In 2014 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives were prioritized at a statewide non-profit where I was the CEO. At that time, the mantra was formal DEI work is new and there’s not a clear path to follow so everyone WILL make mistakes and that’s ok.
Last weekend the Armstrong McGuire team was busy at our yearly retreat and internal strategy meetings. On Sunday and Monday, we learned, laughed, and reflected on our work and processes. One throughline to many of our discussions was diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), why it is important as a value that each of us and the company holds, and how it impacts our work.
My colleague, Shannon Williams, gave me some great starting advice as I was onboarding with Armstrong McGuire. “Nevin, please free to poke a hole in what you see.” These words were liberating to me, as I saw this not only as an invitation to be at the table, but to also bring my ideas.
It wasn’t until last year, during a staff meeting outside in our parking lot as we tried to find some sense of togetherness during the COVID pandemic, did I realize the toll that years of racial equity work was taking on my mental and physical health. I was exhausted. But it wasn’t the exhaustion induced by the pandemic alone. For the first time, I was physically feeling the toll of racial equity on my health, and it frightened me. I heard a speaker at a philanthropy conference describe that for BILPOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx and People of Color) staff working in the space of racial equity, the work can be experienced as the equivalent of walking around with a low-grade fever.