How a Staff-Driven DEI Effort Took Off

The Emergency Nurses Association's new emphasis on diversity started with its staff but takes care to include all parts of the organization.

Last year, Rashonda Legault knew it wasn’t difficult to have conversations in the office about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). But it was more of a challenge to have those conversations touch the entire organization.

We’re asking how we can develop a more inclusive pipeline.

Legault, senior manager, learning services at the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), had long been having conversations around DEI with her colleagues—“a secret little club at work of people who are interested in these things, and that’s never been more than that,” as she puts it. But following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 and the ensuing expansion of conversations around racial justice, she saw an opportunity to take the DEI discussion to the association more openly.

To do that—as she’ll detail in a session at the 2021 ASAE Annual Meeting on August 17—she recognized that addressing DEI within the staff alone wouldn’t be enough. So she devised what she calls a “three pillar” model that’s designed to address how ENA embraces DEI principles among staff, membership, and volunteer leadership.

Looking at all three, Legault says, is essential because all three are interconnected. But because ENA doesn’t have a dedicated staff diversity officer, it took a more decentralized approach to the model. Staff members, including Legault, have taken leadership roles in ad hoc groups dedicated to each of the three pillars, based on their expertise and enthusiasm. “It was very organic,” she says.

In addition to those leadership roles, Legault spearheaded the creation of a staff council that convenes every three weeks and where everyone is invited to contribute ideas. The council has hosted regular gatherings of up to 20 people to talk about DEI—not just in terms of the workplace, but more broadly. And it maintains an online resource library for the staff.

In the long run, she says, the efforts are meant to address inequities in the emergency nursing field—for instance, the disproportionately low number of Black emergency nurses in the United States. In the short term, the three-pillar model can point to a variety of small but meaningful successes. DEI is now woven into its member-facing communications, such as ENA’s social media feeds. (Its Facebook feed in June spotlighted Pride Month and Juneteenth posts.) Staff got permission to include pronoun information in their email signatures. It worked with the staff’s creative director to create Zoom backgrounds to reflect the diversity of the profession. And its work led to the creation of a formal member DEI committee.

It’s also taking another look at its awards with DEI in mind. “One of our staff had the idea of giving a DEI award, and she brought it to the staff council,” she says. “And we asked, how about if every award has a DEI component, so everyone can see that it’s a value in everything we do to assess who gets an award, and I think that’s where we’re going.”

The success of the effort on the staff level has given Legault confidence to broaden the DEI effort. It’s deployed a survey to gauge where members are at on DEI, and is leading the membership pillar group’s discussions around making entry to the profession easier for more groups. “We’re asking how we can develop a more inclusive pipeline, and we know it has to start very early,” she says.

That’s a multiyear process, but Legault says that she’s confident the new effort can address it. “These are things that take a lot of time but that we’re having these conversations now, and that’s pretty amazing,” she says.

(studiostockart/DigitalVision Vectors)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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