ETB Blogs

Expanding the Bench: Reflecting on a Decade of Diversity and Inclusion in Evaluation

Dr. Debra Joy Perez is the Chief Equity Officer and Senior Advisor to the CEO at USP (United States Pharmacopeia), where she spearheads the implementation of USP’s Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging strategy. With over 25 years of experience in racial equity and inclusion initiatives, Dr. Perez’s core philosophy centers on the belief that equity equals excellence, driving organizational outcomes and leadership capabilities.

In her work in philanthropy, Dr. Pérez led Research, Evaluation and Learning Units in three national and global foundations and designed programs to support academics and researchers from historically marginalized populations. During this period, in 2014 while with The Annie E. Casey Foundation, she founded Expanding the Bench.

In 2013, after having been in the sector of professional philanthropy for nearly two decades, I was struck by a glaring gap: the lack of diversity within the field. The evaluators did not reflect the varied identities of communities they served. This sparked a question that eventually became a rallying cry for change: “How deep is your bench?” This wasn’t just about sports—it was a metaphor for our readiness and capacity to include diverse perspectives in evaluation practices.  

I founded Expanding the Bench® (ETB) with a vision to bring underrepresented voices to the forefront of evaluation. The aim was ambitious but clear—create a vibrant, inclusive community where first-generation scholars, people of color, individuals with disabilities, and LGBTQ folks could bring their unique insights and lived experiences to bear on the crucial task of evaluation.

In the beginning, my thoughts about what ETB should look like were shaped by my own experiences and the obvious needs of the field. I imagined a program that not only acknowledged the existence of these underrepresented groups but actively sought to lift them into visibility and viability within the professional landscape of evaluators. This meant not just opening doors but nurturing a space where their talents and insights could thrive and reshape the field.

What I hoped would happen was both simple and profound: by diversifying the pool of evaluators, we could achieve more equitable and culturally responsive evaluations. This hope was rooted in the belief that evaluators from diverse backgrounds could better understand and interpret the needs and outcomes of the diverse communities they studied, thus driving more effective and just policies and interventions.   

Reflecting on the first year of ETB, it was a period of laying foundations and planting seeds. It was about building relationships, formulating strategies, and initiating programs that addressed the immediate need for greater diversity while setting the stage for long-term sustainability. The challenges were immense, from securing funding to persuading stakeholders of the critical need for diversity in evaluation. Every small victory was a step toward a more inclusive approach, and every setback a lesson learned.  

Looking back now, I am immensely proud of what we have achieved and how the field has evolved. ETB has grown from an idea into a robust network of professionals committed to equity and justice in evaluation. We have seen firsthand how diversifying evaluators enriches analysis, deepens understanding, and ultimately leads to more effective and impactful evaluations.  

The journey of ETB is a testament to the power of inclusion and the critical role of diverse perspectives in driving social change. As we continue to push forward, my commitment to this cause remains unwavering. The bench is indeed deeper now, but our work is far from done. The future of equitable evaluation is bright, and I am excited to see how the next generation of evaluators will continue to expand and enrich our field.  

To all who have joined us on this journey, your contributions are invaluable, and your commitment to justice and equity inspires me every day. Here’s to continuing our important work together, expanding the bench, and ensuring that every voice is heard and valued in the crucial conversations that shape our world.

~ Debra Joy Perez, ETB Founder