Shoulder to Shoulder: Different Experiences, Same Page…

In the middle of the night, a flurry of ideas and thoughts often come to mind. In fact, I do some of my best and most random thinking around 2:00 a.m. after a few hours of sleep. This happened a few weeks ago, when a TV commercial popped into my mind. In it, a consumer is talking on the telephone with a credit card company while petting a frog, earnestly asking if the credit card offers “frog protection.” The representative responds that their credit card does, indeed, provide “fraud protection.” They go back and forth again and again, with the consumer repeatedly saying “frog” and the representative repeatedly saying “fraud.” Finally, after a long pause, they agree they’re “totally on the same page.”

This late-night recollection must have been prompted by a conversation I had the day before with CFWM President and CEO Katie Zobel. As Chair of Trustees, I was discussing with Katie an upcoming meeting of the Foundation’s Trustees and members of its Distribution Committee, which is responsible for the distribution of Foundation funds. This joint meeting was another step towards defining the Foundation’s DEI vision. Katie and I talked about how vital it was to get everyone “on the same page.” We discussed the importance of having a common understanding of the words we use when discussing a shared DEI vision. Achieving this is not as easy as it sounds, as every organization that has taken their own DEI journey has discovered.

During my own DEI journey, I have been constantly reminded of the fundamental importance of our lived experiences. We all have experiences that we carry with us. They influence every aspect of our lives, including how we see others, hear their words, and develop opinions of right and wrong. My lived experience of more than sixty-five years as a Black man affects how I view and react to the world around me – as well as my aspirations for the Foundation.

One of the primary benefits of diversity is bringing a variety of lived experiences and opinions to every discussion and decision. But having a diversity of opinions can also create challenges in getting people “on the same page.” While the Foundation’s Trustees and Distribution Committee have been united in making DEI a keystone of our strategic plan, we are continuing to explore exactly what those words mean, what the shape of our DEI vision will be and how we can best achieve that vision. Reaching common ground has to be a milestone of any DEI journey.

In order to develop a shared understanding of DEI-related language and topics, we have held several “optional” Trustee meetings. Although by definition attendance was not required, I am pleased that we had almost 100% participation at each meeting – another positive sign of our commitment to this process. We discussed in small breakout groups such topics as inclusion, unearned privilege, and, most recently, implicit bias and equity. These discussions, which were nurtured by shared readings and videos (a list of which was included in this blog’s last post), have been important steps along the path towards getting us “on the same page.”

I started that meeting of the Trustees and Distribution Committee by sharing that TV commercial and why I felt it was relevant to our process. During the meeting, we “wrote” on a “Jamboard”, a digital interactive whiteboard that gathers thoughts in a collaborative manner. Through that exercise, we discovered that the aspirations of this group were not so dissimilar from those of the Foundation’s staff, which has been on a parallel DEI path.  But it also reminded us what others have found during their own DEI journeys – that there will be difficult conversations and that it is important not only to be an active listener but also to have an open mind while keeping a sharp focus on the common goal.

I left that meeting knowing that there is more work to be done, but still confident that we are on the right track. Within the coming months, we will get everyone in the same room (hopefully, literally!) – Trustees, Distribution Committee members and staff – to hold a discussion that will lead us further towards common ground. I am sure that there will be differences of opinion in the definition of our DEI vision, the actions to be taken to achieve that vision, and the timing for taking these actions. I suspect there will be even more difficult discussions. But this is the messy beauty of diversity, of having committed individuals with different lived experiences driving towards our common goal of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in our organization as well as in our community.

This is a goal that I am sure we will achieve, together.

Paul Murphy