On September 1, 2021, Crossnore Communities for Children’s made me its full-time Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Manager. In beginning this work, it was important to gauge the pulse of the organization through many cultural and societal variants, such as our commitment to anti-racism amid duress in our nation, the COVID-19 pandemic, our Crossnore rebrand, as well as an organizational vaccine mandate. To do this, it was necessary to facilitate listening sessions with staff and leadership within each division of the organization.
Where We Began
In these sessions, we covered many subject areas. We talked about staff’s sense of belonging to the organization and strengths of their program/department. We discussed organizational culture and internal/external challenges that could be in the way of optimizing success. In these sessions, we also spent time envisioning diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging alongside our Sanctuary model.
Crossnore staff expressed great value in being heard. They appreciated sharing their opinions on topics that impact the culture of the organization, as well as the children and families that we serve. Intermingled with the value that staff felt, there was also a sense of disconnection from being a “merged” organization.
Common Themes from Listening Sessions
In 2017, The Crossnore School in Crossnore, NC and The Children’s Home in Winston-Salem merged to become one organization, Crossnore School & Children’s Home. Although we were now one by name, we were still two communities. We had two different cultures. And we undeniably both carried our organizations’ trauma into the merger. Below are some of the recurrent themes that came from the listening sessions with staff:
- Change fatigue
- Community engagement
- Bias in decision making
- Leadership engagement and professional development
- Sanctuary implementation/alignment with DEIB
- Embracing our new identity as Crossnore Communities for Children
- DEIB Infrastructure
Each listening session began with a community meeting, asking “How are you feeling?”, What is your goal for this session?”, and “Who can you ask for help?” Staff understood that our sessions were confidential. Our goal was not to air out the faults of the organization, but to envision the future together through our experience as a staff.
Facilitating Quality Conversation
I was cognizant of possible areas of discomfort for staff. Inquiring about their belonging and tenure within the organization could bring up uncomfortable emotions for some. And I emphasized the importance of self-care after the session. We made space during our time to allow the respondent to share their vision, ask questions, and open lines of communication. During this process, it was important to acknowledge the growth and change Crossnore is experiencing at this moment. Even in times of change, staff are committed to doing more.
The commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to the state of the organization. However, many were unclear how this commitment would manifest and its effectiveness in their individual work environments. Quotes that demonstrated this notion from staff were, “We have the desire but it is difficult to prioritize amidst constant growth and change;” “The intention is there, but the impact doesn’t always land;” and “We tend to get in our own way.”
Excitement About the Future
Lastly, I concluded each session with two questions, “What am I not hearing?” and “What is your feeling leaving this session?” The intent behind the first question was to allow room for correction in interpretation. Throughout the session, I was listening for areas where diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging were absent. However, I wanted to ensure that I was getting below surface level issues. Inquiring about how they were feeling leaving the session affirmed the Sanctuary commitment of emotional intelligence. There was an overwhelming feeling of appreciation, motivation, and value from staff. Employees were excited to be a part of envisioning an even better Crossnore, as well as to be asked about their experiences as an employee.
In It Together
We hope to take our commitment to a deeper level of understanding and action within our organization to better our campus culture, as well as our communities. Embarking on this commitment as an organization requires involvement from all staff and stakeholders. It is everyone’s responsibility to create the culture that we want for ourselves and the children we serve. Challenging our old ways of thinking and doing, to be a more equitable and just organization, is up to all of us. It certainly will not come overnight, nor will we get it right every time, but we aim to always put equity at the center of all that we do going forward.
With further analysis of this data, Crossnore division leaders and staff will partner with Dr. William T. Lewis, Sr. with Willhouse Global, to create a tactical plan for DEIB. The tactical plan will further operationalize diversity, equity, and inclusion into the organization and will encourage all staff to champion this work. Our organizational goal is to be more just and equitable for our staff and the children and families that we engage with daily.