Vegas, Inclusive Culture, and Ericka James

| by Shannon Williams

Recently my husband attended a business conference in Las Vegas, and he invited me to come along. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I had time or was all that interested in Sin City, but a friend encouraged me to go just to be with Jeff. She was right. I was reminded that investing time with your spouse or partner is always worth it.

So, off to Vegas we flew.

For the next 60 hours I was reminded what a sheltered life I live. Yes, Vegas is full of extremes, but I am not just talking about that. After almost 3 years of intentional diversity, equity, and inclusion study, this trip reminded me that I still have so far to go.

During our time away I interacted with countless people whose lived experiences are so very different than mine. People of different nationalities, sexual orientation, ethnicities, and ideologies. People with different educational backgrounds, economic statuses, and moral compasses.

As a Christian, I believe that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. If we all have that same common bond than why am I still uncomfortable with people who are very different than I am? It is a question that is staying with me. I know part of the answer is that I must continue to widen my circles of relationships.

Believe it or not, while in Vegas I watched a webinar on hiring fundraisers of color — it was more interesting to me than the casino. During the webinar, I was reminded that the goal is not to hire fundraisers of color or expand the candidate pools to include more people of color. Instead, the goal is to create a culture in every organization where a person of color can thrive. A culture where team members are aligned around the organization’s values and where every member of the team knows they bring value to the organization. A culture focused on shared outcomes.

At Armstrong McGuire, we are working to build and nurture that culture. I believe that elements of it have always been there over our 17 years, but our intentionality over the last 3 years has not only strengthened our team, but me personally in my journey.

We recently completed a training with Ericka James to give us clarity as a team on where we are in our DEI journey—not where we think we are or where we want to be. We were encouraged to learn that our intentionality in setting DEI goals, investing financial resources in the process, and creating an environment where diversity is welcomed are leading us in the right direction. We also learned that we still have a ways to go to create a sustainable culture of DEI. Ericka has a framework that has 6 stages of DEI, we found that we are somewhere between 4 and 5. As a team, we were pleased, but not satisfied.

At the end of the training, Ericka challenged us to create a personal proximity plan to intentionally widen our circles of relationships. Based on my experience in Vegas, it was exactly what I needed. I will admit, I was challenged to think beyond a book I could read or some other arms-length activity. The truth is that my network is not as diverse as I want it to be. So, after some thought I created a goal to meet with some neighbors who are very different from me. I will invite them to dinner and see where it grows.

Perhaps it is just a small step, but it is intentional. As Ericka reminded me, every intentional step is a learning, so off I go one step at a time. Join me.

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