February 2021 Culture Assessment
ACE currently asks our staff to participate in a culture survey twice annually. We publish an overview of the results—along with a review of other aspects of our culture—in this section of our website for transparency. This assessment is modeled on the culture assessment we conduct of charities that we evaluate.
Human Resources Policies
Here we present a list of policies that we find to be beneficial for fostering a healthy culture. This is the same list that we referenced in Criterion 5 of our comprehensive charity reviews in 2020. A green mark indicates that ACE has such a policy, and a red mark indicates that we do not. A yellow mark indicates that we have a partial policy, an informal or unwritten policy, or a policy that is not fully or consistently implemented.
According to the survey1 we conducted, most respondents are comfortable using ACE’s time-off policies,2 and 8 out of 12 strongly agreed they were adequately compensated (2 somewhat agreed; 2 somewhat disagreed). Overall, slightly fewer staff agreed that they were adequately compensated compared to last year.
Culture and Morale
ACE considers a healthy culture to be one where an organization acts responsibly toward all stakeholders: staff, volunteers, donors, beneficiaries, and others in the community. This is what we strive for as well.
According to the culture survey, 10 out of 12 ACE staff respondents have a good understanding of our mission, vision, and three-year strategy.3 Eight out of 11 strongly agreed that our mission makes their work feel important (down from 100% last year). All respondents felt that their manager cares about them, and most agreed that the board supports the organization in achieving its strategic vision and goals (up a bit from last year). All agreed (either somewhat or strongly) that their coworkers are committed to doing quality work. We transitioned to a new Scrum-style operating model last year, and all or nearly all respondents reported feeling comfortable taking on the Scrum project roles. Additionally, all those who noticed a change in our organization’s productivity due to the new operating model believed that our productivity increased (some could not tell).
We also identified several concerning areas for improvement. The fraction of staff who are satisfied working at ACE was down from 80% last year to 50% this year,4 and the fraction who felt included and a sense of belonging also decreased a bit. Some staff reported not feeling comfortable sharing their opinions with the Executive Director (ED), Board of Director, and/or Leads,5 or felt that their opinions were not sufficiently heard and considered (worsened since last year). Staff had concerns about the extent to which the leadership competently guide the organization. The majority of respondents reported feeling some level of imposter syndrome and some level of “unhealthy peace” over the past year. Eight out of 12 thought they’d be working at ACE in six months (the rest were unsure), and 5 thought they’d work at ACE in one year (another 5 were unsure, and the remaining 2 thought they would not).
While we cannot be certain about all of the reasons behind the decreases in satisfaction and the other concerning survey results, we are able to gain some insight from the responses to open-ended questions and organization-wide discussions we’ve held. The year 2020 was an extremely difficult one for nearly the whole world because of the pandemic, and that undoubtedly increased the baseline stress of our staff as well. Additionally, ACE faced difficult decisions regarding racial equity efforts within the EAA movement, which took place in the summer of 2020.
Following the culture survey, we held an organization-wide virtual meeting to discuss the results. In this discussion, we identified ways that ACE can support our staff who are Black, Indigenous, or of the global majority (BIPGM), and we are working toward better integrating the principles of representation/diversity, equity, and inclusion (R/DEI) into our core programs and internal policies. Along those lines, our charity evaluations committee is working to improve the rigor of our charity recommendation decisions by establishing a more structured decision-making process and by allocating more time to this phase of the evaluation process. Although we don’t expect—and don’t even necessarily want—to have 100% agreement among staff on recommendation decisions, we hope that these changes to the process will result in our evaluations committee having more information on which to base their decisions and result in decisions we are more confident in.
Representation/Diversity,6 Equity, and Inclusion
One important part of acting responsibly toward stakeholders is providing a representative/diverse,7 equitable, and inclusive work environment. Charities that have a healthy attitude toward R/DEI seek and retain staff and volunteers from different backgrounds. Among other things, inclusive work environments should also provide necessary resources for employees with disabilities, protect all team members from harassment and discrimination, and require regular trainings on topics such as equity and inclusion, in conjunction with year-round efforts to address R/DEI throughout all areas of the organization.
In our culture survey, all respondents agreed (at least a little) that ACE’s staff represent a variety of social identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, etc.). Ten out of 12 respondents reported that ACE provides adequate opportunities for discussions around REI (seven of those chose “extremely adequate”). Unfortunately, some staff reported in the culture survey that they saw violations of our Respect in the Workplace (RITW) policy; ACE leadership were aware of one such violation, which was reported via the process outlined in the policy, and were processing the claim at the time the culture survey went out to staff. ACE currently provides formal training on our RITW policy during onboarding of new employees, as well as annually for all employees in September.
In February 2021, we prepared and sent a culture survey to our staff, including ongoing contractors. All responses were anonymous. The responses to open-ended questions were only accessible to a pair of board members, one of whom analyzed the results and provided staff with a summary. The responses to multiple-choice and other closed-ended questions were accessible to all staff. The survey was sent to 17 staff members, and 12 participated, for a response rate of 70%. Most questions were on a Likert scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” We recognize at least two limitations of our culture survey. First, because participation was not mandatory, the results could be skewed by selection bias. Second, because respondents knew that the summarized results would be made public, they may have felt an incentive to emphasize ACE’s strengths and minimize weaknesses.
Eight out of 12 responded that they are comfortable using paid vacation, sick leave, and holidays. As these benefits only apply to employees, and four contractors were also invited to take the survey, we are unable to figure out the exact fraction of eligible employee respondents who are comfortable using these benefits.
Leads are defined as those leading a competency area, such as communications, research, or philanthropy. The Director of Finance and Impact and the Director of People Operations also fall under the category of Leads, but in a general capacity.
ACE uses the term “representation/diversity, equity, and inclusion (R/DEI)” in place of the more commonly used “diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).” While we acknowledge that the terms “diversity” and “DEI” are in the public lexicon, as the concepts have become popularized, “diversity” has lost the impact of its original meaning. The term is often conflated with “cosmetic diversity,” or diversity for the sake of public appearances. We believe that “representation” better expresses the commitment to accurately reflect—or represent—society’s demographics at large.
We use the terms “representation” and “diversity” broadly in this section to refer to the diversity of certain social identity characteristics (called “protected classes” in some countries), such as race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender or gender expression, sexual orientation, pregnancy or parental status, marital status, national origin, citizenship, amnesty, veteran status, political beliefs, age, ability, or genetic information.