Addressing DEI on a National Summit scale

The 2018 Summit Opening Plenary speakers included (left-right) Dr. Mamie Parker, Kimberly Davis Reyher, Meg Caldwell, and Dr. Trina wellman.

During the Opening Plenary of the 2018 National Summit, four women sat on stage – together, combining their wisdom and years working to protect our coasts, as the first ever all-female panel at a RAE conference. Their exchange provided candid insight into their experiences navigating challenging circumstances in their careers.

Afterwards, one attendee noted that to her, the Summit provided an open and safe space in which to have these meaningful – and occasionally difficult – conversations.

A scan through the 2018 program showed session after session on topics that focused on, for example, exploring the intersection of race and access to coastal areas, addressing social in coastal land use planning, engaging diverse constituencies, and including traditional and indigenous knowledge in coastal restoration and management.

A favorite session talk was titled “A Rabbi, a Priest, and an Imam Get on a Boat: Engaging Faith Leaders in Louisiana’s Land Loss Crisis,” presented very insightfully by Helen Rose Patterson of National Wildlife Federation. This session, like many, was standing room only.

The topics chosen and highlighted at the Summit are largely guided by submissions; in other words, by you. We can often tell the rising issues and topics in our field by what is presented at the Summit. And with the US population growing in diversity, it’s no surprise that DEI is a rising topic of interest.

At the same time we are realizing our successes in DEI, like an increasing number of women in the field, we are also realizing where we are still behind. While women now make up 60% of new hires at environmental organizations, only 16% of staff are non-white, and over 70% of President and Board Chair positions remain predominately male.

Clearly, there is more work to be done. As RAE works to develop our strategy for supporting and addressing DEI topics and initiatives, we knew it was critical to hear from our peers. On the final day of the Summit, we organized a “DEI Listening Session,” as an opportunity to talk with our colleagues about what DEI means to them. What are the major barriers and challenges to attracting, hiring, and retaining a diverse work force that is more representative of the communities we serve? And how can we help?

We are excited to work with our members and partners to build an equitable and inclusive work environment for a more diverse coastal work force to the benefit of our coasts and communities.

Stefanie Simpson and Suzanne Simon are staff of Restore America’s Estuaries.

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