What's your name? What organization do you represent?
Beth Flaherty is the Executive Director for Flaherty Family Foundation. I started early enterprising for social change—My father taught me at an early age about the importance of being a positive leader in whatever my siblings and I were involved—on the court, in the classroom, with family, etc., so I’ve been curious about leaders, who they are, what they do, and what makes people follow someone. For a long time, I didn’t see myself as a leader. As I discovered that other people saw my leadership qualities, I began to figure out how to own this and learned to establish what leadership looks like for me. Throughout high school and college, I led in traditional positions such as president of clubs. After college, I became a teacher and by my fifth year I returned to college to obtain a Masters of Education to follow the progression of leadership in the Education field as the head of a school. I believed since teacher leaders look like administrators, it would be the proper move for me. I then went through a program and realized I had zero interest in becoming the traditional educational leader. It was through that experience that I realized that there are many ways to be a leader and affect the lives of young people. After I returned to teaching, I decided to improve my instructional skills by completing a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction to help sharpen my skills as a lead teacher. From there, I became involved in curriculum revision and other teacher leader roles. In Colorado, which is a union state, I feel like I found my leadership voice. Soon after that epiphany, I went on to lead in Arlington County Schools in Virginia. It was at the beginning of my 15th year teaching that my father approached me about going on to run the family’s foundation. I initially told him no; that I was “good” and finally knew what I was doing as a teacher. After a few more years of honest and deep reflection, I recognized that our family wanted to build a legacy. This inspired me to eventually transition into the position of Executive Director of Flaherty Family Foundation which was initially a very traditional leadership title and role. I'm here to disrupt that strategically ensuring that we make adjustments that can last over the long haul.
The Flaherty Family Foundation provides high school, college prep scholarships to high achieving students with economic needs. These are students who are desiring faith based private college prep high school experiences, but who are in families that can’t afford it. They are in two regions: Minnesota, and DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia)/Baltimore.
What was the leadership challenge or opportunity you faced that made you choose to work with Identity Capital Consulting?
The students and families that we serve come from a variety of backgrounds. It was important for us (and is still important to her) that the organization reflects the students and families that we serve, and yet it’s a family foundation and our family is White. So how do we acknowledge the fact that our family foundation, with most of the board seats belonging to family and family friends, is very traditional. The questions I began to grapple with during our wave of racial reckoning in 2020 was, what does tradition mean to us and those we serve? We reflected on the fact that we have a board solely represented by White people consulting for an organization where 2/3rds of the scholars and families identify as BIPOC. Almost all (about 90%) of their partnership schools are PWI (primarily white institutions). Even the schools that are not, have predominantly White leadership. So, for the scholars who attend a school where most of the students look like them, the decision makers still don’t look like them, the teachers in the classroom they study in also don’t look like them.
The question quickly became; as an organization, what is our responsibility, how can we acknowledge it, how can we support our students with their experiences, and how can I as the leader make sure that our team is representative of the students and families that we serve? All of this was appearing all at once and as a leader, it made me curious about how to make incremental improvements as White female, navigating the real experiences of scholars and our ever evolving team, partner schools and our board members that created this opportunity based on their beliefs, hopes and dreams. I toiled trying to unpack all of this and quickly realized that I deserved thought partnership from colleagues that I could trust to support me in the shifts needed to create culturally responsive enhancements to our brand and identity as an organization. I knew that creating more equitable opportunities for our scholars could open a big can of worms and I was also wondering how triggering this work would be for our team members that have their own experiences with the sensitive topic of race, marginalization and systemic oppression. This puzzle and quandary of these realities within my purview fueled my search for partners Justine and Augie that partner in equity transformation through ID Capital.
What solidified your choice for such sensitive work connected to race and equity?
IDCapital and EducatorAide were discovered through recommendation of a friend of my father, in Indianapolis that worked with IDC and its primary affiliate previously. I had an initial conversation with them and we immediately clicked and over time agreed to the way we would approach the work; through student voice. The decision was specifically because of this approach that they inspired and co created with me. The experience and results of early student diagnostics were unsettling and uncomfortable. We had to look at the reality and Justine and Augie blended being supportive coaches and facilitators with making us responsible for owning part of the process. They wouldn't give us an easy out and just tell us what to do and as they said in the beginning, “the assets are in the room.” I appreciated IDCapitals integrity, candor, and the idea that they weren’t going to tell us what to do. Instead, they guided us through a process grounded in data, learning tools and space to engage authentically.
How have you experienced Identity Capital’s approach to being responsive to your needs given your context?
IDCapital started with a student-centered approach, tapping into our scholars and their experiences. After that, they used their tools to survey the students about the experiences at their schools in a process that allowed students to inform the diagnostic used to assess over 300 scholars across the nation. Our students participated with excitement to offer their feedback. From there, our team began working together with a common focus despite our very different feelings, assumptions and beliefs. In addition, Justine and Augie customized a learning library with varied modules covering different equity topics, giving us learning on our own and as a team. Then we would meet together and would start to unpack specific topics from our learning library. The team at IDCapital took that data of the student’s experience and started to unpack, navigate, and pose questions that provoke thought and action that our team believes in. As a leader I began to feel more and more relieved to not have the pressure of facilitating and to be able to be fully present as a participant and onlooker. I didn’t have to be the one with the answers and Augie was very clear as he said “we are not here to provide you answers, we are here to guide your team on the path of this journey and on the experience.”
Talk to us about the results that you are seeing unfold.
Through this journey, Justine & Augie co-facilitated learning in a way where they were not the ones determining the focus that we must own. Much of the journey started with educating ourselves and others within the organization and now we are at a pivotal point where we are crafting our organization’s first equity statement. I believe that this will provide a pathway of understanding and an opportunity for us to become grounded and have an accountability check that keeps us on the right path. This is not to say that it won’t change later, but the journey changes as everything changes and even if we revisit our work, this is evidence that we are willing to actively participate in the marathon that our country should be involved in.
Of all the experiences we’ve had, the one that stands out is our newly refined approach to communication. The Continuum for Leading Cultural Conversations has been a game changer in order to continue recognizing our own tendencies and those of others when we are faced with complex topics and sensitive moments. This framework and their facilitation and continuous reminding for us to exercise communicating this way gave us permission to say our peace, to listen, and then figure out how we want to move forward as a team. That’s an impact that is priceless as we dive into the complex work of advocating for our scholars in a deeper way.
From this point, we will take everything we’ve learned and put together an equity statement that provides us with a frame to process what we do , how we do it, and refine why we do the things we believe can level the playing field for communities across America.
Augie has made the statement, "Many leaders don’t need another coach, they need a colleague!" What are your thoughts on this line of thinking?
“I know now that Augie wants to be a colleague!! What he really does is this incredible balance between coach and colleague. He is not the ‘Professor’ that has all the answers, he has many experiences that he can share about being in similar situations or having observed similar situations. It’s the perfect balance between going to your colleague at work and having a sounding board, then knowing that your colleague does have experiences, credentials, and a passion for what you’re talking about that will give you those nuggets of wisdom that can help you navigate and figure out where you’re going to land.
“Our team is small. At the time of this program, there were three employees and me, but it allowed us to go deep in a lot of the conversations and Augie did a great job of creating an environment that allowed people to share as they were. Pure acceptance and transparency—that we’re all at different places on the journey and that just because someone has more experiences in one area doesn’t mean that someone else’s experiences are less valid or important. IDCapital in partnership with EducatorAide created an authentic environment and community that allowed us to approach this lesson with clarity and curiosity. I don’t know how they created a container for trust so quickly. It’s been a pleasure to work with Augie. He walks that line and can navigate and switch his roles from facilitator to directive coach so fluidly. He is a real, authentic human that happens to be a practitioner willing to show up as himself in every interaction. He doesn’t shy away from having hard or tough conversations—he also provided numerous opportunities to observe him model how to be compassionate in tough conversations. To be able to observe, watch, and experience his relational and facilitative acumen was a total gift.”