My very first article was published in a professional magazine (HRMagazine) almost exactly thirty years ago and it was titled: The Case For Valuing Diversity. At the time I was a young, idealistic first woman executive in a male-dominated utility and someone committed to helping this organization  go beyond compliance to actually embracing the idea of “valuing differences.” Then, as now, my pathos was for “building community” and foster inclusiveness wherever I go in the world.

The events that have unfolded this year have only strengthened my resolve to leave my mark in this area. As someone who has lived a life of privilege I give myself less than a passing grade. I could have been so much more intentional. Yes, I have advocated for and nurtured inclusive cultures. And yes, I have opened up doors and paved the way for women both in my professional and volunteer life as a search and rescue volunteer, both in typically male dominated environments. But, I could have leaned in a lot more and done more. It now pains me to see  “black fatigue” and take in the incredible stress and trauma people of color have endured and continue to endure as others around them still wonder out loud: “Does that still exist?”

That being said, I am heartened to see so many of my HR colleagues in the corporate world engaging with their employees in sincere ways that go beyond being performative to building organic efforts and finding ways to meet each and every employee where they are at on their own journey in a landscape that often has been punishing and politically correct. Moving forward these HR leaders are helping their organizations engage in difficult conversations and creating environments where some risk and accompanying mistakes are accepted as we are all exploring and trying to understand how we ended up here.

This morning my partner Suzanne Campbell and I met on Zoom with our group of about 25 senior human resources leaders –– newly branded as the RoundUp – to continue a conversation we started a few months ago around racial justice. Today we talked a lot about diversity and inclusion and I logged off the call with plenty of takeaways and things to reflect on:

  1. This is a never ending journey and we are all in different places.
  2. We need to meet people where they are personally in the process in order to be heard.
  3. There are times we need to rein in our desire for immediate action and allow for reflection and conversation.
  4. We have to become used to being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  5. All voices at the table need to be heard. Are we listening enough and well?
  6. We all have unconscious biases.
  7. People can lean in and learn from their mistakes if we create that space.
  8. The challenge is keeping the momentum and creating durable change.
  9. We have to go beyond event driven, transactional efforts.
  10. Those who suffer from “fatigue” after years of systemic discrimination need direct support and resources. The trauma is real.
  11. We need to manage microaggressions and call out racism and bias.
  12. Covid has opened some doors to having difficult conversations. Home is work. Work is home. As Covid masks stay on, other masks are coming off as conversational topics are expanding.
  13. Use SMARTIE Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time—Based, Inclusive, Diverse
  14. We need to be sincere in our efforts. Tokenism will make things worse.

It’s one thing to have this conversation with a group of senior HR leaders, quite another one with the folks I am surrounded by in my volunteer world of search and rescue. My attempts to engage others in dialogue on Facebook groups has met with mixed results. While there have been some positive exchanges, my overall sense is that many SAR volunteers are in a state of denial: “maybe over there, but not in my backyard,” “black people frankly don’t like wilderness, that is why they are not better represented.” Yep, someone actually said that.

I am encouraged that two of the mountaineering oriented organizations I am a member of both seem to take on these issues intentionally. The Mountaineers started what appears to be a sincere effort to build more diversity and engender inclusiveness several years ago and I am delighted that leadership for Mountain Rescue at the national level has established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which just recently reached out to me.

All of us have some heavy lifting to do. What will I/You do to help maintain momentum and create durable change in our families, communities, organizations and society? Are you willing to be uncomfortable in 2021?