Shoulder to Shoulder: Dedication That’s Virtually Unique…

As a Puerto Rican woman, diversity, equity and inclusion are core beliefs for me. The Foundation’s clear commitment to integrating DEI standards into all of its work is one of the key reasons I came on board as its Director of Philanthropy six months ago.

It has been a crazy couple of months!  During a pandemic, I found myself faced with the challenges of working at a new job from home. For one thing, all of my meetings were held virtually. I admit that there are definite benefits to remote meetings. They tend to be shorter and more efficient, for example (no one wants to stay online longer than they have to). But there also drawbacks: the social interaction, interpersonal dynamics and synergy that naturally develop in face-to-face meetings can easily be lost in a virtual meeting. It’s much more difficult to build trust and team cohesion when people aren’t in the same physical space. 

That’s why I was a little apprehensive when I realized that our DEI process would by necessity be held virtually. How do you navigate a conversation about a sensitive subject when you’re communicating through a computer screen? Even with all of the technological advances in video conferencing, it’s still difficult to create an environment conducive to sharing feelings, or to establish a speaker’s intention through their facial expressions and body language. Sometimes it’s even hard to identify who is speaking at all. DEI work involves making real connections in a safe space. How could we achieve this with a virtual forum?

At the same time, a focus on DEI is long overdue. The pandemic has only highlighted the glaring inequities at play in this country (which our communities of color have always been aware of) and accentuated that they must be acknowledged and addressed. People of color are experiencing higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, and women and people of color are experiencing the greatest proportion of job losses.

With all of the disruption caused by COVID-19, many organizations might have been tempted to reexamine and potentially roll back their commitments to DEI initiatives. As the Community Foundation navigated the pandemic and its devastating effects on our community, DEI remained at the top of our “must-do” list.

As we take on this work virtually, my feelings continue to fluctuate.  Often I think people have more time to reflect on their personal experiences, goals and individual plans. But it might also give people an easy “out” to simply not do the work at all.

A recent staff meeting demonstrated how frustrating – and how rewarding – this process can be. When asked to come up with examples of how minimization shows up in our workspace, my colleagues were mostly quiet. I am not sure if this was due to the difficulty of doing this work remotely or if they were not aware of how minimization shows up in the workplace. 

I am not shy about speaking up, so I shared some things I have experienced throughout my career: white colleagues reaching into my hair to “see what if feels like” or assuming I was hired to fill a diversity quota.  I clearly expressed the frustration and anger that I have to shoulder on an ongoing basis. It was uplifting when some of my coworkers acknowledged the need for white staff to be more educated about minimization and to call it out when it happens. For me, it is important that the burden of this work does not fall on BIPOC staff.

We are at the beginning of a very long journey, but it gives me hope that we will advance the work of DEI as an organization – virtually shoulder to shoulder – and succeed in making a difference.

Daisy Pereira-Tosado
Director of Philanthropy