In 2019, the Annie E. Casey Foundation partnered with Associated Black Charities (ABC) and Workforce Matters to launch the Advancing Racial Equity in Workforce Development initiative. The initiative built the capacity of organizations engaged in research, advocacy, technical assistance and other field-building activities in workforce development to integrate and apply policies and practices that better support racial equity. The initiative concluded in December 2020 with a webinar featuring reflections from grantees and lessons learned.   

Workforce Matters had a chance to catch up with Allison Gerber, Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to reflect on this initiative. 

Q: How does the Annie E. Casey Foundation think about racial equity in the context of its economic opportunity work? 

For decades, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has worked to connect low-income individuals to educational, employment, wealth-building and other economic opportunities. Despite these efforts and those of our peers, stubborn inequities remain, particularly within communities of color. Over the past several years, the Casey Foundation has deepened its commitment to understanding and addressing the systemic and structural barriers that perpetuate these racial inequities, as well as investing in strategies that create pathways to well-paying jobs and career opportunities for those who might not otherwise have access to them. 

Q: What did the Casey Foundation hope to achieve by investing in the Advancing Racial Equity in Workforce Development initiative?

The Advancing Racial Equity in Workforce Development initiative was designed to help workforce field-building organizations understand how their external strategies and internal policies and practices can either address or exacerbate inequities. Ultimately, we hoped to help interested national and regional organizations better address race-based educational, economic, and employment disparities within in their own work, and build the capacity of their local members and affiliates to do the same.

Q: Why a capacity-building initiative? What made you decide to go in that direction?

In designing the investment, Casey first interviewed workforce development organizations about their perspectives and approaches to racial equity. We learned that the majority of these organizations felt their work already was addressing injustices and inequities in the labor market, but from more of a socioeconomic, rather than racial, lens. While the organizations Casey interviewed recognized the disproportionate inequities people of color face, they weren’t sure how to articulate the effects of systemic racism and develop targeted strategies for addressing racial inequities, nor did they have the funds to support organizational and staff development in this area.

Given these findings, we decided to utilize an RFP process to identify grantees who wanted to take on this work.  Each organization was given the opportunity to apply for flexible funding that could be used for consultants and facilitators, trainings, assessments and evaluations, and any other  activity to help staff deepen their understanding of structural racism and inequities and develop an organizational plan to address them.

The Casey Foundation structured this support by bringing on Associated Black Charities as an intermediary. ABC made space for the grantees to share about their work, learn from each other, and ask for assistance along the way.  This type of transparency can be hard to cultivate in grantee/funder relationships.

The Foundation also focused on capturing lessons and sharing them with grantees, other funders and the broader workforce field — which Workforce Matters helped us do.

Q: Why is it important for other workforce funders to invest in similar work?

Between the disparate impacts of the pandemic and economic crisis, as well as the resurgence of the Movement for Black Lives, our country is in the midst of a racial reckoning. As funders, we have not done enough to support workforce organizations in developing the tools they need to strategically name and address racial inequities. Moving forward, it is critical that we invest in our field partners to seed and contribute to a broader conversation about the role workforce development plays in advancing equity through training and education — as well as systemic factors, including job quality, occupational segregation, and worker voice and agency.


AGerber headshot

Allison Gerber is a Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland.