About a year ago, employees at the nonprofit organization Local First started setting aside some time out of each staff meeting to be reserved specifically for discussion and debate.
Led by a different staff member each time, employees volunteer to bring in an article or video about a wide range of topics that are somehow related to issues or ideas surrounding things like inclusion, diversity, equity, and cultural competency, and then for about 10-15 minutes, they just listen to each other.
“We discuss those articles and learn from the different perspectives and I think it’s helped us to shift our own perspective,” says Elissa Hillary, president of Local First. “…(We) have more empathy for others and all of the different kinds of experiences people can have.”
She says these discussions have changed the way her organization thinks about its own programming, a constant reminder to consider all of the different kinds of perspectives or circumstances that can shape a person’s experience, and to try harder as an organization to be proactive in removing any potential barriers for equal opportunity.
“With this most recent street party event, it prompted us to make sure we had barrier-free access for people with wheelchairs or strollers so they could get to the front of the stage to see the show, and make sure all of our signage was bilingual,” says Hillary. “When you have a heightened awareness, all kinds of things can spring from these conversations.”
And while honest dialogue is a necessary catalyst for any kind of advancement seeking a more inclusive and equitable culture, so is knowing how to create actionable steps that implement real change. During the most recent installment of the 2017 Measure What Matters workshop series, panelists taught participants how to do just that.
Hosted at the offices of LINC Community Revitalization at 1167 Madison Ave. SE, the workshop titled “Implementing Policies Promoting Inclusion and Equity” explored the importance of supporting an inclusive local economy, providing its participants—largely members of local and small business community—with the resources to develop and implement equitable and inclusive practices under their own roofs.
During the workshop, a panel of four different diversity and inclusion experts offered insights into creating ethical business practices that promote access and inclusion for people with mental and physical differences. Participants learned not only how to create official value statements and written inclusion policies for their businesses, but also ways to implement company-wide policies and encourage conversations among employees.
“Small businesses are uniquely poised to be in contact and in relationships with their communities, and we see that both in the services and things they offer,” says Hillary says. “But that can also be true in the way they hire and recruit employees from the neighborhoods in which they are located and those surrounding neighborhoods.”
While having a concrete statement for a businesses inclusion and equity policy can definitely help an organization define itself externally, Hillary says its even more valuable when it comes to internal decision making.
“There are a multitude of ways that having a specific [inclusion and equity] statements or policies around diversity, inclusion, and equity can make a difference,” she says. “It can affect the way an organization thinks about hiring, the way an organization thinks about procurement and purchasing, the way an organization thinks about any number of things.”
When it comes to what kind of business practices fall under that umbrella of diversity, inclusion, and equity, Hillary says it’s a pretty wide range and oftentimes varies depending on the specific needs of a business’ employees or community.
“For example, if your business is hiring for people within walking distance, think about whether or not those people might need access to public transportation, or if they are able to walk or bike to work. Then, as an employer, create policies that can help support that,” she says, adding that another example would be business trying to make a real effort to foster a workplace that is friendly for all types of employees, whether that means creating policies that help support working parents or support diversity and inclusion efforts.
“Basically, it’s making an effort to meet people where they are in a really human way to ensure they have a great work experience,” says Hillary. “And in turn, you’ll benefit from having a really talented workforce.”
Local First is hosting its next Measure What Matters event at The Greenwell in East Hills on June 26 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The networking mixer will gather community members and decision makers to socialize and discuss ways to use business as a force for good. To learn more about Local First programming and upcoming events, visit Local First's event page or find it here on Facebook.
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images courtesy of Local First