United Church Homes Recommits Focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
By Ashley Bills. Reprinted with permission from the Autumn 2021 issue of Spirit Magazine.
As a member of the Council for Health and Human Service Ministries of the United Church of Christ, United Church Homes (UCH) stands with a rich tradition of institutions who were chartered to help people work to end prejudice, poverty and discrimination.
The UCH commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is one its Board of Directors embraced many years ago, according to Karl Ulrich, chair, as a basic function of the Board’s role and responsibility. “Diversity, equity and inclusion have long been embedded into the mission, vision and values at UCH,” said Ulrich, who has served on the Board since 2016.
The Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, executive director of UCH’s Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging, said the Board has been committed to diversity for years and actively sought to nominate more diverse members to their role in the organization — including women, people of color, and those who identify as LGBTQA+ — for a more inclusive perspective.
UCH can be a stronger force for good and a role model for society at large by advocating for important social justice issues that are aligned with its mission and values. The Board is playing a key role in defining and monitoring our social advocacy agenda.
In 2019, the Board of Directors decided to look more intentionally into diversity, equity, and justice as a strategic focus for 2020. As the public raised awareness of racial inequities in the United States following the deaths of Brianna Taylor and George Floyd, United Church Homes was having its own conversation. For four months, the Board convened weekly using a podcast series to spark conversations about racism and what more UCH could do. In August 2020, a group of Board members and UCH staff members formed a working group to write a reaffirmation statement about UCH’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Justice. The draft statement was adopted by the Board in November 2020.
“It is a reaffirmation of the organization’s journey amid the cultural context of 2020,” said Long-Higgins. “The Board’s ongoing commitment is a guide for future actions and continued momentum for this important work.””
“We are not just interested in including diverse individuals in our midst to work beside us or to live in our communities,” added Long-Higgins, who facilitated the team that created the reaffirmation statement. “As an organization, we are defining how we might help to change societal structures and policies which discriminate and perpetuate the inequitable access to resources and opportunities that so many Americans experience daily.”
The organization is starting by taking a look at its own culture and policies. UCH has partnered with Genesis Consulting, a firm with extensive diversity consulting and training expertise. Genesis facilitated day-long training sessions with the Board and senior executives, UCH directors, and community leaders in September 2021. Ulrich said the work with Genesis will help UCH identify areas where it can do better. “Outside perspectives are valuable in testing assumptions and seeing things in a new way,” said Ulrich.
Genesis will help UCH identify and implement measures throughout the organization to eliminate implicit bias, build diversity, and ensure equal opportunities for all.
President and Chief Executive Officer the Rev. Kenneth Daniel said United Church Homes is starting with leadership but will implement training across all levels of the organization.
This internal focus has created three action teams with the following broad goals:
- Increase our ability to attract, develop and retain talent;
- Enhance the customer experience and promote opportunities for innovation;
- Improve our financial performance and potential for growth.
“The action teams will identify areas for improvement, focusing on employee education, recruitment and retention of diverse staff members, and outreach strategies to share our services and culture with more diverse people,” said Daniel.
Board Member the Rev. Geoffrey Black said the Board will measure UCH efforts to broaden and deepen the diversity of employees and residents. He said the long-term benefit to internalizing this focus is serving more people. “This will position us to be culturally sensitive and better attract diverse residents, recruit and retain a diverse and capable workforce, and fulfill our mission well into the future,” Black said.
In the end, said Daniel, “UCH wants to be a force for good in our society. To do this, UCH must work hard to become an anti-racism organization which stands for the principles of social justice.”
Ulrich concurred. “The organization best serves diverse and inclusive populations when the organization itself is diverse and inclusive,” he said.
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