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State leads local town hall on diversity, equity and inclusivity

A packed town hall Monday evening at Charlottesville High School focused on how Virginia can become more inclusive as state leaders unveiled a draft strategic plan about diversity, equity and inclusivity.

Janice Underwood, the state’s chief diversity officer, heard feedback on the plan during the town hall — one of six planned throughout the state.

“Virginia needs a strategic plan to advance visible diversity, equity and inclusion. Because if not, we’re hoping, wishing and praying, and just hoping and wishing and praying hasn’t worked for the last 400 years,” Underwood said. “We’re trying to make visible, measureable and actionable results happen.”

The diversity strategic plan, One Virginia, will provide a blueprint for state departments, local governments, businesses and other entities to change their culture and to set metrics to evaluate their progress. Underwood said her office would provide the support for these efforts.

“We want the plan to be broad enough to fit across any organization and nimble enough so it can be individualized right in your organization,” Underwood said. “If you represent a business, K-12 sector, nonprofit organization or a local municipality, there’s something here for you.”

After a presentation from Underwood and members of an executive steering committee, attendees discussed what they thought about diversity, equity and inclusion, what’s important to them and who should be included in the effort. The steering committee is helping to create the strategic plan.

“I’m here to get your perspective, your input and your guidance, because I don’t have all the answers,” she said.

At the center of the strategic plan is the goal of Inclusive Excellence.

Within the framework of Inclusive Excellence, improving diversity, equity and inclusivity becomes everyone’s job, said Kevin McDonald, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Virginia.

“The question is, are our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts meaningfully connected to our organization?” he said.

A toolkit about creating an Inclusive Excellence plan will be part of the strategic plan and made available in May.

That toolkit will give organizations guidance on how to evaluate policies and practices, set metrics and develop a path forward. Metrics are a key aspect of Inclusive Excellence and the subsequent strategic plan.

“We want to remove institutional barriers so that anybody and everybody can be in the game,” Underwood said. “Those institutional barriers were put in place 400 years ago and we have to deal with it. These are tough conversations … It’s time to have the conversation.”

Near the end of the town hall, an attendee took issue with Dominion Energy’s involvement in the steering committee.

Underwood said she didn’t support everything Dominion does and that there are bad and good actors in every sector. However, the state can’t make progress on the issue unless everyone is at the table.

“We need to have the conversation and not shut it down,” Underwood said.

The next town hall will be March 18 in Harrisonburg.


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