Establishing a Framework for Radical Inclusion in Partnership with The Darkest Horse

Chanté Martínez Thurmond, MA, BSN, and Rada Yovovich, MBA, co-founders of The Darkest Horse™ (TDH) are changing the way organizations approach equity and inclusion. TDH is a Think/Do/Be Tank that stewards leaders, innovators, and communities through a process of equity-centered experiences to co-create new worlds and ways of being.

Since partnering with our team at Yuvo Health in the summer of 2022, TDH’s team of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) facilitators have helped shape the creation of Yuvo Health’s original mission, vision, and values. They have also worked extensively with our leadership team to establish a new framework for cultivating an equitable culture and ways of working.

“We want to have a safe space for everyone to bring their authentic selves into the workplace, if they so choose,” said co-founder and CEO Cesar Herrera. “And we want to respect and honor how each individual chooses to show up to work.”

Following the Community of Practice program

In fall 2022, Yuvo Health teamed up with The Darkest Horse to establish the Yuvo Health Community of Practice, which promotes continuous learning and development around equity and inclusion. The year-long program focuses heavily on communal learning and ongoing practice. All Yuvo Health employees engage in a “Learning + Doing Model” that repeats every quarter. This recurring practice provides a dynamic structure for symbiotic learning through company-wide, “pod”-based, and individual-level work.

Rather than sporadically attending an episodic training session, Yuvo Health employees are encouraged to actively engage in the longer-term learning process designed to develop a values-based practice. This, TDH believes, is how sustainable, transformative change happens. Therefore, what do Yuvo Health and TDH mean by “practice”? And why?

Yuvo Health and TDH agreed early in their partnership that one-off training sessions failed to have the “stickiness” or staying-power to engender deep and sustainable cultural change. Martínez Thurmond explains, “The trap that many organizations fall into is thinking that you can fully outsource the work it takes to build lasting change. There’s no shortcut to transformation, and there’s nothing better than the experience gained by actually working together. Yuvo Health has been fearless and graceful in its commitment to health equity, both externally and internally.”

This is where developing a company-wide practice is not just about the achievement of a singular cultural change; it’s about building Yuvo Health’s capacity as community health leaders to self-determine their own ongoing cultural change. This is what true transformation looks like. “We understand that this subverts existing norms and strategies for approaching DEIA work.” Yovovich adds, “By steadily decentering The Darkest Horse as all-knowing gurus or gatekeepers, we empower Yuvo Health to be their own stewards of change.”

To date, Yuvo Health’s Community of Practice has already made an impact with employees: “I believe The Darkest Horse aligns with and strengthens the Yuvo culture,” said one Yuvo Health employee in response to an anonymous survey. “This Community of Practice demands trust, support, and vulnerability with one another as we celebrate the mission and strength of the Yuvo team.”

Leaning into the discomfort to activate change

Yuvo Health has already seen positive changes in the company culture since launching the Community of Practice program, but Herrera admits that the conversations can be uncomfortable. Employees are being pushed to engage in difficult discussions and uncover differing opinions, which is no easy feat.

“The experience with the Darkest Horse has been like none other in my career. It has been powerful and enlightening and has uncovered areas that I specifically need to be more aware of,” said a Yuvo Health employee.

Another Yuvo Health employee said, “[This process] has given me some great tools to use in my day to day life, not only at work but in my personal life, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercises around decision equity and have gotten better when decisions should be a group effort and not made in silos."

While the process itself can be emotionally demanding on participants, The Darkest Horse helps create a safe space for all employees to participate fully and as their whole selves. During some communal sessions, for instance, every employee changes their name on their Zoom account to the same word or punctuation mark so they can write into the chat anonymously. It’s a simple practice, but one that makes a significant difference in how employees are empowered to show up and participate in an authentic way.

It has been an eye-opening and mind-expanding experience. “I'm grateful for the experience to show how I can be a better and more aware colleague to my teammates,” said a Yuvo Health employee.

Moving beyond diversity, Yuvo Health aims for equity

Before the founding of Yuvo Health, Herrera along with co-founders Carmelo Cruz Reyes, Janel Sia, and Stephanie Hudson agreed that they wanted to employ a truly diverse team, understanding this would bring a diverse set of experiences, viewpoints, personalities, and skill sets.

While many companies simply want to fill diversity gaps in staffing (and are satisfied once hires are made), the leaders at Yuvo Health are focused on building an equity-centered culture from the ground up. This means recognizing and celebrating the many differences of individual employees, being proactive in fostering a culture of inclusivity and connection, and working on these practices indefinitely.  

“We’re not asking The Darkest Horse to solve a problem,” said Herera. “We know this work is ongoing and extends beyond the program, but we wanted to create a structure that enables our team to better engage with one another. The Darkest Horse has helped us do that.”

The point isn’t to assimilate individuals to the company; Yuvo Health wants to recognize and acknowledge differences of opinion in every aspect of the business and work with them as opposed to against them. The Darkest Horse has made this possible by facilitating and moderating these conversations and holding space for individuals to express their feelings, perspectives, and preferences.

“We want to be intentional, which is why we’re continuing to ask difficult questions. How do we continually celebrate intersectionality? How do we build processes for inclusivity? How do we recognize each individual as a complex human being? And what does this look like in the day-to-day workplace?” said Herrera.

“The Darkest Horse has been the connective tissue that has allowed us to dive deeper into this work, but we know this work is a muscle that must be continuously flexed. This is just the beginning.”

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