Last updated on July 6th, 2020 at 08:39 am
BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Maredithe Meyer recently spoke with Shaneé Jenkins, vice president operations – social responsibility for the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, about the organization’s initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion and promote a more inclusive culture.
BizTimes: Why did YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee sign the pledge?
Jenkins: “We got very intentional with our work in advancing inclusion in 2017 when we were commissioned and committed to creating a strategy around equity, inclusion and diversity as a YMCA. We are one of 80 YMCAs across the country that is part of what we call a DIG (Diversity, Inclusion & Global) Innovation Network, in which we receive support from the national office on best practices and on resources. It’s truly a network of committed YMCAs that are just saying, ‘Yes, this is important. Here are some best practices and ideas to advance your strategies locally.’ Once we were identified as one of those YMCAs, the rest was history.
“It’s a great parallel with what we were doing and charged within creating an operational strategic plan for the ways in which our YMCA would govern. So, timing was perfect. In fact, we were able to embed and operationalize all things advancing inclusion in our strategic plan, leading that as a key driver to our association’s success. We knew that in order for us to be effective to our members, in order for us to continue to engage our members in a meaningful way so that all could truly thrive and grow, we knew that this needed to be a commitment that we move forward.
“(Signing the MMAC pledge) has truly helped to reinforce who we are. Oftentimes when people think about the Y they think about us from a gym and swim perspective, but we have been able to truly elevate our commitment to social responsibility. It falls under our social responsibility umbrella, which is truly doing good and giving back and being good to our neighbors.”
What is one specific thing YMCA Metropolitan Milwaukee has done to improve its Diversity & Inclusion practices?
“This year, we launched an employee resource group that is for women or those who identify as women. The larger percentage of our staff are female or identify as female, and so we really wanted to have that thoughtful leadership at the table to help support initiatives when it comes to leadership development, career advancement or volunteer engagement, so this was a way in which we were able to do just that.
“Right before we signed MMAC’s pledge, we were one of 20 YMCAs regionally that hosted an Emerging Multicultural Leadership Experience, where we partnered with a neighboring YMCA in Racine and had some folks from Kenosha and Chicago YMCAs who came and spent a day and a half with us and they were able to learn best practices as it relates to advancing inclusion. They were able to sharpen their own tools in their toolkit to learn more about advancing inclusion and what it takes to be a leader in a diverse community.
“This is an activity that takes place nationally on a biannual basis, and so on the off year we were selected to host one regionally. It was a big deal for us because regardless of what department I’m working in, there’s an opportunity for me to be engaged and be connected in things that will continue to keep diversity as a priority.”
How important is it for businesses to take action around D&I beyond just signing a pledge?
“It is essential for businesses to be successful in making the advancement of inclusion and acknowledging equity as a business imperative. It’s important that staff of all diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive and to be able to demonstrate what that looks like speaks volumes. So to your point, any organization can sign a pledge, but what’s equally important is you make the investment with the staff, you act on what that pledge is going to look like, you educate yourselves and you make sure you have plans in place to sustain it.
“Another critical part of that is to acknowledge to all of the stakeholders that we’re also still trying to figure it out. You don’t have to be the subject matter experts in any of these areas but at least demonstrating a commitment to access resources, to engage folks who are leaders in these spaces to walk alongside us, so we can demonstrate our continued support to those around us.
“Walking and being vulnerable enough to say, ‘We don’t have it all figured out, but we’re inviting you to walk along side of us,’ speaks volumes and that opens up that door for engagement, it leads to increased productivity and over all support, and it’s a true demonstration that everyone’s voice, even those that are most vulnerable, are heard.”
What does D&I look like for the Y internally?
“Structurally, it’s really important that we demonstrate our leadership and commitment from the top down, so getting our board engaged, having the full support of our CEO and the rest of our senior team to truly demonstrate this commitment.
“What’s unique about us is that we have two committees that help to reinforce and drive these strategies. One is a social responsibility committee, which is an extension of our executive board, so it’s part of our committee composition when it comes to the overall operation. We have your traditional executive committee, a finance committee, and an advancement committee, but we also have a social responsibility committee and that is comprised of social responsibility officers at some of the largest companies here in Milwaukee who are doing this work day in and day out. They help to provide guidance, provide best practices and it’s truly a resource-sharing group that helps to influence the plans that YMCA has in place.
“But what’s also need is that we have a social responsibility committee (DIG Committee) that’s comprised of staff. We really wanted to make sure that that committee was diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but also diverse in terms of age and gender and experience. So, we have marketing director on the committee, a representative from our HR team on the committee, we have someone that represents the LGBTQ community, we have a programming partner and membership on our committee because it’s really important that when we talk about the operations of our organization, that we are paying attention to the critical areas that are important: membership, engagement marketing, how we show up and leadership development.
“We all come together at the beginning of the year to plan out activities for the course of the calendar year, and we’re really strategic with what that looks like. We have very specific education leadership development opportunities that are afforded to the staff that we’re able to gain resources from our national office, but then staff are also able to look at opportunities that may be happening in the community for them to remain educated, themselves, and to implement best practices.”