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Nathan Baptiste

Founder of EDI Mindfulness Consulting LLC

Nathan Baptiste is the founder of EDI Mindfulness Consulting LLC, supporting organizations to create equitable and inclusive work environments in which employees of all different backgrounds thrive, and diverse communities are represented and well-served. The greater purpose is to create a more equitable and peaceful society in which race and intersecting social identities do not predict disparate outcomes in life.  Nathan is a specialist in organizational change advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. He is also a mindfulness meditation instructor certified by MNDFL. As a practitioner for over 20 years, mindfulness is an integral component in his approach to training, coaching, and advising.

Previously, Nathan served as the Diversity Program Manager at Oregon Metro, the regional government for 25 cities based in Portland, OR. In this role, he managed the agency-wide Diversity Action Plan and a number of agency-wide initiatives, in which he delivered the design and launch of a racial equity, diversity, and inclusion (REDI) professional development training plan reaching over 1,000 employees. Other highlights of his work include: advising departmental leaders in the roll-out of their customized racial equity strategic plans, leading development of an equity lens for the agency-wide employee engagement survey, launching and co-facilitating employee resource groups, and partnering with recruitment and procurement leadership to enhance equity protocols in decision-making.

In prior experience in the field of higher education, Nathan led diversity programming as a Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions & Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment, and later as the Director of Inclusion & Multicultural Engagement at Lewis & Clark College. In these capacities he drove initiatives to increase the diversity of enrollment at the college as well as retention through development of programs fostering a more inclusive environment. Nathan received his bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Occidental College and his master’s degree in Education Leadership from Columbia University. In his free time, Nathan enjoys meditation, outdoor family adventures, basketball, and dad-jokes with his 7- and 9-year-olds.

Nathan draws inspiration from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, bell hooks, and Paolo Freire.

Finish this sentence: I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for ________________.

Mindfulness. Learning and growing in the practice of mindfulness has taught me so many things. For example, it showed me how to get centered and how to more effectively manage strong emotions, such as in the aftermath of my dad’s death when I was a kid. Mindfulness has taught me how to listen more deeply inwardly to get clarity about my goals and, outwardly, to better understand and support people in my circles. It has also made me a more attentive and a more compassionate facilitator.

Perhaps most of all, mindfulness practice helps me to return to and find rest in the present moment. In addition to adding to my own peace of mind, this has allowed me to become more present for my kids, my wife, and many others in my life.

Resumes highlight professional and educational achievements. Which one of your life or personal experiences deserves to be on your resume?

I rarely talk about it, but this question highlights for me one of the most pivotal decisions I’ve made in my life. In my senior year of undergrad, I applied for a grant that, if awarded, would send me around the globe for one year to study my passion. I was all in with a plan to study various traditions of meditation across Southeast Asia. I made it to the last round of interviews as a national finalist and was cut. I had a vision about what I felt compelled to do next in my life, but the vehicle of resources to do it vanished. But what came out of that was that I was put in a position to decide how much I still wanted to find a way to go through with the project. My commitment was unwavering, and I ultimately worked for another year and a half or so to save the resources I needed to make the journey. I dedicated six months to mindfulness practice in meditation centers and Buddhist monasteries in Thailand, India, and Japan. I cannot calculate the value of taking that time for inward reflection and centering, but I know it has altered the course of my life for the better.

Diversity is essentially about who is in the space, and inclusion is about how people feel in the space. Both are important, but they’re often done cosmetically, with little, if any, investment in structural change. Equity is about what is being meaningfully changed in decision-making power dynamics to center those most impacted by disparities.”

What qualities do you look for when hiring someone on your team? What qualities do you avoid?

Whether or not a person has traditional credentials such as formal education from prestigious universities or X number of years with a relevant title, I want to know what they see as their own key contributions and what they value most in how they show up to work with others. To build a culture of equity, I’m looking for leadership qualities, including open-mindedness, an introspective growth mindset, creativity and willingness to make mistakes, and emotional intelligence to co-create greater psychological safety in the environment to collaborate effectively. On the flip side, red flags are smugness, close-minded and dualistic thinking, perfectionism that stifles progress, and me-first instead of we-first-orientations. And, is your mode of operation power-with-others or power-over-others?

Is there a time when you were told to change yourself, or hide some aspect of yourself to be accepted or successful in a situation? How did you react?

When I was in high school in a predominantly white community, I hardly saw any other Black students, teachers, or leaders around me. To say I didn’t fit in is an understatement – I felt invisible and at times, hyper-visible, navigating racial (micro)aggressions from peers and even adults. I mainly dealt with the hostility by just pushing myself academically, sprinkling in subtle acts of resistance. Since we weren’t learning any literature or history written by Black people in the classroom, I approached one of the school administrators and suggested it be added to the healthy list of existing electives. Her response was that if they created a Black studies elective, then we’d need to do that for Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans… The message I heard was: ‘you don’t matter.’ I used this disappointment and frustration as fuel: the following two years, with the support of an ally teacher, I coordinated school and community forums about Black history and social justice featuring former leaders from the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, and Angela Davis, respectively. Although there was some hate mail, the events were widely well-received. This adversity lit my initial spark toward a lifetime of educational equity work.

Which three books, podcasts, or news sources do you think everyone should read? Why?

In my experience, timing is key for the impact of messages, and it depends on what a person is receptive to at the moment. That said, three works that were game-changers at the moments they arrived in my life were: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, and Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh.

  • Siddhartha: This fictional narrative of the life of the Buddha inspired in me a healing reflection about the impermanence of life – and the suffering that comes with misaligned expectations – as I processed the death of my father.
  • Malcolm X: I read this in high school, and it was like taking the red pill in the Matrix: I learned a new dimension about how racism – and by extension, other forms of oppression – operate in society. Previously, I had internalized a lot of racial hostility and hadn’t appreciated the systemic and structural nature of oppression, which, upon grasping the greater scale, helped me to depersonalize it in a way.
  • Peace is Every Step: this book is a meditation inviting you to let your mind rest in the present moment. Just do the dishes to do the dishes. In other words, peace is in the process; it’s not a static destination.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is front and center right now. How do you express your commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in your personal and professional life?

EDI – equity, diversity, and inclusion – being treated as a flavor of the month is part of the problem. I created EDI Mindfulness Consulting to help build equity into the structure and culture – the DNA – of organizations.  I work with teams seeking lasting organizational change from different parts of the country in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with training and advising to develop more equitable orientations, policies, and culture. The work involves first normalizing analysis and conversation about how inequities show up beneath the surface of the proverbial iceberg and visioning what a shift to a culture of equity involves. We explore roles and responsibilities in response to the essential question: what would racial equity, diversity, and inclusion look like if it were embedded in the mission and measures of success in your organization?

This work is part of my personal commitment to co-creating a more equitable society. And an important element is my own ongoing introspection about my intersecting identities and influence from the decisions I make, recognizing that how I show up and engage has a ripple effect of impacts beyond myself.

What do you find most frustrating about corporate DEI initiatives and what’s one tangible step every employer should take to help build a more representative organization?

“D&I” without the “E” – that is: doing diversity and inclusion work, but not equity work. Diversity is essentially about who is in the space, and inclusion is about how people feel in the space. Both are important, but they’re often done cosmetically, with little, if any, investment in structural change. Equity is about what is being meaningfully changed in decision-making power dynamics to center those most impacted by disparities. It’s not just hiring a woman of color executive; it’s ensuring she’s part of a well-resourced, organization-wide commitment to define and advance equitable outcomes that help fulfill the organization’s mission.

To that end, one tangible action is creating and measuring impact-oriented goals that are explicit about eliminating specific disparities faced by underserved groups. When equity is named as part of the organizational mission, values, and performance measures, it becomes indispensable.

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photo of Nathan Baptiste
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