Connections - 07.30.21

Across the Board: Reflecting on What We Know, What We Don’t, And How We Grow

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by Gabrielle Sedor, ANCOR COO

 Gabrielle SedorThere’s so much happening this summer that we decided to connect with not one, but two, boards!

This month, members of ANCOR’s Board of Directors and the ANCOR Foundation Board met in person in Kansas City, MO, our first in-person gathering in well over a year. [Note: all board and staff members are fully vaccinated.] The occasion? The Board’s annual summer retreat, but also the first session to discuss what ANCOR’s role in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) might be.

At the ANCOR Conference this June, our CEO Barbara Merrill shared that,

…the events of last summer with the death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matters protests and the national awakening to the need to address systemic racism in all of its forms, prompted the ANCOR Board of directors and our staff to realize that we also have an important part to play in not only addressing systemic discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities, but to understand the intersection of racism and ablism, to understand where we can, as an association, as an industry, help to move the needle toward becoming a truly inclusive society….

I’m so proud that the ANCOR Board of Directors is prioritizing our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey. We have just begun to work with a consulting group, who will guide us to be more aware, to better understand how to think and talk about racial inequity, and how to make progress toward translating DEI policy into DEI action, integrating it into our strategic plan, helping us to positively influence our field, ultimately to move toward greater inclusion for all. The events of last summer, what happened to Charles Kinsey, what happened to Breanna Taylor, what continues to happen every day to our relatives, friends, neighbors, and fellow human beings whether they are black, or brown, Latino, Asian American, LTBQ, on the Spectrum, living with intellectual disabilities, what happens to them happens to all of us – and reflects on all of us. Discrimination of marginalized people diminishes all of us. But together we can be a part of this national reckoning, we can be a part of a national healing, we can be a part of building an inclusive society where not only are all included, but all are respected.

The July Board Retreat was an integral part of this learning journey. Board members were joined by a team from the Raben Group who had previously met with a small planning group comprised of ANCOR staff and volunteer leaders representing ANCOR, the ANCOR Foundation, the State Association Executives Forum and the Leadership Development Committee (the committee charged in the Bylaws with identifying and recommending potential board members for the future).

Members of both boards grappled with what we know (an unfathomable workforce crisis, a federal mandate to be as inclusive as possible, and uncertainty around COVID-19 that doesn’t seem to be going away) and what we don’t know (how to move ourselves, our organizations and the ones we represent further along the path towards being fully inclusive and actively anti-racist.)

What does that look like?

There was ample time to reflect, both in the structured board meeting and during unstructured time in the hallways and at dinner. Since my focus is on operationalizing ANCOR’s strategic plan, it’s hard for my mind not to jump straight to logistics. I confess I probably left Missouri with more questions than answers: What’s the balance between being fully informed and taking the time we need before developing an action plan versus missing a critical opportunity/moment in time to effect change? How and where does our work on diversity, equity and inclusion intersect with our focus on workforce? How do we communicate these efforts to members in a way that’s compelling, accessible, and actionable?

We realize that as an association and a foundation, we talk a lot about inclusion. Heck, we named a 3-year public awareness campaign and countless advocacy efforts with that word as a headline. But do we really know what we’re talking about? Are we really delivering on that promise?

I can sense some readers bristling. I get it. I bristle too. But we’re not going to get anywhere without a healthy dose of self-assessment and understanding our own biases. As one of our board members so aptly put it: Change management is easy when you’re trying to change someone else….

During our half day session with the board, our facilitators from the Raben Group encouraged us to:

  • Listen to understand [rather than trying to figure out what you might say next.]
  • Be raggedy [Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.]
  • Speak from personal experiences. [Use “I” statements.]
  • Disagree without being disagreeable
  • Separate impact vs. intent
  • Lean into the discomfort [and there will most likely be some along the way.]

With those ground rules (which actually work well for conversations well beyond DEI) set, the Board was able to articulate their hopes and fears about embracing a DEI mindset.

What might success look like?

Over a decade ago, ANCOR created the National Advocacy Campaign to shine a light on the workforce challenges our members face. Challenges that create significant barriers to their ability to offer quality services and supports that people with IDD deserve. The NAC has faded because advocating for workforce is now simply What We Do. It is a strategic pillar, a guideline, a mindset. It is the lens through which ANCOR examines every piece of legislation and every federal policy that we’re asked to support.

Like the NAC, my hope for ANCOR is that DEI becomes another lens through which we measure our effectiveness as a national trade association and as a driver of change in our field. It is not separate and distinct from our workforce lens. It won’t happen overnight. The process won’t be linear or easy, but as another wise board member (this time from the Foundation) shared with us,

If you embrace diversity but ignore disability, you’re doing it wrong.

If you embrace disability but ignore diversity, you’re doing it wrong.

In order for there to be inclusion and equity, it has to apply to all of us.

So, there you have it. My takeaways from our most recent board meeting. In all its raggedy-ness.

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