“Tough but Needed”: The (Continued) Importance of DEI Programs

Date: 05/2024

“Tough but Needed”: The (Continued) Importance of DEI Programs

In March 2024, we learned that the U.S. House Office of Diversity and Inclusion will disband. This follows a February article in The Washington Post stating that DEI jobs have already shrunk by 8% in 2024. It would seem organizations’ outspoken stance on race—most apparent after George Floyd's tragic murder—has passed its peak.

At Human Services Research Institute (HSRI), we are countering this trend. Our nonprofit—which provides recommendations and interventions to improve human service systems (such as behavioral health or intellectual and developmental disabilities)—continues to seek opportunities to promote racial equity, both within our organization as well as in our engagements with the states, systems, and communities within which we work. Demonstrating our commitment, HSRI formed our Racial Equity Team in 2020 and subsequently established our Equity Review Board, which convened for the first time in 2022.

The Racial Equity Team is a platform to foster open dialogue on racial topics and drive initiatives to improve equity across all facets of our organization. Meanwhile, the Equity Review Board is vital in ethical decision-making, ensuring our work achieves the highest equity standards.  

In a recent conversation, Colleen Kidney and Jamekia Collins, two integral members of the Racial Equity Team and Equity Review Board, shared the significance of these initiatives. Kidney, a policy associate, noted how HSRI's commitment to racial equity goes beyond mere statements of support. Instead, it is ingrained in our organizational ethos, as highlighted by founder and President Emerita Valerie Bradley’s longstanding commitment to disability equity. Kidney shared how we must recognize the limitations of our own perspectives and actively seek to learn from others:

“In the past five years, HSRI has been reflecting what so many people have been feeling—that we are not paying enough attention to the racial aspect of equity,” Kidney said. “This gives us the opportunity to think more about the intersectionality of our work. It's good to acknowledge that we have so much to learn, and we need to be completely open to the fact that we aren't the experts of other people's experiences.”

Similarly, Collins, a research assistant, discussed the transformative impact of HSRI initiatives that provide opportunities for necessary conversations about race, including recent staff training through Groundwater Institute:

 “[The training] was amazing, even though it was extremely difficult [information] to hear,” Collins said. “It was tough but needed.”

HSRI acknowledges that we still have much to learn. Both Collins and Kidney discussed the need to increase the diversity of our staff and expand the membership of the Racial Equity Team and Equity Review Board to include a broader spectrum of voices. HSRI is working to carve out "safe and brave spaces" where staff feel empowered to confront their biases and learn from one another.

"It takes a really brave person to say, 'I don't understand' [and] 'could you help me to understand this?'" Collins said. "Especially when it comes to racial equity, that's really hard to do."

In addition to staff training, the Racial Equity Team, and Equity Review Board, HSRI invests in many strategies and initiatives to promote racial equity. Last year, we reviewed health plan coverage and salaries to provide more equitable compensation packages to staff. This spring, to support learning and dialogue in "safe and brave spaces," we launched a staff book club focused on equity issues. Our first selection is “The Sum of Us,” by Heather McGee. Annually, HSRI's Staff Inclusion and Engagement Survey helps to provide an opportunity for reflection and introspection about what we are accomplishing through our racial equity efforts. Lastly, ongoing evaluation work with equity consultant Crystal L. Brandow, Ph.D., has enabled us to measure our successes and identify growth opportunities.

The insights gained from these strategies and initiatives continue to reshape our work. By approaching our work with an open heart and a willingness to learn, we at HSRI stand resolute in our goal to advance racial equity. We recognize that our collective efforts today lay the groundwork for a more inclusive and equitable tomorrow. We hope to inspire other organizations to “counter the trend” and sustain their investment in DEI efforts.

As Kidney said: “[If your organization] nurtures your personal growth and understanding, then learning about racial equity is going to inevitably mean positive change.” Collins agrees: “It’s everyone’s work."

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