents a tipping point towards ensuring that the organization’s everyday values, actions, behaviors, decisions, policies, and programs are reflective of their values for equity, inclusion, and justice.  As the work evolves, the Sierra Club continues to explore how it can build an intersectional approach to its work whereby the organization’s structure and decision-making reflect the full gamut of those most affected by environmental injustice.

For those wishing to recreate some of the impacts of the Sierra Club’s DEI plan, the organization strongly encourages others to deploy a process that aligns with their organization’s unique needs. Organizations should evaluate their appropriate levers of change and be responsive to the needs of their stakeholders, both internally and externally. This means working together in nontraditional ways around similar values of justice and equity.

View the Sierra Club’s Executive Summary of the Multi-Year Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan here.  To learn more about the plan, contact Nellis Kennedy-Howard, Director of Equity, Inclusion and Justice at nellis.khoward@sierraclub.org, or Jessica Ronald, Equity, Inclusion and Justice Initiatives Manager at jessica.ronald@sierraclub.org.