“We’re trying to make people think and see differently about how you open up doors, create spaces, make room at the table, create the table that wasn’t there and create that inclusion,” says Annette Miller, founder and CEO of EQT By Design. “Whether it’s deconstructing systems, remodeling systems, or bringing in voices, we work hard to model a different way.
“EQT By Design is not just about the work, we’re also about intent and impact,” she continues. “We want to model what it means to be inclusive and equitable. So it’s not just doing the work, but it’s also how we hire, how we help invest in the community and really make sure that we’re creating sustainable, viable relationships that are not an extraction, but a partnership and a collaboration where we’re really lifting up the community.”
EQT By Design officially launched on April 25, 2017. This week, Miller has been celebrating the 5th anniversary of her organization that provides equity-centered strategic planning, change management, and organizational cultural design within government, community, and the corporate and nonprofit sectors.
Miller remembers making that initial leap.
“When I started out I was scared, nervous, unsure about what the work would look like and five years later, the work is always a beautiful surprise … because equity work is constantly changing and being redefined,” Miller tells Madison365. “But it is uplifting knowing that there are many people in many organizations and communities committed to doing the work both as an organization and also in thinking about engaging the voices of those who’ve been hard to hear, who’ve been marginalized and underserved and underrepresented in decision making. I think we have done a good job of making the case and demonstrating best practices on how you center voicing. And so we’re very proud of that.”
Miller launched EQT By Design to focus on developing diverse, inclusive, sustainable strategies in public engagement, equitable community development projects, and organizational cultural change management. Miller was a one-woman show when she first started out, but now EQT By Design has grown to a staff of seven including Diara Parker, the COO and Chief Organizational Development Consultant.
“Diara has really helped us grow and flourish as an organization and as a company and has really done a great job in building our brand and our reputation in terms of excellence,” Miller says. “And then we also have five other team members who really help us tell the message.”
Parker tells Madison365 that it has been “a really beautiful journey” to see EQT By Design grow.
“It started off with Annette and then it was her and I – just a mighty team of two. It’s been really cool to see how the addition of our colleagues has really helped to elevate our work and it challenges us all in really amazing ways that really informs the work that we’re able to deliver to our clients,” Parker says.
Parker adds that co-creation, co-learning, holding space and elevating voices are all important concepts at EQT by Design.
“I feel like as we continue to grow and evolve we’re better able to lean into those philosophies and those values,” Parker says. “I think they’re really core to equity work.”
Parker leads the organizational work arm of EQT Design.
“There’s so much going on within organizational development. So working with nonprofits, working with for-profits, really helping them think about how they can better embed equity into their infrastructure,” Parker says. “So we always talk about how this goes way beyond diversity and even beyond inclusion. How do we make sure that we are creating cultures where all people – and particularly marginalized folks – can thrive? Not just be in the organization and feel included … but where they can thrive.”
Parker says that involves having those really, really difficult conversations.
“We talk about vulnerability, we talk about harm, we talk about healing. We talk about conflict transformation. We talk about collective ways of leading and being with one another and navigating difficult conversations,” Parker says. “It’s challenging … and it’s really rewarding to see how that different way of thinking about equity and thinking about equity work can really have a significant impact on not just our clients, but also the folks that they work with – the community members that they work with, their programs around the state or around the region that they’re also facilitating.
“There’s definitely this ripple impact in addition to what’s happening within the organization for supporting their team members,” she continues. “So we do executive coaching, we provide workshops and team-building exercises, we do a lot of strategic planning and roadmap implementation.”
EQT By Design has been working on numerous projects in partnership with Madison organizations. They have been working on “Saving Our Babies” with The Foundation For Black Women’s Wellness, area hospitals and other health partners to reduce Black infant mortality rates. In 2018, Dane County Health Council commissioned the Foundation and EQT By Design to conduct a community engagement effort that specifically centered Black women and community members to weigh in on the issue.
“We just were awarded the opportunity to work on ‘The Triangle’ redevelopment which is the public housing and Section 8 side of the Triangle,” Miller says. “We’re doing that with New Year Investments. So what’s exciting about that is that it’s a primarily women-centered project team.”
Miller says EQT by Design has also been working with the City of Middleton on their strategic plan and the City of Fitchburg Teen Center and Alder Joe Maldonado. “So we have hired eight interns and we are centering them hard and we’re super excited because they’re going to be doing some focus groups soon,” Miller says. “These students are middle school to high school age and they are really learning what it means to share their voice.
“And let me tell you, I’ve been learning myself the more I have to do to work on being more inclusive and welcoming. Every project we do allows us to grow,” she adds.
EQT By Design has also partnered and done collaborative work with Nehemiah, nINA Collective, Social Good, YWCA Madison and many other local organizations.
“We’re collaborators. We’re really here to do what I’ve always wanted to do which is to make sure that we are really investing in the community and lifting up the community … changing the community and really demonstrating to the broader Dane County and Wisconsin that we bring it as people of color and we have a lot to offer,” Miller says.
Miller says that it is really important to understand: How can you make change if you can’t see the change you really need to make?
“I think what we really offer is what we like to call an equity lens where we’re giving you an opportunity to really see yourself and then see yourself to others and then see yourself to the system,” Miller says. “So when you can see, then you have an understanding of how you might be able to make change in the system.
“We work with the City and County. We work with developers and architects to work on projects that affect and impact neighborhoods. We spend a lot of time focusing on those hard-to-reach, hard-to-hear voices and we really make sure that we center their voice in the work. We turn the conversation upside down, and really make sure that we try to understand what is it they need and what is it that historical inequity has impacted,” Miller adds. “And how does that need to be course-corrected in the public engagement process while also really helping the broader community to understand and see and witness how they haven’t understood how marginalized those voices have been.”
Improving those historical inequities, Miller adds, “really improves everyone’s quality of life.”
“I think the other thing we strive to do is really try to build and develop that voice that’s been hard to hear because what we don’t want is to come in and then go away,” Miller says. “We really are trying to build up empowerment and a willingness for people who have been skeptical or have been hurt by past engagement processes to understand that this is an opportunity to lean in and get back in and start owning the voice that they have and showing up more regularly to be a part of the process.
“We’ve just started to unfold what thinking about multilingual representation should look like, too. So that’s where our growth is going to be in our work,” she adds. “I think I’ve realized I had lots of expectations of how I want to demonstrate equity, but I can only go so fast and so language has been a key, important piece and that will start to really show up as we move beyond our five-year anniversary.”
Parker, who has nearly a decade of experience leading equity-centered strategy development, systems analysis, and community engagement on a local, statewide, and national level, says that she is excited about what the future holds for EQT by Design.
“The last few years have been transformative in so many ways,” says Diara Parker. “I’m excited to continue to think creatively about how we can bring this work and partner with organizations and communities to really center equity. I’m excited about what we as a team can continue to co-create. It’s just so wonderful to see all of our different perspectives and ideas come together to create these really tangible things that we can share with the community and with our clients.
“I’m excited to continue to disrupt. I’m excited to continue to learn together and also I’m excited to continue to rest I mean as Annette said the work is challenging and so we will continue to center our own wellness while also centering the work I think it’s a both/and. I’m excited for us to continue to model what it looks like to be within the equity space and also continue to work towards being well humans. I think that’s really important … that that’s equity work as well.