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Allyship in Action in the Town of Glastonbury, CT

As IBIS clients break new ground in their work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), we do our best to document and share best practices that work for them – and what doesn’t, too. (See Hasbro, SEH, Cambridge Systematics, UNFCU and Gannett/USA Today.)

The Town of Glastonbury, CT recently engaged us to conduct a series of trainings called Allyship in Action. IBIS consultants Karen Young and Suzanne Wilkins worked closely with key leaders in the town to deliver the training.

The Town’s director of Human Resources, Sherri Tanguay, shared some of the town’s experiences, in her own words.

What are some of the biggest challenges your town has faced in terms of DEI?

  1. Physical separation of work groups.  Given our relatively small size of 240 full-time employees and 140 part-time employees, who are spread out among 11 locations,* the work groups tend to be small.  The geographic separation of these small work groups causes staff to feel cut off from fellow Town employees and the functions to be “siloed.” To address this challenge, we historically have provided opportunities for staff from all areas to join together, in person.  Examples include, an annual employee recognition picnic (June), an annual holiday luncheon (December), various classroom-style training sessions, occasional welcome receptions for new staff.  These events are popular, with post-event comments from staff always including how much they enjoyed engaging with their peers from other work areas.
  2. COVID-19 pandemic.  The public health response to the pandemic resulted in our inability to provide the in-person interactions staff had enjoyed for so many years.  To provide social connection otherwise, we hosted our employee recognition event over Zoom and invited a local disc jockey to MC bingo and trivia games, giving staff the opportunity to have fun with each other.  We invited staff to participate virtually in the IBIS-facilitated Allyship-in-Action series.  We also offered a bi-weekly virtual coffee break group, “Cup of Comfort,” lead by members of our therapy staff, to provide coworker support for managing pandemic-related stress.  We have also begun to host small, socially-distanced/masked celebrations on occasion.
  3. Homogeneous work groups.  Work groups tend to be homogeneous from the standpoint of education, experience, certification/licensure, which limits exposure to experiential differences.  For instance, social workers share educational and licensure backgrounds, as do highway maintainers, police officers, etc. Contributing to the experiential challenge of homogeneity of our work groups, is the fact that the organization is mostly white (also descriptive of the demographic make-up of the larger community).

*Locations include: Town Hall, Library, Community Center, Youth and Family Services, Recreation, Parks Garage, Highway Garage, Water Pollution Control Plant, Sanitation, Police Department, Fire Department

What did IBIS do to help you get started on addressing those challenges?

  1. From the macro-perspective.  Through the three-part Allyship-in-Action series, which included 18 staff participants, IBIS helped us begin our organization’s conversation about the role we – individually, and organizationally- can take to foster the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion in our organization through effective allyship.  The conversation series was predicated on interviews of a cross section of staff to understand their experiences of the organization, and their attitudes toward race equity as an organizational training priority.
  2. From the micro-perspective. Participants in the series were motivated to engage as participation was voluntary.  The 18-member group represented various areas and levels of our operation, represented a range of education levels, racial make-up and was balanced in terms of gender.  IBIS facilitators created emotional safety by conveying authenticity and appreciation for the participants.  They reflected and normalized feelings, helping participants to gain a deeper understanding of their own experiences and attitudes about race.  The facilitators’ openness to and acceptance of participants modeled for the group, how to hear, support and encourage each other as thoughts and feelings about race, racial identity and subjective reactions to national current events were explored.  IBIS facilitators skillfully listened to participants and used Socratic questions to promote just-in-time learning.   Generally speaking, the series helped members understand their challenges for and opportunities to develop their individual allyship acumen.

What changes do you see or anticipate today?

  1. Growing the conversation.  The commitment to racial equity shared by the Allyship-in-Action participants provides our organization with the opportunity to continue the conversation and to bring other staff members into it, widening its reach.
  2. Training.  We are committed to providing training, through a number of delivery systems about DEI, including the value of diversity in an organization, and overcoming unconscious bias.  In addition to online and classroom training, small discussion groups lead by members of the Allyship-in-Action group, might meet to discuss books, Ted Talks and movies on race.
  3. Leveraging resources.  The Town operation is fortunate to be staffed by members with diverse skills and talents who enjoy engaging with each other.  This creates an opportunity for staff to learn from each other and continue “growing the conversation.”  For example, we might invite a cross-functional team to use our library resources to research the Town’s rich history of social activism, which includes abolition and women’s suffrage (See A History of Glastonbury), share their research with the entire organization, and use it as a topic of small discussion groups.
  4. Affirmative Action. This year, we will begin working with a consultant to improve our affirmative action outreach to diverse communities.

The privilege of working with clients such as Sherri and the Town of Glastonbury is part of the rich experience of helping create more space for progress on DEI. Please reach out with any interest in crafting your own training series on Allyship and generating transformative change.