‘A Significant Step Forward’
Brianna Wales-Thaxton doesn’t see diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in a vacuum. In fact, she likes to take a long view.
“We’re able to be a part of this work because of centuries of advocacy and justice seeking,” specifically from the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community, she told BusinessWest. “All of us who are trying to work toward racial equity are building off of that work.
“We’re also at different places in that work, every single one of us, and until we’ve dismantled racism, everyone has a need to advance racial equity in their workplaces. It’s not just the right thing to do, but it’s what people are asking for in their workplaces in this generation.”
That’s why Wales-Thaxton, vice president for people and culture at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, is excited about Equity in the 413, an inaugural summit that aims to advance equity in workplaces across Western Mass.
The day-long event, to take place on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at the Sheraton Springfield, is being presented by an impressive alliance of regional organizations. In addition to the Community Foundation, they include Behavioral Health Network, Health New England, Hilltown Community Health Center, the Human Service Forum, the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield DHHS Office of Health and Racial Equity, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, and the Women of Color Health Equity Collective.
“This event marks a significant step forward in the ongoing journey toward an equitable future,” said Megan Burke, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “We are thrilled to be part of this transformative summit. It not only underscores our commitment to fostering actionable change, but also represents a pivotal moment in Western Mass.’s collective journey toward a more equitable region in which we can all thrive.”
Organizers will bring together dozens of industry leaders and hundreds of professionals across multiple sectors. Attendees can expect to gain insight as presenters from an array of businesses and organizations delve into lessons learned from their own implementations of racial-equity policies and practices. Sessions will offer opportunities for dialogue, relationship building, self-care exercises, and providing tools and resources to assist business leaders in implementing racial-equity practices in their workplaces.
Gaining specific tools and strategies is key to “demystifying” equity work, Wales-Thaxton said, adding that, while many argue that there’s a bottom-line benefit for companies that prioritize DEI, that shouldn’t be the main rationale. “There’s also a societal need for every single one of us, as individuals and as part of institutions and organizations, to advance racial equity because there’s a real crisis in our social conscience.”
The event’s organizers agree.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are an integral part of BHN’s mission and philosophy, and we have learned so much in our efforts to operationalize social-justice values in our workplace,” said Steve Winn, president and CEO of Behavioral Health Network. “We look forward to coming together with other organizations to share learnings and take meaningful, collective action advancing racial equity across Western Massachusetts.”
Jessica Collins, executive director of the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts, added that the nonprofit looks forward to the opportunity for mutual learning and is “eager to share insights from our own journey to advance racial equity within our organization and the region, including learnings from our collaboration with the Women of Color Health Equity Collective and other regional organizations to center racial equity to reduce tobacco use.”
An expanding list of session presenters includes Willful Change LLC, the National Conference for Community and Justice, Caring Health Center, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Arise for Social Justice, CORE XP Business Solutions, HUB International, Franklin County Community Development Corp., and Estoy Aqui LLC, to name a few.
Wales-Thaxton told BusinessWest the event connects back to the Community Foundation’s own strategic priorities.
“One is to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at institutions and organizations, starting with our own. We’ve been doing a lot of that work in a really important way internally. This is an opportunity for us to share what we’ve learned with other employees and create a space for employers to begin to explore — or explore further — how to advance equity in their organizations.”
At the same time, “what else can we learn to advance this work internally through grants and making philanthropic efforts?” she added. “It ties up a lot of our strategic priorities and creates a space for us to have an intentional effort around racial equity.”
Tickets to Equity in the 413 — as well as the day’s agenda and a full rundown of presenters — are available at bit.ly/equity413.