DEI is dynamic and necessary at Fresh Energy

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Fresh Energy Staff in front of are mural in Saint Paul office.

Fresh Energy’s team has grown, and we are welcoming a chapter of change with new faces and phases to our critical work of clean energy policy. To strengthen our external efforts, we have undertaken more internal-facing work to foster the learning needed to ensure equity and justice are centered in our policymaking.

For many years, Fresh Energy has focused on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) and Anti-Racism as principles we are committed to. While it’s important to name these commitments, it’s even more necessary to demonstrate how they influence our work. My role at Fresh Energy as director of culture and partnerships is to curate spaces for all staff to access tools, strategies, and resources for integrating these principles into their work, for there must be dedicated space within the workplace where staff can process and discover how equity, justice and anti-racism must be elevated. It is known that it is not enough to place these words on paper – it takes time and long-term commitment to understand how these words influence and demand action.

One of these curated spaces is Fresh Energy’s staff Women, Trans Femme Group that we lovingly call “WTF.” It was here that we identified that Fresh Energy needs an intentional focus on the impacts of gender inequity on the clean energy sector and within the organization.

In this group we have conversations about how gender oppression, including homophobia and transphobia, harms our work of making effective and equitable climate policy. But knowing that race is the demographic with the starkest disparities in the U.S., race must still be the entryway to unpacking this layer of social injustice. We realized that we couldn’t do this work alone. Executive Lead of Organizational Health Mat Larson Krisetya pushed for Fresh Energy to invest in a continuous learning opportunity for all staff to participate in.

In February 2022, Fresh Energy partnered with Team Dynamics to begin a curriculum in racial and gender equity. Team Dynamics was highly recommended by a few sources including Senior Policy Associate of Energy Access and Equity Mari Ojeda! We liked Team Dynamics’ approach of launching an 18+ month endeavor to allow time and space for deep learning, facilitation and application of the resources and strategies they provided. The curriculum offered a series of training courses and flexible coaching hours to tailor their expertise to our current organizational needs.

Knowing that immense changes were on the horizon for Fresh Energy in the coming year—like welcoming a new executive director and many new staff—and the unknowns that can be prepared for but not exactly planned (hello to the most productive legislative session ever!), we agreed that they would be the right partner.

Text: Strengths Discovered during inquiry process. What your staff shared that is worth noting and considering as you evolve.

We began this journey with facilitator Pearl Dobbins, and she led us through a deep dive into Fresh Energy with three staff focus groups to pull out themes about Fresh Energy. Some of the strengths shared included that Fresh Energy:

  • Is a supportive culture where people can bring their whole selves to do meaningful work.
  • Is a place where expertise is valued and fostered, but we value the person first.
  • There is a strong commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and a willingness to go deeper and to be challenged.

Opportunities for Fresh Energy were also identified including:

  • Clearer pathways for navigating conflict and creating a shared understanding of what conflict looks and feels like.
  • More equitable share in the responsibility of advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and anti-racism is needed, naming specifically that Fresh Energy is a majority white organization, and the work of DEI falls on people of color—and largely women of color.
  • There is an eagerness to build an intentional culture that fits the post-pandemic world. Seeking understanding of how a hybrid work environment affects people differently, gaining clarity of how we have been working in a hybrid style, and how that will influence our intentions to attract talented people of color, women, people of the LGBTQ+ community, and more diversities throughout hiring, recruitment, and advancement.

All of these are important tension points for Fresh Energy to grapple with. Team Dynamics gave us many tools to utilize as we move through these opportunities. One tool I want us to employ is “name and notice” in these three ways.

  1. Name and notice patterns of the organization, what kind of behaviors do we exhibit and why.
  2. Name and notice difference, it is ok to be specific about what and who we are talking about.
  3. Name and notice that we are all unpracticed in this work of DEI and that it takes repeated effort to get practiced!

From the focus groups, all staff participated in three training sessions that spanned the summer, fall and winter of 2022. These trainings helped us think through critical concepts to get a foundation for shared meaning, increase self-reflection and connect with one another. Then, we engaged in the training on bias and identity, where we unpacked concepts of bias and how preferences become informed by our identities and experiences. We all have preferences, but how we name and notice them is what we must be conscious of. And lastly, at the staff retreat in December 2022 we were led through the training on conflict and communication where staff took the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory (ICS) assessment to learn what our conflict and communication styles are and how it informs the way we navigate conflict.

There are many ways I hope to apply learnings from Team Dynamics as well as continuing to learn and iterate with the whole Fresh Energy team as they integrate into their work. The opportunities for growth have identified areas that will be priorities over the next several months:

  1. Documenting Fresh Energy’s hybrid working norms, we’re already working in this way so let’s name it.
  2. Evaluating and improving hiring processes will aid us in naming and noticing whose perspectives are not represented on staff and can make recruitment more focused.
  3. All staff sessions in communication and conflict resolution.

The partnership with Team Dynamics was also integral to how the executive director search process began. The team of Steve Merino, Justin Fay and I represented the staff on the Search Committee and spent time speaking with all staff about their concerns and hopes for the next executive director and the future of Fresh Energy. I wanted to ensure that we were speaking explicitly about conflict and communication and not shying away from it. That’s a whole other blog post but to say for now that having a few tools to facilitate those conversations and to navigate through the process were valuable.

Fresh Energy will complete the contract with Team Dynamics later this summer with co-founder Trina Olson, but applying and practicing our learning will continue as we enter a new era.