Realizing the Promise: 3 Strategic Moves for a More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Field

by Xiomara Padamsee | May 6, 2019

Moving Beyond Diversity to True Inclusion panelists at NSVF Summit 2018 (L-R: Hilary Darilek, Pamela Inbasekaran, Athena Palmer, Dr. Tonya Horton, and moderator Jovian Zayne)[/caption]

My team and I launched Promise54 with a clear mission: to help adults thrive so they can do their best work for students. We believe it’s our job as educators and advocates to deliver on the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, a decision made in the spirit of challenging race as a predictor of educational opportunities and outcomes.

Sixty-five years after the Supreme Court made that landmark decision, oppression, inequity, and violence still obstruct the path to self-determination for young people from historically marginalized identities. We have to do better. We envision a day when organizations committed to educational equity can have maximum impact because they have:

  • The right people excelling in the right roles
  • Teams that include perspectives, identities, and experiences of the communities served
  • Cultures of belonging, trust, and connection
  • Equitable internal structures, systems, and behaviors

Within education, we often ask leaders – many who do not have the benefit of shared experiences or identities with the communities they serve – to solve some of the most complex, durable societal challenges…all while working in dysfunctional organizational environments. We simply can’t get to where we need to be from here – not without transforming organizations and how they do their work.

But how do we realize systemic change in our field? At Promise54, we are focused on two primary levers for impact:

Shaping the field’s understanding that to generate maximum outcomes for students, families, and communities, education organizations must create diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments so their adult staff can thrive. To this end, by 2023, Promise54 will have identified, connected, and supported 1,000 leaders to shift the conversation about the role of talent health and DEI in achieving strong outcomes for students.

Partnering closely with organizations doing the hard, messy work of creating and sustaining thriving environments where staff can bring their authentic selves and have what they need to succeed individually — so the organization can achieve its mission. For example, we’ll work alongside partners to: diversify teams to ensure they represent the communities they serve; support, develop, and enable teams to build collective impact through personal and professional success; and reduce gaps in retention by identity. To this end, Promise54 is working to support 100 organizations to build more inclusive work environments by 2023.

Our approach — by necessity — is to go both deep and wide, with three strategic moves: regional hubs, national cohort-based programming, and the dissemination of research and insights.

Move #1: Regional Hubs

Starting this year in Washington, D.C., Promise54 will work deeply with two to three communities by establishing regional hubs. This approach will enable us to leverage an understanding of the historical, social, political, and cultural context in support of local efforts to expand educational equity.

Through each of these hubs, we’ll work with nine or ten local organizations over the course of two to three years to create thriving organizations doing their best work in service of communities. Our programming will take the form of 1:1 partnerships with organizations in each region, regional cohorts with leaders working in collaboration with one other to transform their organizations, as well as ecosystem-level research and insight sharing.

We’ll support organizations in each region to administer and leverage talent and DEI surveys to develop and refine multi-year strategic talent and DEI plans, overhaul or redesign talent structures and processes, build skills and capacity across their organizations, implement quick wins, and offer tailored coaching for executives along the way.

Our approach is heavily informed by what we’ve heard from leaders in the field — that “System-level change is better activated with a local community-based approach,” that “there is power in local support systems to share practices and accelerate action,” and that “investing in city-based talent strategies can help us make broader impact and move the needle more quickly.”

Move #2: National Cohorts

We are also focused on moving the needle on a national scale through two cohort-based programs. In this second year of our DEI Accelerator, we will provide 132 organizational leaders representing 43 organizations with an eight-month leadership development experience to help them jumpstart and deepen diversity, equity and inclusion within their organizations. The program aims to help organizations obtain an accurate, data-driven understanding of where they stand — including lived experiences and perceptions — which will inform a plan to make material progress over the course of a year.

Each organization is matched with a coach for monthly troubleshooting, and provided monthly webinars to expose organizational leaders to new skills and approaches as they continue to drive this work.

In addition to continuing our annual DEI Accelerator, this year, we are expanding to a second  national cohort: a three-year cohort experience we’re calling EngageDEI.

Starting this year, EngageDEI is an opportunity for 29 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grantees to engage in a two-and-a-half year community and capacity-building experience with the goal of infusing more diversity, equity, and inclusion into their work for the kids, families, and communities they serve.

Promise54 will be working in partnership with Catalyst:Ed to support organizational leaders as they reflect on the current state of DEI in their organizations, articulate their DEI beliefs and aspirations, map out and implement a plan to achieve their goals, and collectively build the consciousness, tools, structures, and behaviors needed to more deeply integrate equity in their work.

We’re honored to be embarking on these journeys alongside the members of each of our national cohort programs. Check out the video below and my next blog post for more on our national cohort experiences.

Move #3: Research and Insights Dissemination

Our third big strategic move builds on the groundbreaking research and insights published in our study, “Unrealized Impact” — which laid the foundation for Promise54’s launch in 2017.

We have now more than doubled the data used in our original report (we have now collected data from 20,000 respondents across >400 organizations). Therefore, over the next year, we’ll refresh our findings and offer a glimpse into year-over-year data and emerging longitudinal trends now that many organizations have taken our DEI surveys two to three times.

Promise54’s quantitative research will be augmented by qualitative storytelling — including a video library of EdEquity talks, in which education leaders will honestly and courageously share their ups and downs in driving forward DEI progress within their organizations.

And finally, since the release of “Unrealized Impact,” Promise54 has received requests for detailed case studies highlighting organizations’ DEI journeys. In response, we plan to release a series of in-depth case studies this fall, highlighting four organizations at different points in their work to create thriving environments for adults, so they can do their best work in service of students, families and communities.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to dive into this work alongside all of our partner organizations this coming year, and look forward to sharing what we’re learning along the way. We were also so honored to be chosen by New Profit as one of five breakthrough leaders in the field for our work to date. Check out their blog post – and the other amazing leaders here!

If you are interested in learning more about how we can support your organization, you can reach our team at


Founder & Chief Executive Officer


Xiomara is: a proud Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Indian cisgender gay woman; a family-first mother and wife, daughter and sister; an enthusiastic pinata maker, former pianist, and a dedicated educator and activist. Xiomara’s 20 years of education and organizational effectiveness experience include roles as Leader of the talent advising practice and management team member at Bellwether Education Partners, Manager in Deloitte Consulting’s human capital practice, and as Vice President of Staffing & Organizational Development on Teach For America’s management team, where she built the organization’s first national talent team. Xiomara holds a BS from Cornell University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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