What does it mean to create and maintain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture at Project Angel Heart? Do all staff and volunteers feel welcome in our organization? Where can we do better?
Inclusivity is a core value at Project Angel Heart, and after the many tragic instances of racial injustice and violence that occurred in 2020 (and in past years, as well), our team recommitted to identifying and eliminating systemic racism and bias in our program. Many members of our team have become members of our DEI committee. Others, like Kamisha Jones, volunteer resources coordinator, and Mark Smith, director of community development, have attended a variety of DEI-focused trainings and are working to incorporate what they’ve learned at Project Angel Heart and in the wider community.
What classes/programs have you participated in over the past year?
Kamisha: I have taken two courses in the past few months: Inclusive Leadership: The Power of Workplace Diversity and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace
Mark: I’ve been inspired to participate in these educational sessions related to DEI: Emotional Intelligence for Practitioners; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace; Inclusive Leadership; and The Power of Workplace Diversity. I also serve on the DEI committee for the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE).
What are some of the biggest takeaways from these programs?
Kamisha: I really enjoyed hearing personal stories; it made me realize that sharing these stories has a certain way of helping people understand the content of the program. The instructors addressed a wide range of discrimination we all face as individuals. We all have a story to tell of discrimination, but of course you have to be willing to hear others stories as well. No comparing who has it worse.
If we all could look at each other without the biases, the assumptions, the judgements, this would allow us to see each individual we come across as human. Someone who has feelings, thoughts, and culture, even if it is very different from your own. It is okay to be uncomfortable and unsure of what to do or say at times, but the willingness to change and to hear others out is a huge step towards making this world a better place.”
Mark: We all have unconscious biases and it plays out in our daily lives. Our past experiences have so much to do with how we conduct ourselves, and how do we recognize when bias happens? This will be an area of growth for me as I am continually aware of language and the message it sends. I’m also working on providing more micro-affirmations and calling out micro-aggressions.
In what ways has this work impacted your role at Project Angel Heart?
Kamisha: I am more aware of what my intentions are when speaking with individuals. I am conscious of unconscious biases and am certain to correct them. I see opportunities for growth across all areas of my role.
Mark: These classes have given me a new awareness in several areas at work. I now listen to listen, not to respond. I also ask myself, what are the cultural differences that might make conversations more collaborative? In some cultures, eye contact, hand gestures and whom you speak to have certain meanings. Does that mean I need to learn about every culture? No, just be aware and pay attention as you engage with others. There will always be resistance to change due to several factors including fear of the unknown, the disruption of routine, and folks asking “what is in it for me”? When a new strategy is implemented or changes are on the horizon, there must be clarity around the intent and around the expectations going forward. Lastly, representation matters. Who is in the room to discuss these topics or outcomes? What would Siri’s voice sound like if this product had different representation as it was being developed? Whose voice don’t we hear?
Within Volunteer Resources, what changes would you like to see over the next year?
Kamisha: I would love to see a more diverse group of people volunteering–age, race, religion, etc. I hope to continue to market and set up booths in areas we wouldn’t normally and in areas we want to engage folks from.
Mark: I think we owe it to ourselves to review our processes and procedures and intentionally find ways to be even more inclusive. For instance, we don’t have a framework built for someone who doesn’t speak English to become a volunteer. I believe we should also survey our current staff and volunteers and find out where we can find areas for improvement. It’s okay to say we don’t know what we don’t know, and our staff and volunteers would be a good starting point in understanding what THEY see.
What changes would you like to see over the next 5 years?
Kamisha: I would love to survey volunteers and see the demographic change from 95% of volunteers being white to something more diverse. Hopefully these results would be in response to our more diverse and tactful outreach.
Mark: Maybe a volunteer council that guides and assists the volunteer resources department in all areas of DEI. Intentional strategies that include diversity in age, gender, ethnicity, race, location, etc.