Create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work culture

Create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work culture

How to succeed at DEI: Ronald McDonald House Houston's special sauce (#113)

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Jean Latting
May 23, 2023
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After George Floyd's murder, Ronald McDonald House-Houston wanted to make a difference for their staff and also their families across the world.

Highlights of today's interview

In 2020, Ronald McDonald House Houston embarked on a journey to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive work culture. In this podcast they describe the evolution of the journey:

  • post-George Floyd awareness
  • forming a DEI committee
  • staff survey
  • board involvement and commitment
  • pilot training of the DEI committee
  • selecting an anchoring goal
  • developing a scorecard of progress
  • conducting one-year follow-up focus groups and
  • anticipated next steps

Presenters include RMH’s CEO Cristina Vetrano, DEI board volunteer Philip Tenenbaum, Chair of the DEI Staff Committee Cheronda Rutherford, and consultant Jean Latting.

The presentation was audio-recorded on November 26, 2022, at the 29th annual Power Tools for Nonprofits Conference, sponsored by CenterPoint Energy, United Way, and University of Houston Downtown.

Download Transcript

Cristina Vetrano (CEO) 0:05

Addressing DEI issues after George Floyd had been murdered. There was turmoil in the organization that had to be addressed, so we requested volunteers for a DEI committee. We decided to do an anonymous survey for a baseline, promising staff that there would be follow-up and transparency.

Our whole motto has been through this whole process is when we know better, we do better.

Cheronda Rutherford (Chair, DEI Committee) 6:47

We knew we needed external help and went to look for a consultant.

We chose Jean Latting with Leading Consciously; the suggestion was let's create a DEI survey to help us with forming that baseline that Cristina talked about.

Some of us on the DEI committee didn't realize the temperature of the organization, the level of upset. Next task: restoring trust within the organization, being transparent with the staff.

Philip Tenenbaum (Board) 14:12

First we [the Board] put out a public statement about DEI commitment. The we put together a board Task Force with SMART goals (specific, measurable, aligned to the mission of the Ronald McDonald House, Houston, realistic, and time based). Then we had to decide if you're going to try to conquer the world here and go very broad with a definition of what you mean by improving diversity, equity, inclusion? or are you going to go narrow? We decided to start narrow.

Number one goal for the board is to continue to diversify the board itself.

The second goal: diversifying our donor base.

Jean Latting (Consultant) 22:32

Cristina had everything I as a consultant was looking for in a CEO: This was going to be a journey; she realized there were going to be mistakes, and that people would have to be willing to learn.

She wanted to begin with a survey to collect some baseline data.

Three survey items:

  1. First, general attitudes (for example): are you afraid to disagree with other groups?
  2. Second, what is DEI like at Ronald McDonald House? Can you even talk about diversity?
  3. Third, do you have a personal experience of feeling treated unfairly? What are your recommendations? And would you welcome classes and workshops?

The recommendations were as follows:

  • More diversity in higher ups and on the board.
  • People were committed to this process.
  • People do want more training.

In my consultant role, we offer a program called Pathfinders, which provides an opportunity for people to talk about topical areas, and then apply it to themselves and to their organization. The program was piloted by the DEI committee.

Fast forward a year to a follow up. Cristina wanted focus groups and not a survey because she wanted to hear the voices. There were two sets of positive comments:

  • an overwhelming endorsement of leadership for embarking on this journey, just sheer gratitude.
  • people strongly endorsed the effort, saying, I am ready, I am willing to step up, I raise my hand, we are willing to do this work. DEI is important to us.

Four recommendations came from the survey:

  • People wanted tools and resources.
  • People asked to give each other grace. This is a hard journey, not everybody can do it. And some of us will make mistakes. So, people who are not comfortable yet, let's give them grace.
  • They wanted to see more culturally inclusive spaces.
  • People wanted to have pulse checks, so they check and see how things are going.

Cheronda (DEI Chair) 31:42

What are the cultures that we have within Ronald McDonald House--the families that we serve, as well as the staff? And how can we incorporate those cultures in the recommendations that we plan to make, or that we plan to give to the board?

Pathfinders was a great opportunity for us as a DEI committee to sit down and have some conversations around race, around gender, around diversity, equity and inclusion.

The next thing is the DEI committee started taking ownership. We have started doing different things. We brought in a speaker for our second-year anniversary event; we started a DEI corner, which is just a monthly communication that brings education to staff around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

And then we also have a DEI email, where if you have experienced, or if you would like to share a suggestion or recommendation to the DEI committee, you can do that as well.

Successful organizations understand that the spirit of DEI doesn't live with the DEI committee, the committee ultimately serves to help all staff and stakeholders become true DEI champions.

Cristina (CEO) 41:49

We saw the need to have an HR person on staff and hired one.

When we know better, we do better. Sometimes when we know better, it's hard to hear it.

I want everyone in our organization to feel safe.

Cristina Vetrano, MBA, joined RMHH as CEO in August 2020. Cristina has been a leader in the Houston nonprofit community for more than 30 years, leading two other local organizations, CanCare and Kids’ Meals, before her arrival. Prior to serving at the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C for 13 years, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. She is currently a Senior Fellow in the American Leadership Forum program. Cristina earned her MBA from the University of Iowa and her Bachelor of Science in Finance from San Diego State University.

Philip Tenenbaum, MBA, retired as a Senior Partner of Mercer at the end of 2020. Over his 40-year career he helped clients globally determine and implement human resource attraction and retention strategies. In addition to managing Mercer’s Houston office for over 20 years, he started the company’s global energy business in 2013. Philip has been on the board of the Ronald McDonald House Houston for close to 25 years and currently also sits on three other nonprofit boards. He earned his Master of Actuarial Science degree from Georgia State University and Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics for Actuarial Science from the University of Florida.

Cheronda Rutherford, MSW, joined RMHH as a specialist for the Volunteer Services Department in February 2019. In addition to her role at RMHH, she served on the RMHH Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee for one year prior to being elected as the 2022 DEI Chair. Before RMHH, Cheronda dedicated six years to Houston Methodist Hospital, ending as a trainer for the Leadership and Learning Department. Cheronda has been a contributor in the Houston nonprofit community for more than 10 years. As the co-founder of the 501c3 GoLarger Initiative, she volunteers to help feed and clothe the less fortunate of Houston. Cheronda earned her master's degree from the Graduate College of Social Work, University of Houston, and her Bachelor of Social Work degree from Jackson State University.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What does diversity look like in your organization? Is everyone okay with the current situation?
  2. What suggestions would you make for your organization to truly embrace DEI?

Conscious Change skills
covered in this blog:

  • Test negative assumptions
    • Move from the answer into the question
    • Look for multiple points of view
    • Check to see if you are making cultural assumptions
  • Clear emotions
    • Identify with your values, not your emotions
    • Avoid emotional suppression
    • Clear your negative emotions
  • Build effective relationships
    • Engage in powerful listening
    • Develop skills in inquiry and openness
    • Learn how to give, receive, and seek feedback

#DEI #Transparency #PowerfulListening

Leading Consciously

We are a leadership development firm that helps people and organizations create resilient, sustainable, multicultural, and inclusive settings. The ability to lead consciously can help you gain true awareness and earn the respect and trust of others.    

It’s the assumptions we have about people’s lives that are the biggest obstacles to growth, awareness, and success. We help you understand how those assumptions are preventing you from becoming the best you can be as an organization, an inclusive leader, and a person.

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