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Putting DEI&B Into Action

By Ericka Wooten, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina has prioritized diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B) as part of our broader organizational strategic plan. In 2019, it was unanimously decided that DEI&B would be included as a strategic intention. Why? Because the Foundation’s mission to help South Carolinians who are experiencing poverty is dependent on an understanding of the impact and unique barriers caused by systems and institutions that are still discriminating against groups and persons based solely on their race.

diverse group around table

The Foundation understands that to deal with poverty we must also do our part to deal with its connection to race. We are doing this through our DEI&B work.

DEI&B Actions Taken to Date

  • A DEI&B committee of the board was established to spearhead this work.
  • The Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion position was created. The focus of this position was to operationalize the strategic intention.
  • A survey was developed for board and staff to determine a baseline of DEI&B knowledge, understanding and connection to our mission.
  • Board and staff began engaging in learning opportunities.
  • A culture was created that embraces tough conversations, invites vulnerability and embodies solidarity. It moves beyond normal conversations between co-workers.
  • The creation of a DEI&B glossary to encourage a shared and inclusive language.
  • Hosted a workshop for our grantee partners focused on leading across differences.

What’s Next: Implementing the Foundation’s DEI&B Framework

The Foundation has put together a DEI&B Framework, which includes our Vision Statement, Values, Guiding Principles, and Commitment to Action. This document will be used to lead, guide and hold the Foundation accountable as we begin the process of developing strategy, goals and action steps specifying how we want to move the work of DEI&B forward.

Our Faith Calls Us to This Work

So far, I have focused on the business case for the Foundation’s work in the DEI&B space. Now let’s focus on our faith case for DEI&B.

DEI&B is grounded in Catholic social teaching — which focuses on a concern for human dignity and the inherent worth of the individual.

In 1958, American Catholic Bishops said, “For us, the existence of racial intolerance, discrimination and privilege is not only a social injustice; we believe that racism is absolutely irreconcilable with Christian faith.”

As a faith-based, Catholic organization, we believe in one creator — God and the common origin of humankind. We believe that the diversity of the human family is a divine blessing from God.

I often think that DEI&B is similar to the story of Pentecost and how different people were able to hear God’s word proclaimed in their own language. The Holy Spirit’s descent did not cancel or get rid of differences of race, language or culture. The spirit’s presence caused these differences not to be a barrier to the unity of the human family. That is the work of DEI&B — to remove barriers in all the many forms so that everyone has equal opportunities to live and thrive.

Cardinal James A. Hickey, former archbishop of Washington, was asked once why the church should be concerned with raising funds for healthcare for immigrants. Even though this was important work, some questioned if this was work that the church should be involved with especially since the people being helped were not Catholic. Cardinal Hickey’s response was profound. He said, “We shelter the homeless, educate those hungry for knowledge, and care for the sick, not because they’re Catholic, but because we’re Catholic.”

The Sisters of Charity Foundation is committed to the work of DEI&B for the same reason. We are Catholic. We cannot ignore racism, exclusion and intolerance in any form and claim to serve those experiencing poverty.

How To Get Started: Some Ideas

If this article has inspired you, below are some ideas on how to begin DEI&B work in your organization:

  • Get started with leadership support. The first step in any DEI&B program is to gain support from leadership — it is crucial. Statements of support from leadership demonstrate that the work is being taken seriously and the organization is committed to change.
  • Build an environment and culture where it is okay and safe to speak up. It is hard to discuss issues such as systemic racism, unconscious bias, pay gaps, etc., if you feel your words will ultimately cause you harm.
diverse group using technology
  • Understand that this is a journey and that there are no quick fixes.
  • Be open-minded, curious and intentional.
  • Commit to individual and organizational learning. Be informed: learn the history, background and context
  • Remember that DEI&B work is everyone’s job.
Man and woman working together

I hope that something from this article has resonated with you. We are not perfect in this work. But we are trying. We are taking conscious steps to become an organization that seeks to expand diversity, to always be equitable, to embrace inclusion and give everyone a sense of belonging.

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