Three years ago, Annette Miller decided to pursue on of her life’s passions, launching EQT By Design, LLC, an organization that uses strategic advising and planning to help agencies, businesses, and communities develop and design their engagement and inclusion activities to meet their diversity needs. 

“I’m super-proud of the fact that we can say we’ve been in business for three years,” Miller tells Madison365 through Zoom video chat. “I think the reason why EQT By Design continues to be in business is because people really do want to be transformative and disruptive and they are not really sure how. So our services are really being sought after to do that authentic work.”

EQT By Design, LLC, which provides equity-centered strategic planning, change management, and organizational cultural design within government, community, and the corporate and nonprofit sectors, marks its third anniversary this week. The official launch date was April 25, 2017.

Annette Miller, founder and CEO of EQT By Design, LLC
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)

“I think we can feel proud about the work we’ve done but I think it’s a little disheartening at the same time to do the work because there is so much to be done to do disruption,” she adds.

Disruption is the key word that keeps popping up in this interview with Miller and Diara Parker, her new vice president of operations at EQT By Design.

“When I think about equity work, I think a big part of it is recognizing the humanity in everyone and centering that in making sure that those systems are a part of providing support and love and care and safety for everyone,” Parker tells Madison365, also through Zoom. “We know that this is not the way they are set up. I want to be a part of shifting that and disrupting that.”

Since January, Miller now has somebody to help her with that EQT By Design’s work – that disruption of the systems and the status quo. The expanding staff is a sign that her young company is growing.

Miller and Parker first met in the spring of 2019 at Culture Con, the two-day event in Madison that connects humans to inspire positive change around organizational culture.  Miller was one of the speakers at the event where she was talking about equity and inclusion. 

“She came up to me after I spoke and asked some great questions,” Miller remembers. “I said, ‘You know, I’m going to be doing some work. I will need some supportive help.’ As we worked together, I felt more and more that I would really love it if I can hire her. 

“Online and in person, Diara really has a dynamic, engaging demeanor to her that makes people want to lean in. She’s very enthusiastic in terms of doing work,” Miller adds. “She’s very smart and has a lot of thoughts and ideas about how she wants to make change.”

Parker is from a younger generation from Miller, too, and that, she says, is intriguing.

“I knew that EQT By Design needed another consultant. There are a lot of projects where I felt like this would be a great opportunity for someone coming into the work new and they could really get excited around,” Miller says. “The other thing was that if EQT By Design is really going to grow, I needed an operations person. Diara was the perfect person. I’m so happy to have her on board.

“Diara has really perked me up. She’s gotten my energy up as far as really pushing and thinking and myself because I really appreciate that,” Miller adds. “Part of me wanting to start my own business is not only around the work but just being excited again and engaged and feeling like there is lots to do out there. It’s great to have somebody who sees the value of EQT by Design and wants to build it.”

Parker, who is originally from Chicago but grew up primarily in Madison, says she relates to the work of EQT by Design on a very personal level. Parker says that thinking about systems change through the lens of equity is at the heart of everything they do at EQT Design.

“This work is really personal to me and every day I’m reminded that our systems were not built with people who look like me in mind,” Parker says. “So how we navigate these systems and how we navigate the world is really at the center of everything. When we’re not centered in that, there’s really this significant disconnect. Because of that, I really want to be a part of disrupting those systems and figuring out how my community’s perspectives can be more embedded in the way those systems are built and structured.”

Diara Parker, vice president of operations at EQT By Design

Parker says she was heavily influenced by her time working for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) while she was in school at UW-Madison. “That was a really interesting experience and very eye-opening as a young adult. From my time there, I really started to learn about some of the barriers that survivors faced when seeking and support,” she says. “And I quickly learned that these barriers were compounded for some of our most marginalized and most vulnerable community members.

“From that, I really saw the way that a variety of different systems really created additional barriers for folks who were already going through so much,” she adds. “It really encouraged me to think about how systems are set up in this very particular way.” 

Parker went on to become the director of policy and systems change at End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin where she was responsible for helping multidisciplinary teams at a countywide level think through some of these systems change issues. 

“And do that in a way where they are thinking about anti-oppression, thinking about the survivor with the most barriers. They’re helping to affect change within those systems using that lens. That is so impactful and so important,” Parker says. “The logic that we use with that is that if you’re able to serve the person with the most barriers and if you’re community can wrap that support around that person, you’re able to help everyone.”

Parker wrote her master’s capstone project at the University of Colorado on how organizations can move beyond diversity to authentically embrace equity and inclusion. 

“In general, I think there are a lot of diversity and equity initiatives that don’t go deep enough and what I appreciate about what we’re doing at EQT By Design is that we’re going beyond diversity and focusing on what I think needs to be the center of D&I discussion – how do we create a culture and a space? How do we ensure that diverse perspectives are heard and leveraged and valued and considered? How do we ensure that they have equitable access to opportunities within an organization?

“We need to go deeper,” she adds. “And at EQT by Design, we do go deeper. And that’s what’s actually needed for effective change around equity and inclusion.”

EQT By Design is usually active out in the Madison community, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of what they are now able to do. But Miller chooses to look at the positives. 

“We were already thinking about what can our work look like around engagement from a digital perspective. But this is really kicking us into high gear,” Miller says. “Luckily I have somebody who is just as interested in this growth strategy as I am. We’re talking all the time.

“I think what’s on the horizon is really thinking about engagement from a digital perspective. How can we make it inclusive? How can we make it equitable? What type of design practices do we have to have in place? We want to open the doors to creating more inclusion,” she adds.

EQT by Design was just one of the featured presenters at Sagashus Levingston’s Infamous Mothers Talk Back Conference 2020 this past weekend. This was a virtual conference hosted on a digital platform because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was an honor to be a part of that conference. Sagashus is exciting in and of herself. She’s definitely somebody that is breaking ground in really transformative ways. Not only about Infamous Mothers but now about technology,” Miller says. “It’s something that Diara and I wanted to very much be a part of it.

Miller says she wants to break open the space and have the table set so that the people who represent different identities in Madison are really heard and get to design the future of Madison.

“Definitely Madison has been developed through the white lens,” she says. “I would really love to disrupt that.”

Miller says that what EQT by Design is working on is how to create venues – outside of just reactionary ones – for all voices in the community to be heard.

“We’re really going to be wired into and instrumental in putting more information out about where the opportunities are to weigh in and where people should be looking and what they should be thinking about,” Miller says. “We want to be more of a thought leader in that. We really want to do more in terms of informing the community of where their voice can and should be. We want them to tell us about how we can help get them in the space. We want them to be in the room and at the table. We want their voices to be heard. We want to create the networks for them.

“It’s a little nerdy,” she adds, laughing. “But it’s so important. They need a seat at the table and to be heard. We have to be aware that there are four generations in the marketplace right now so there is so much more that needs to be paid attention to and so much more bridging that needs to be done to be able to talk to those different generations. Embedded in those generations are different demographic groups.”

Parker says she is very excited about the new opportunities she will have with her new role at EQT By Design.

“I’m excited about some of the creative muscles I’ll get to flex in this role just in terms of developing content and thinking about new and innovative ways to do this work,” Parker says. “I’m very excited about the impact we can have across the community and even beyond – especially changing the lives of real people on the ground in real-time. That’s very important to me and at the heart of this work.

“I’m excited to learn and to network and just to build the lens I use for this work by incorporating some new and exciting perspectives of other experts and some of the new best practices that are coming out, too,” she adds.