Room to Grow: Becoming an Anti-Racist Institution

Miss Porter’s School has leveraged its large endowment and operating budget to challenge systemic racism. Miss Porter's is one of three schools to receive this year's Innovation Excellence Award.

May 23, 2022  |  By Tara Kosowski and Cecily Garber

From the May/June 2022 Net Assets Magazine.

Miss Porter's School students

For decades, Miss Porter’s School (MPS) has committed to uplifting women in leadership. Yet school leaders grapple with the fact that despite this, people of color continue to be most acutely impacted by deep, persistent inequities. To address these inequities, Miss Porter’s School is developing a framework for becoming an anti-racist institution, which has guided its business office to support access, improved outcomes, and opportunities for people of color. The goals are rooted in the school’s mission and based on the understanding that, "We are surrounded by racial inequity, as visible as the law, as hidden as our private thoughts,” in the words of Ibram X. Kendi.

Rethinking governance and business practices through an anti-racist lens began in June 2020, following national conversations around racially-inspired human rights violations, systemic racism and police brutality. School leaders began conversations internally about how to form a deeper commitment to being an anti-racist institution. The school’s board chair charged the whole board and our senior leadership team with creating an anti-racist goal for each of the board committees. The investment committee identified two central goals: 1) increase investment in Black- and minority-owned venture funds, private equity funds, endowment funds, and 2) encourage all funds the school comes in touch with to diversify their employee base and recruit more people of color into the investment management field.

The business office started by soliciting help from their investment partner Offit Capital to identify Black-owned funds and survey the 20 largest endowment managers on their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. The survey was developed with the help of a member of the investment committee, who had led similar work with Raytheon Technologies, and was adapted to meet the school’s needs. The questions covered hiring practices, employee retention and promotion, organizational policies and other metrics. “I was very pleased that we had really good uptake from the managers,” said CFOO Michael Bergin. Not all, but “many were really eager to have the conversation and to share what they were doing, what they cared about.”

“Sometimes we underestimate how important our perspective as leaders of our schools are to the firms with whom we do business. Depending on what metric you look at, about 98% of assets managed in our country are managed by white men. By letting them know that this matters to us and that we’re holding them to a higher standard, we can help to move the needle towards greater equity.”

Bergin says one of his hopes is that by asking these questions and collecting data, the school will be able to see year-over-year if there is improvement in the employment. “Sometimes we underestimate how important our perspective as leaders of our schools are to the firms with whom we do business. Depending on what metric you look at, about 98% of assets managed in our country are managed by white men. By letting them know that this matters to us and that we’re holding them to a higher standard, we can help to move the needle towards greater equity.”

The finance committee likewise has issued a survey of the school's largest business partners and revised its RFP process for all contracts through the lens of its anti-racism policy and practice. "We understand that we may have to pay a bit more for the service or item, but that using our financial resources to support those businesses allows us to move beyond business as usual," said Christine Pina, chief advancement officer at MPS.

Miss Porter's School Campus
Miss Porter School's campus.

Pina works closely with the business office, which in turn supports spending decisions that may require re-evaluating a proposed budget, and endorses spending activities that focus on inclusion and equity. For example, the advancement office is now working on a plan to address and remove barriers to participation in activities and volunteering that require financial capacity to participate. They are also thinking about where volunteers gather and who is likely not to come because of the venue. "We may have to spend a bit more to utilize a venue that will be more welcoming to folks, but if it supports our efforts of inclusion and belonging, it is worth the financial investment," said Pina.

And while it’s still too early to see real outcomes in the form of year-over-year employment data, the school’s efforts have had an impact on the school’s community and alumnae base. “It’s led to a much more concerted effort to both educate ourselves and our investment committee,” said Bergin. “My hopes for these efforts are that every member of our whole community is able to live authentically and be affirmed as full members of the Miss Porter’s community. This will require us to constantly listen, recalibrate and take some risks to address the systemic issues we have identified and constantly be on the look-out for those we are still blind to,” said Pina.


Authors

Tara-Kosowski

Tara Kosowski

Manager, Editorial Content

National Business Officers Association (NBOA)

Washington, DC

Tara is assistant editor of Net Assets and NBOA’s manager, editorial content. She is a communications professional with experience in association media and publishing.

Cecily-Garber

Cecily Garber, Ph.D.

Associate Vice President, Communications and Member Relations

National Business Officers Association (NBOA)

Alexandria, VA

Cecily Garber is the editor of NBOA's Net Assets magazine, and directs NBOA's publication efforts, which includes books, reports and industry guidance. She also oversees the communications and member relations team, which is responsible for all membership, marketing and communications efforts. 

ON THE HORIZON

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