One year ago, URC became an early signatory and proud member of the Coalition for Racial and Ethnic Equity in Development (CREED). This year, URC is a Champion Sponsor of a February 22 event celebrating CREED’s one-year anniversary.
Approaching this anniversary, some of URC’s leaders on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offered their thoughts on how the company has progressed on DEI and racial and ethnic equity.
What has URC been working on over the past year to strengthen racial and ethnic equity (REE) in your organization and beyond? What changes and new initiatives have been put in place?
Maureen Shauket, DEIC Executive Sponsor and Chief Operating & Compliance Officer: This past year, URC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEIC) has taken the lead on putting DEI at the forefront and engaging staff in various DEI topics via staff meeting presentations, special events, and lunch and learns. They’ve reminded us that each of us at URC play a role in celebrating our diversity and embracing our differences to strengthen URC.
Understanding the need for an external perspective, we hired a DEI consultant and intern. They conducted a DEI survey to make an unbiased assessment of URC’s DEI baseline and to inform future strategic planning by identifying our strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.
Robin Goebel, DEIC Human Resources Working Group Lead and Vice President, Human Resources: Regarding our workforce, we increased our recruitment efforts to be more inclusive and recruit more diverse candidates. We eliminated unpaid internships and expanded our outreach to bring more diverse candidates to our internship program. We conducted outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and developed an orientation to introduce international development to students.
Within our existing staff, we increased opportunities for community, engagement, and mentoring for junior professionals. As an example, we partnered with LifeRamps to offer mentoring to our junior staff and have promoted more informal and formal mentoring across all teams.
URC added a Quarterly DEI Award Program and made DEI one of our company’s core values. We are working toward including DEI as a core objective in our performance reviews.
Farah Irani, DEIC Co-Chair and Executive Assistant to the President: With improved employee engagement in DEI and we developed a 2023 DEI Action Plan. This includes expanded work in communications, events, training, human resources, and international programs; all will integrate DEI into our broader company strategic objectives.
We have a clear vision and are confident we will ensure diversity is always welcomed, celebrated, and respected. It is making us stronger as an organization and much better at what we do.
What has worked that URC plans to build on moving forward? What new ideas are you exploring to further URC’s progress in DEI?
Anthony Walker, DEIC Co-Chair and Senior Director of Global Security: We have successfully raised awareness of DEI-related topics among our staff. We are on a path to value and understand the diverse experiences, backgrounds, and challenges – visible and invisible – among people within and outside our organization.
I can see that we are growing more open minded and celebrating our differences. Our staff are sharing vulnerable stories in small and large group settings, and we have successfully engaged staff in safe spaces on topics previously perceived as too difficult to discuss because of existing stereotypes and biases surrounding those topics.
Irani: I greatly respect URC’s leadership for setting the standard by supporting our DEI initiatives and personally engaging in DEI-related events. In a recent staff meeting, our President, Earl Gast, followed one of our intern’s presentations on Black History Month with, “I’ve learned a lot and made a note to follow up on the Greensboro Four.”
This kind of leadership welcomes – and invites – a culture of learning.
Shauket: As a company, I am delighted to see that our DEI work has strengthened our sense of community, where our employees are seen, valued, accepted, and motivated.
With our new 2023 DEI Action Plan, we are integrating learning and growth into our business development efforts and project work. We established a working group to learn best practices of incorporating DEI into our international programs.
Building on our existing foundation, we are expanding our collective and individual learning. We are going to provide training and learning resources for all staff, engage external speakers, and are also planning some “deep dive” lunch and learn events on more complex DEI topics. And we are going to continue to expand our recruitment strategies.
What is the biggest thing you learned about racial and ethnic equity over the past year?
Lani Marquez, DEIC Communications Working Group Lead and Knowledge Management Director: Personally, what I’ve learned is that everyone has a stake in increasing equity – racial and ethnic equity, but also gender identity and age/experience equity. All people deserve respect and fairness, but also it is incumbent on all of us to appreciate identities and differences, which may mean changing how we talk and write and interact to be respectful of those identities and differences.
I feel that URC’s DEI efforts have focused on increasing awareness of different identifies and creating more opportunities for dialogue to enable people to appreciate differences and recognize they make URC a stronger organization in an increasingly diverse yet interconnected world.
Irani: We’ve learned that we need to understand each other, and each other’s backgrounds better to fully come together. We have come to understand that there’s a long way to go, still, on that learning journey. Most of us don’t really understand what’s behind our cultural and ethnic differences. There is a knowledge gap, but as we learn, we grow even more invested in the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I’ve seen us strengthen the diverse representation in all spaces we work – and paying closer attention to unmet, unseen needs of different people – to strengthen our performance. We are looking more closely at skill sets and experience that could add value to a diverse range of discussions and processes.
I can see URC is already stronger thanks to our DEI efforts – collectively, and as individuals. I feel hopeful our future pathway will lead us to greater success – both in terms of employee satisfaction, and in terms of our project performance.
Walker: One cannot frankly speak to DEI without personal reflection on past experiences and how these experiences have contributed to the space and time we occupy. Commitment comes in all forms, and the DEIC at URC gives great latitude to share experiences and submit our distinct differences, free from maligned influences or repercussions.
We cannot speak of equality and not welcome difficult and diverse perspectives; perspectives born out of diverse conversations with diverse people in those spaces. URC has created a platform that has allowed me to share my ancestry and reflections of peril and growth, both personally and professionally.
DEI at URC has a long runway, but I am honored to be a part our commitment to making that runway more accessible and welcoming. Creating a culture of diversity, equality and inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do. It’s great to be working for smart people in a smart organization.