How one primarily white EE organization is rethinking diversity | eePRO @ NAAEE

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How one primarily white EE organization is rethinking diversity

Have you heard about the stellar inclusion efforts happening in the state of Washington? Not only is IslandWood inspiring lifelong environmental and community stewardship through their exceptional EE programs, but as a primarily white organization serving diverse communities, they are committed to inclusion as demonstrated by their efforts to be a more culturally responsive EE organization. Read their April blog below, “Rethinking our Path to Diversity and Inclusion,” to learn about their organizational diversity vision and strategy.

We’re also soooo fortunate to have IslandWood’s Director of Program Impact, Corll Morrissey (and author of the below blog post), as our eePro discussion host this week (from April 25-May 2) to answer questions you might have about IslandWood’s inclusion efforts.

Hi Corll! Thanks a million for sharing your time and expertise with us this week! Your organization’s transition to be a more inclusive organization has been very intentional and is taking a very long time. How long has this effort taken and are there some significant achieved benchmarks that demonstrate your progress forward?

Hello, tenacious colleagues! I welcome you to the conversation and look forward to learning the insights of organizations that also struggle with "let's get it right --- now!" and the difficulty of dynamics that seem insurmountable at times. While it may feel slow if we focus on the number of non-white staff working on Bainbridge Island, its important to note the strides forward in the organization. Extending the IslandWood experience beyond the island has resulted in providing an additional ~6500 children annually in the Seattle area with environmental education in their schoolyard, neighborhood natural spaces, and at King County's Brightwater Treatment Plant. The addition of the Urban Environmental Education graduate program partnered with Antioch University Seattle attracts grads from diverse backgrounds committed to leadership in the urban setting. When we shift focus then to organizational change, how we're learning to be more culturally responsive, and what our grads and partnerships teach us about environmental justice it feels like change is fast with an imperative to "drink from the fire hose." In order for the efforts to be manageable, all IslandWood teams used the attached self-assessment instrument to set focused and personalized goals toward becoming more inclusive. The buy-in across the organization, including a "business rationale" and professional growth plan for each team, are our milestones. I would love to know the milestones others are setting.

File IslandWood Self-assessment of Cultural Capacity 31.34 KB

I am a board member with the Texas Informal Science Educators and we are approaching this area of equity and diversity in our representation as an organization and as providers to the communities we serve. It is a great undertaking. We are considering how we set up scholarship applications for our conferences, how we approach recruitment of the board, how we serve our wonderful diverse membership and their communities with more informed strategies. I appreciate the evaluation tool provided by Corll. I hope it is okay to share it with our own group here in Texas.

I love that you use a self-assessment instrument with your staff! I have found one of the most important steps of beginning organizational work in cultural competency is having staff do self evaluations. I think that the first step forward is understanding how our own culture has shaped our personal development and beliefs. I think understanding our own personal biases and how they might affect our actions is important. It’s important to raise personal awareness of the impact of privilege and oppression in our own lives and the lives of others.

Hi Corll- Can you take some time to answer my original question regarding the length of time IslandWood has dedicated to this process? In your blog, you state that the effort began in 2002, but it sounds like a more intentional, systemic approach really took root in 2014. I know you don't want to focus on how long the process took, but it may be educational for us to hear about how Islandwood's diversity effort began, examples of some challenges that were experienced, and what capacity building had to take place internally/externally in order for your organization's to move forward in such a thoughtful, proactive manner.

Sure, Darryl -- The IslandWood community has done a great deal of work over the years to increase our cultural awareness and to recruit a more diverse staff and cohort of graduate students. While we continue these efforts, the examination of our capacity to be inclusive came from feedback from our community, inviting us to examine "the water the fish are swimming in." This requires us to look at the policies, communications, and how we conduct our daily work. Will new recruits stay? Are our practices and daily behaviors consistent with our intent? From my perspective, the most difficult aspect is to carve out the time to attend our own or another's dissonance that may require us to change. There are always competing priorities. But this is the capacity perspective -- when a system gets busy and stressed, those on the margins can be excluded.

I have a question. But it may be answered by just reviewing your current comments and the evaluation tool you have provided. However, I want to get your feelings on the following concern. My organization represents the informal science educators in Texas. We provide networking opportunities, professional development, and act as a clearinghouse for state and national informal education information for our members. Our members tend to be educators working at museums, zoos, outdoor schools, etc. We want to approach our scholarship for conference and how we service our members and their communities with a a clear attempt to meet our diverse populations. In other words, what do you and your organization consider is essential to ensuring you are getting to your diverse groups and providing them with access to your resources. We are not sure we are doing what we can to reach effectively our Texans who are African American, Hispanic, Asian...etc who may be just entering the field of informal. We want to make sure we are nurturing all of our members, however, how do we approach our populations that may not always be effectively reached out to? This is a bit awkward, but I hope you will have some feedback?

What a wonderful albeit long-term effort you're engaged in! Effective sharing of resources is difficult till we know how people get their information and understand their perceptions of our organization or the field. The efforts I've been most taken by are those that invite the communities to speak for themselves, identify their preferred practices, be the ambassadors, and to host the meetings in their community whenever possible. One approach is providing stakeholders with "look fors" as they visit our facilities or attend program, identifying what works and what doesn't for their families. Another strategy is training educators and docents in how to access learners' and visitors' "funds of knowledge" and incorporate it into our instruction. The latter helps build connection to content and instruction as well as to build relationships that convey "we care what you bring to the table." I'd love to hear more of what has worked so far and what others in our community may have to offer from their work.

Thank you Corll, that was valuable. It leaves open the opportunity to reflect on current practices. I will use this reply to guide me when I share with the board during our meeting in May. This was very helpful for helping us continuing the conversation and leading us to some goal setting. I will keep you posted how we do this year!

Do you know what impact Island wood has had on diversity in the green field? Where do you students go, what organizations do you work with?


Here is an interactive map to show the reach of IslandWood: It includes all of our programs. To see graduate alumni you may want to turn off all other layers. Click on the orange buttons to see what each of them is doing. Our new Urban Environmental Education grad program cohort was 2/3 people of color in the first year. We have high hopes that this effort and our organizational diversity and inclusion capacity effort will positively affect both recruitment and retention.

Thanks for your response, Corll. Your organization's foresight to move the commitment to diversity and inclusion beyond the task of a diversity committee instead to the center of everyone's work is impressive! Did IslandWood develop a diversity and inclusion initiative statement/description to help inspire this effort? If so, could you share that? well as examples of the "business rationale" by departments and professional growth plans, if possible. It would be interesting to see if such tools could be adapted by other organizations to help them with their inclusion efforts.

We chose to work with each team to create a "business rationale" for increasing cultural capacity in order to shift perception away from the assumption that it is the responsibility of a few Diversity Team members. Here are business rationales the teams developed. You'll note similarities and differences:

External Communications
Cultural capacity is defining of the mission of stewardship. This purpose-filled work requires us to reach beyond ourselves, the island, and the Northwest and to be cognizant of talking about how the work extends to effectiveness with a range of communities as partners. The more aware, skilled, and authentic we are the more believable our message will be.

Education Programs:
In order to accomplish the mission of stewardship IslandWood Education Programs commit to enhancing culturally responsive learning experiences through an authentic and thoughtful process of self-exploration, skill development, and purposeful program design that includes the diverse perspectives of colleagues, those from the communities we currently serve, and those with whom we seek collaboration.

In order to work with maximum effectiveness, to build community as a diverse team, to better collaborate across departments, and to best serve the range of cultures of our guests we need the skills to communicate, understand, and problem-solve with one another.

Philanthropy Team
Our work requires us to continually deepen our relationships with communities and to be relevant and responsive in our geographically expanding initiatives. Our team needs to be both aware of the factors that affect our work and skilled in communicating across cultures in order for these relationships to be authentic, inviting, and sustainable. It is important that we see cultural capital as valuable as monetary assets if we are to accomplish our mission.

The best way to promote stewardship is to authentically extend the relationship and to model culturally responsive service with customers and across the organization. In order to support access to our campus and programs and effectively share in our mission we need the skills to hear others' requirements, problem-solve, and authentically communicate boundaries with customers and across departments.

In hospitality effective communication and cultural competence are tied to our purpose. We are continually challenged to anticipate requirements and respond appropriately as issues arise. In order to work effectively with colleagues as well as with clients we need to continually increase our cultural knowledge, enhance our problem-solving skills, and ensure policies and procedures support our work.

We recognize good relationships are key to our success. While the majority of Facilities/maintenance work is completed behind the scenes, we often and unexpectedly interact with clients, contractors and colleagues who communicate and/or work from a different perspective. In order to understand one another's perspective we need to assure a safe environment to be ourselves and have the skills to solve communication problems as they arise. We embrace personal and organizational responsibility to assume good intentions and to be respectful of different perspectives in fulfilling our mission to inspire lifelong environmental and community stewardship.

Attached is a Professional Growth Plan from our Administrative Team (Accounts, HR, Payroll)
I'd love to know what is working with other organizations? What questions do you have?

Microsoft Office document icon professional_growth_plan_admin_2015.09.23.doc75 KB

Corll- Thanks so much for taking the time to be our discussion host this week and sharing your resources and your experience with IslandWood's inclusion initiative. It is a very thoughtful, intentional and systematic approach that I hope other organizations may be inspired to adapt with their own organizations. I hope it's okay if individuals may contact you in the future with follow up questions or comments? Thanks once again in making this week's discussion thread possible!

I've enjoyed the conversation and am honored to be invited. I do hope colleagues will contact us with questions or offer their insights. I don't want to suggest that we have it all figured out. We're deep in the challenges and messiness and we value knowing there are critical friends on the same path. You're welcome to use the instruments, though we encourage contacting us first for a few implementation suggestions. 206-855-7071 or Cheers!