Feature Article - September 2022
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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Reaching & Engaging the Underserved

By Kelli Ra Anderson


Training Everyone—Including You

There comes a point, however, when you don't know what you don't know. Some 45% of facilities surveyed by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) in 2021 cited a need for recommended metrics, hiring practices and tools, and assessments as their top concerns. Getting an outside perspective from a consulting company for regular DEI audits can help identify blind spots, develop strategies to address them and then help measure progress with accountability.

Bringing in speakers, using training videos, continuing regular conversations, attending DEI webinars and convention workshops to learn about barriers to DEI (like microaggressions and unintended bias), as well as learning what diversity, equity and inclusion really are and look like, are essential to help staff and leadership better review and improve all practices and policies.

Training yourself, as a manager, by involvement in DEI groups and your own DEI board or taskforce is also invaluable. "I have personally been working with the IPRA on their diversity leadership task force," Kosey said about her own DEI journey. "I have a great DEI community around me."

Hiring Staff

Ideally, getting buy-in from your staff begins before they are hired. "It starts from the moment we receive resumes," Kosey said. "The hiring manager removes the name, address and numbers from the resume to prevent unconscious bias during the process. We ask DEI questions in the interview, and from there our DEI committee provides some kind of training to staff at least once a year."

In an effort to better reflect the diversity of their managerial staff (which initially did not resemble the nearly 50% black and more than 50% female demographic of their community), VIDA Fitness now includes a member of their diversity board in all managerial interviews to help ensure they are addressing diversity gaps and to gauge the level of the candidate's sensitivity to DEI and their mission.

Promoting from within has been another incredibly effective and creative way VIDA has improved the diversity of their personal training staff through a PT certification scholarship program for any disadvantaged and underrepresented staff who may be interested. "This has given them the opportunity to be part of the fitness industry and a whole new career path," Brown said about the popular program that has benefited former housekeeping and desk associates, among others. It's a win-win.

Pushback

One of the inevitable results of any change is pushback. It only stands to reason that in a pluralistic society with so many points of view, there is bound to be friction. When Brown is speaking or leading a workshop she always reminds future change-makers this will be part of the experience. "You will ruffle feathers so you want people to know that's OK," Brown said. "This isn't a straightforward path. You are changing years of norms and cultural understanding, so expect growth areas and turbulence—expect that and welcome it as you move forward."

For some, that pushback has not come from their own community, but those outside it. When the Skokie Park District's first family pride event was featured in Newsweek magazine, it caught the critical attention of a national politician who tweeted her opposition. Thousands of angry emails and calls from around the country, including death threats, resulted. "It gets very upsetting to see the hate," Marquardt said, especially when the negative characterization and accusations were completely false, "but when you go to the event and see the kids running around and having a good time, it zeros out all the negativity."

For Kosey, whose department has also been the target of some hostile messages, it actually strengthens her resolve. "We received a voicemail spewing hate about Black Lives Matter," she recalled about one isolated event. "So I saved it. It motivates me to be an ally for the marginalized. DEI is a process so we are still working on it. Remember, it's like eating an elephant. You don't do it all at once. Just one bite at a time." RM