Chamber's young professionals dive into diversity, equity, and inclusion

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 11/09/2018

Are you thinking of Earth as your talent pool? Read on for our panelists' insights

Studies have shown that a workplace that strives for diversity, equity and inclusion can grow its talent pool, improve employee performance and create innovation. On Wednesday night, our Young Professionals Network met at Seattle Foundation to learn more about this topic.

Our panel, moderated by YPN Advisory Board chair Shkelqim Kelmendi of Seattle Housing Authority, shared their insights about how workplaces can effectively recognize and value the different identities people have and address systemic barriers to success that different groups may face.

Attendees also had the opportunity to broaden their network by mingling with fellow young professionals from a range of backgrounds.

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Highlights by speaker:

  • Alanna Francis, Office and Event Coordinator at GSBA 

Our panelists discussed whose responsibility it is to lead diversity and inclusion work in the corporate sector. “There are very tangible ways you can be inclusive of communities," Francis said.

If you don’t have people in your planning committees and your organization's Boards, when you’re trying to make your company inclusive, you will not be adequately representing their perspectives. Inclusion necessitates "thinking of everyone," to make sure every single voice is represented, Francis noted.

Questions to ask when making impactful decisions: Who is not here? Who is not being represented?

Leaders within companies need also to acknowledge that growth does not end, Francis said. The endeavor of becoming inclusive and representative evolves and continues.

Creating space where employees feel comfortable sharing observations of exclusivity is also important work. Not all observations that could lead to growth and positive change are shared – because of a felt absence of such territories.

Francis spoke about the developmental power of stories. 

She implored attendees to question, Whose stories have you not heard; whose stories do you not know? The number of stories is infinite. 

Those stories, once connected to, connect you to everyone around you.

You're always going to be learning, Francis said, and that perspective teaches so much. The eternal learning process also connects you to other learners, "powerfully and beautifully." 

  • Amelia Ransom, Senior Director of Engagement and Diversity at Avalara

Ransom began by countering the idea that the definition of diversity could be distilled down to a few words. She noted that diversity does not mean everyone should be treated exactly the same.

"I think I'm special," Ransom said. "I think you're special, too. But I don't want to be treated exactly like you." Everyone has different needs and different aspirations, Ransom added. 

"I think about equity as the way that we get people parity," she said. Diversity is the representation of each individual and inclusion, she said, is a feeling that you are rooted and cemented – and that you belong. 

When Ransom was asked to name noteworthy companies endeavoring to be diverse and inclusive, she noted that pointing to an organization like a North Star to follow and replicate is too easy. It doesn't answer the question correctly and provides a false narrative that companies can just reflect and mirror establishments of others. 

Company leaders need to be thoughtful about what they, specifically, can do in their own company every day, she said. And that every employee at an organization also has responsibility to effect that change. 

"There are things you can do every day," Ransom said. "You absolutely have the ability to make (diversity and inclusion in your own company) better."

The company doing well in diversifying should be yours, she said.

Ransom also touched on the thought that sometimes middle ground cannot and should not be reached with an intolerant person who willfully does not understand the importance of diversity – as an exercise of self-care. 

Another good note from Ransom to recruiters, your talent pool should be Earth. 

  • Sarah Eaton, Staff Attorney with Disability Rights Washington 

Eaton talked about her straightforward and initial work of increasing inclusivity by ensuring reasonable accommodations are met first

In her work with individuals with disabilities, she thinks first of the "easy stuff," making sure locations and activities are physically accessible.

She also asks, Do we need written material in large fonts or with special color? Should we have language translators? How can we make the space more welcoming? 

First and foremost, Eaton said, "we have to meet people where they're at" to ensure events and communications are inclusive. 

“Having space where everyone has some privilege and being able to recognize that and what (that privilege) means is a good way to find the impetus and the will to change," Eaton said. 

In order to embrace others and diversity fully, you have to understand where you’re coming from.

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