Blog Published: March 2023
Two years ago, we published a blog to share how we have been working to create a more equitable cooperative at Namaste Solar. We shared the work we had already completed as well as plans for upcoming projects in 2021. As promised, we’re coming back with another update and sharing where we’ve seen success and what challenges we’ve faced. Part of why we share with all of you is to help hold ourselves accountable and to share publicly the ups and downs of our journey to encourage us all to keep going and to keep engaging in this work.
The Last Two Years
A lot of the work of the last two years has been foundation building. Previously, the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) work at Namaste Solar was done by a group of passionate individuals who took it upon themselves to lead projects for our cooperative. In late 2021, we formalized a JEDI Circle that was given authority to lead equity efforts across the cooperative along with a JEDI Advisory Council (JAC) comprised of individuals who share an identity with a historically underrepresented or marginalized community that provide advice and counsel for JEDI activities. A key element of the formation of the Circle and JAC is that members have support to use paid work hours for JEDI efforts and that the groups have an outlined scope and formal processes in place.
In addition to the creation of the JEDI Circle, we have achieved bronze level certification through the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) Certification Program. This program provides a menu of activities that encourages and helps guide energy companies through ways to improve their equity efforts.
As part of this certification, Namaste Solar developed formal guidelines and budget to support employee resource groups (ERGs). “These groups provide shared identity space to share whatever is going on with individuals and just have a fun space,” said Alyssa Soares, Co-Owner and Residential Training Coordinator. “Also, the increase in visibility across the organization has been impactful. It’s also important for us in terms of seeing our company participate in events like Boulder County Pride for the past two years and counting. That’s huge in terms of external visibility and showing support internally.”
Namaste Solar has also continued to grow relationships with external consultants as an important part of our work. We have a long-term partnership with the Center for Radical Connection; they provide trainings for all employees, some trainings for our team leads specifically, and consult on JEDI work as needed. We also partner with Out Boulder County for internal LGBTQ+ trainings. These partnerships provide us perspective from external equity experts, continue to build the capacity of our existing and new employees, and provide us with consultants who can support us as we build additional initiatives. The ongoing training schedule also keeps this work visible and top of mind at Namaste Solar.
Another success of the last two years is that we continue to grow our capacity for this work as an organization. “It’s a regular part of our conversations, and it’s accepted that it’s something our company does,” said Geri Mitchell-Brown, Co-Owner and Senior Director of Employee Experience & Social Impact. “In the last few years, it’s become very much a cultural norm to have JEDI activities and discussions going on.”
While we have made some progress in the last two years, the general sense from people who have been on JEDI Circle since the beginning is that it has been harder than expected to build and maintain momentum. One significant factor has been the amount of turnover within the group; people both who left the organization and individuals who decided to step down from their role on JEDI.
“I think we’ve felt a huge block when there has been consistent turnover,” said Alyssa. “Circle membership isn’t tied to a specific job role, so when someone leaves and that position is back filled, the new person doesn’t necessarily come on to JEDI Circle. When we lose someone, just like with any position on another team, we lose all their knowledge, expertise, and passion.”
One other challenge is learning how to incorporate this work as part of what we do at the company and not as a “bonus” element. “We’re still figuring out how to prioritize this work as a group,” said Jenna Stadsvold, Co-Owner and Brand Manager. “Because we’ve had turnover and that has impacted us in the last few years, how do we make it so that plans don’t fall through. It’s not a personal passion project that someone has taken on. It’s a commitment the company has made, and as a group we are the ones to carry it forward. We need to see this as core work for our cooperative and not an extracurricular activity.”
The JEDI Circle is regrouping in 2023 with a fresh set of people joining the Circle and a lot of lessons learned from the people who have been part of this for the past three years. “We’re getting organized in a more formal and structured way now, which feels good in terms of resource sharing, attending external meetings, and developing a formal list of responsibilities,” said Alyssa. “It feels good as a step forward.”
“Yes, and I see that as a group we are taking more ownership of this work. In the beginning I think we were a bit unsure of ourselves,” said Jenna. “It can feel hard to take ownership of this in an official way at work when you’re still trying to figure it out as an individual and as a group. Not that we think we’re experts by any means now, but we’re leaning into our responsibility and taking ownership of our role at the cooperative.”
What do we have planned for JEDI at Namaste Solar in the coming year? The three major projects outlined for 2023 include creating a method for gathering input and anonymous feedback, developing an equity lens that we can apply to existing policies and future decision making, and launching a JEDI Continuing Education program internally to encourage and support individuals along their learning journeys. We hope the foundation that we’ve built provides us with more confidence and capacity to succeed with these projects and beyond.
While we’re still outlining the scope of our 2023 projects and determining next steps, we’ll continue to share updates and resources as we work to improve equity at our cooperative. Thanks for staying in conversation with us along the way.