Meaningful Action to Advance DEI

MSI is committed to strengthening our efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across our company – from our internal culture and systems to our approach to programming. This includes increasing opportunities for a cross-section of our staff to attend professional development conferences and workshops.

That is why when the Women Innovator’s & Leaders Network (WILD) hosted their annual Women in Global Development Leadership Forum, we prepared and sent a delegation of 30 staff to attend, including Amanda Radwan and Rachel Klemmer, members of MSI’s Equity Council. Amanda and Rachel engaged in riveting discussions and learning sessions centered around “Bold and Inclusive Leadership,” and returned with innovative approaches, reflections, and connections to share with colleagues. While the WILD Forum offered an array of takeaways, Rachel and Amanda pointed to those that especially resonated with them below.

Tokenism is NOT Diversity

In a panel session titled “Failfest,” Saraounia Mboka-Boyer insightfully laid out the tendency for international development organizations to conflate tokenism with diversity. Mboka-Boyer stressed the importance of acknowledging the layers and intersections of a person’s identity which, in some cases, could yield certain privileges or in others, compound inequalities.

What are we doing to ensure meaningful participation and engagement of diverse staff? MSI is a melting pot of identities, cultures, and backgrounds which make the company stronger. We recognize that DEI is not about reaching a quota to make our company more diverse, or about how many women or people of color hold high-level positions. DEI is about whether all voices are heard, respected, represented, and participate in decision-making opportunities.

MSI’s Equity Council is working to improve our steps in being an equitable and participatory company. Established last year, the council is a staff-led-and-run body that brings perspectives from positions across the organization and launches initiatives to raise staff awareness and to advocate for change that will improve the systems in which we work. The Council works actively with MSI’s executive management team to inform decision-making and ensure that staff voices are heard.

MSI, which is a Tetra Tech company, also participates through interested staff in several of Tetra Tech’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which create safe, collaborative spaces where voices are heard and employees and their allies have the opportunity to thrive.

“If You Do Not Actively, Consciously Include, You Will Inadvertently Exclude”

Inclusion is an active and intentional process, not something that is driven solely by good intent. A common thread among the WILD Forum sessions was the need for organizations to urgently but intentionally address the structures that inhibit equitable access to advancement and inclusion.

WILD Forum speakers drove home the point that one of the most critical inequality issues facing many women, especially BIPOC women, is wage inequality. Often, the gap between white women’s wages and men’s wages pales in comparison to the chasm that separates both from BIPOC women.

To rectify this, one company shared that they sought to address their gender pay gap issue by setting a target to reduce pay inequity. They followed several recommendations to close this gap, including regularly auditing pay practices, establishing pay bands, comparing salaries of men and women within the same pay band, posting salary ranges in job descriptions, using blind resume screening, establishing compensation committees, and training staff to identify underrepresented groups.

What are we doing to actively and intentionally include? Although MSI established a pay banding structure several years ago to increase transparency and reduce unintentional pay inequality, we know that our inclusivity efforts must go further. Organizations need to move to the next level to shape our workplaces into environments that are equitable for all employees—and MSI is already on the move. Our progress through the rigorous EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) certification process will benchmark the gender equity of our policies, practices and pay against those of industry peers.

With the help of the EDGE certification process, MSI can better measure inclusivity across organization policies and procedures and yield an action plan to continue progressing in our efforts to ensure equitable opportunities for all employees. MSI will also collect data to better understand if our gender equality efforts are sufficient, where we need to do more, and where we should adapt our approach to create a more equitable environment for our staff. As a company that provides rigorous monitoring, evaluation and learning services, we are eager to dig into the data that emerges from the EDGE process and start to understand how we can do things differently and more equitably.

“DEI Is the Work”

Throughout the WILD event, speakers emphasized the importance of integrating diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives into the fabric of the revenue-generating work we do. In the session, “Impact Over Intent: Getting to Inclusion,” Emily Williams, Founder of Forward Ever Global, disputed a widespread sentiment in international development that project work and proposal work come first, while DEI activities are considered auxiliary or extracurricular. She emphasized that for real change to happen, leaders must recognize that DEI is the work.

What are we doing to integrate DEI throughout our work? As we continue to evaluate our internal systems and structures to ensure that MSI is a diverse, equitable and inclusive place to work, we are also providing technically strong approaches for integrating gender and social inclusion into our programs. This often involves supporting local organizations and actors in the countries where we work who are tackling difficult challenges, such as building tolerance for diversity in Indonesia. Through the Harmoni project, our partners are using an array of methods to build religious tolerance and inclusion.

However, our efforts at headquarters are not separate from our technical program work. We are striving to strengthen and make new connections between how we bring technical rigor to our work on gender and social inclusion in our projects and our growing efforts on improving DEI in our growth as a company. These connections and cross-learning will make us stronger as a company, and a better partner in our programs with organizations and communities where we work.

Where We Go from Here

While these key takeaways are only a fraction of the actionable content and lessons learned during the three-day forum, MSI’s participants left feeling inspired, encouraged, and re-energized by the dialogue and experiences shared at the conference. Many of the resources and ideas shared will help strengthen initiatives already underway, such as the Equity Council and the ongoing work of MSI’s executive management team, as well as spawn innovative ideas for how staff can continue to shape equitable and inclusive structures within the organization.


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