5 Minutes with Tanya M. Odom

The Diversity of Giving

When Tanya M. Odom, equity and inclusion program director for the Walton Family Foundation, was growing up, she never thought her academic successes reflected how smart she was.

Instead, she saw success as the result of having been given an opportunity. “My mother would say, ‘It’s about access and opportunity,’” and tell her she had been provided with plenty of both. “In her own way, she was introducing us to the structures and systemic issues that are part of my work today.”

Now, Odom is applying those lessons to her work at the foundation started in 1987 by Walmart founders Sam and Helen Walton. Prior to that, Odom served as a consultant on DEI issues and worked with multiple United Nations entities on efforts to combat racism.

With her eye on creating a more equitable world inside and outside of philanthropy, Odom talked with Diversity Woman about some of the challenges DEI professionals face.

DW: Talk about your path to diversity and inclusion. How did you come to do this work?

Tanya M. Odom: There wasn’t a direct path here. I come from a family that is committed to issues of social justice and equity. I come from a multiracial family. I have a sister with a disability. I grew up in a service environment. My parents ran a social service–focused program. So community, equity, advocacy—all of those things are just part of my ethos and who I am.

DW: How does DEI work in the philanthropic world differ from the corporate sector?

TMO: There is a trust-building piece in philanthropy. We really want to make an impact in communities. But they have to trust us. And that is inherently connected to diversity.

Then there is the internal piece—making people feel valued. The private sector has probably done a better job of addressing some of the systems and practices that help people feel like they belong and feel valued.

DW: What are the biggest challenges today when it comes to DEI in philanthropy? How can they be overcome?

TMO: Philanthropy lacks racial and cultural diversity, and I think that’s something we’re working on. We need to attract more diverse voices and experiences. We need to encourage courageous leadership. We need to help move away from the zero-sum game—this notion that if we make the tent bigger that somehow someone’s going to lose out.

DW: How is the Walton Family Foundation using DEI to ensure fair and equitable access to funding?

TMO: The Walton Foundation has been doing things related to diversity since its inception. A family foundation could give to causes that only they care about and that support people like them, but that’s not what this foundation did.

My role was designed to think about how we maximize this commitment to DEI in our work—who we fund, who we invest in, who we partner with, what conferences we attend, how we build trust or strengthen trust in communities.

DW: What are some of the highlights of your experience at the Walton Family Foundation?

TMO: One is bringing together DEI leaders in philanthropy. We meet monthly. It’s a community of practice and connection, and we share resources, we share experiences, we share challenges, and we share opportunities.

—Tamara E. Holmes

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