How Can Equitable Financial Practices Contribute to Racial Equity?

Q&A with Joye Hunter

Joye Hunter

Joye Hunter is Director of Research Financial Operations at RAND. In a 30-year career, Joye has also held financial positions in several RAND research units as well as an administrative position in the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

What have your experiences in the finance space taught you about developing equitable financial practices?

My personal experiences have taught me that now, more than ever, change is needed in the finance space to eradicate inequities facing communities of color. Growing up, I was fortunate that my parents owned real estate, talked about money, saved money, and even invested it. Their expectation was that I would not just do the same as them but go beyond what they had achieved with their own finances. Unfortunately, financial security is not always available for many people of color. For some, it is a daily struggle to have just enough to get by. For others, there is little to no discussion about the importance of saving and investing, because many are forced to live paycheck to paycheck. When faced with choices like paying the rent versus. buying groceries or keeping the lights on versus putting gas in the car, what do you do? This is why conducting research in this space at RAND and understanding the whys behind these inequities is so critical for creating an equitable future for all in this space.

It is also important to note that financial inequity is not just about money. Financial inequities in communities of color also impact housing opportunities, educational access, and food insecurity as well as employment. For example, San Francisco’s Bayview–Hunters Point was developed during World War II when the United States Navy purchased the property to develop the San Francisco Naval Shipyard. As a result, Bayview became home to many Black shipyard workers and I, myself, know some of their children and grandchildren who live there today. However, the face of Bayview has changed because of gentrification. Housing costs have skyrocketed, forcing many to look for alternative housing in other cities, uprooting their lives and moving further from their places of employment. The percentage of Blacks, which was once close to 65% in 1990, has decreased to less than 15% in 2019.

Without putting equitable financial practices in place, the gap between those who have and those who have not will continue to widen. This will result not only in a divide in wealth but also in the potential loss of culture.

How do you see budgeting and finance impacting racial equity goals within and outside of RAND?

It is important for RAND to be financially responsive to cultural needs and funding spaces. Internally, we should be regularly asking ourselves to examine how the funds we have are used to help us pursue our goals around equity in policy analysis, where relevant. From my viewpoint, RAND is moving in the right direction. Externally, we should also make sure that we are equity-minded in our client spaces and projects, and we should understand how funders are interested in addressing racial equity though the lens of research and analysis.

What actions/steps should we take to ensure that proposed budget decisions do not cause disproportionate harm to any groups in our community, or perpetuate existing racial inequities?

In a nutshell…equity! I recognize that funds are not unlimited, but budget decisions should be made fairly and impartially. Everyone involved should have an opportunity to access the resources and funding necessary for them to be successful. I personally don’t believe that people are looking for handouts; instead, they want to apply a racial equity lens and have a seat at the decisionmaking table as partners, researchers, and innovators.

In your opinion, how can a given budget be balanced in ways that protect efforts to work towards racial equity?

Protecting efforts to work toward racial equity must be a conscious decision that is made at the beginning of the process, at the proposal stage. One way to do this is to increase efforts to ensure that the proposal’s budget includes people representing the community being researched. As an example, if the subject of our research involves Black males and you want to have discussions with Black males, a good place to start is the barbershop. The barbershop experience is about more than getting a haircut; it’s about community. And it’s in that setting where discussions on mental health, racial profiling, injustice, politics, and the world around us are taking place. But a researcher who walks into a barbershop asking questions and does not look like them, may not get the same uncut and uncensored response. This can have an impact on a project’s overall outcome.

In my opinion, making the decision to have balance in a budget will keep project leaders accountable to lead a balanced project and also demonstrate their commitment to work towards racial equity.

Given your history at the organization, what gives you hope that RAND, and other policy organizations, will retain an equity lens moving forward?

Years ago, it was often very uncomfortable for me, a Black person, to walk the halls of RAND. On the day that national attention turned to the acquittal of the Los Angeles Policy Department officers involved in the Rodney King beating in 1992, I didn’t want anyone to know that I had rushed to pick up my daughter from her daycare, which was only several blocks away from where the riots began. I didn’t want people to know that as I drove by, I saw the burning buildings, the looting, and the chaos. And although I didn’t condone it, I felt the pain and the anger at a judicial system that had once again failed the Black community. Being that close to what was happening in the Black community was my secret shame in the workplace.

Now, I feel comfortable showing my authentic self at RAND, and I’m grateful for the various outlets we have for me to vocalize, through poetry or spoken word, how I feel about racial injustice or inequity. I think the RAND community today can handle having those tough conversations that often leave us squirming in our seats. I’m not saying we always enjoy it, but the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, inclusive leadership training, the creation of employee research groups, the celebration of different cultures, and the launch of the RAND Center to Advance Racial Equity Policy, have all brought so much of what was once hidden into the light. Is there still work to do? Absolutely! Do I think there are opportunities ahead? Yes, particularly in creating a more racially diverse workforce, increasing project opportunities for diverse teams, and creating more opportunities for people of color in leadership.

I can’t speak to other organizations, but the RAND that I joined in 1989 is not the same RAND that I see today and that gives me hope for RAND’s future.

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