IOA DEIB: Creating an Inclusive Environment

For the last several years, IOA has intentionally worked to address Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) issues in our association, not only in terms of race, ethnicity, gender identity or sexual orientation, but also accessibility, inclusion of our international colleagues, and creating space for those new to the field. We are far from finished, and certainly have work to do, but we also know that meaningful change takes time and we are committed to making change.  

The need to redirect our attention was heightened after the 2019 Annual Conference in New Orleans. Some of you may have participated in the discussion following Robin DiAngleo’s keynote on White Fragility or attended the “UnDebate” plenary about civility within the ombuds community, and if so, you may have seen our IOA community struggling. While the goal was to host a provocative speaker that we knew would be challenging, the discussion felt unsafe for many. Others felt that it shed important light on some of the DEIB challenges at IOA for BIPOC, individuals who identify other than male, and younger professionals.

We wanted to reflect on this journey, and share with our members our efforts to date: 

  • In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and resulting protests against police brutality and racism in 2020, IOA was prompted to explore how to implement strategic, intentional, and anti-racist actions within the ombuds community and support more DEIB education for our members. We convened a special DEIB Task Force to help IOA internally evaluate itself on anti-racism practices and racial justice—and with defining parameters for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment at supports membership belonging and connection within the organization. This attracted more than 70 members who worked diligently to identify initial priorities. 

  • In response to a request from the DEIB Task Force, the Board of Directors hired outside consultants to review our nominations and elections procedures and governance documents for areas that create barriers to inclusion and make recommendations for governance changes. Read their report. 

  • In 2021, IOA’s Bylaws and nominations processes were revised to address those recommendations along with other updates. This included better defining the scope of the Nominating Committee and making nomination and election processes more transparent, and expanding eligibility criteria to serve on the Board of Directors creating pathways to leadership for emerging ombuds and others who are not currently practicing as full-time ombuds.

  • In 2022, the DEIB Committee developed a DEIB Framework to guide the organization’s DEIB efforts and output. A member of the DEIB Committee was assigned to each entity to be an advisor as the committee drafted DEIB goals for their work and to provide perspectives. This framework is designed to help IOA consider DEIB issues at all levels and measure our progress. Most of our committees have drafted their DEIB goals and measurable action plans for the year ahead and we plan to issue a report to summarize those efforts and track our evolution.

  • When we modified the strategic reporting structure of our committees last year, we also reviewed the support for the DEIB Committee, which now falls under the President and President-Elect’s strategic purview. In addition, a liaison from the Board also regularly attends monthly DEIB meetings, as does our Executive Director and Managing Director.

  • The 2021-2024 Strategic Direction also addresses DEIB. Goal 4 specifically states IOA has a culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and engagement. The Board also identified specific strategies to move towards this goal, including 1) engaging the Board and membership in DEIB training, 2) supporting and engaging in the development of IOA member capacity to integrate DEIB into their practice and organizations, 3) developing recruitment strategies that focus on increasing diversity on the Board of Directors and IOA committees, and 4) identifying ways to increase members’ sense of belonging and meaningful connection with the organization, including those who are not practicing ombuds. 

  • Since 2020, our Conference and Professional Development Committees have prioritized DEIB topics for keynotes, educational sessions, and webinars and made intentional efforts to recruit diverse instructors and presenters. We devoted additional resources to pay speaker fees to Foundations and Core Courses as well as conference keynotes. In 2023, our keynote speakers brought both neurodiversity and perspective working with indigenous communities to our conference. Our webinars focused on DEIB topics have been among our most-attended webinars, demonstrating the desire for this content. In 2022, the Professional Development Committee streamlined the way it solicits and reviews potential speakers and trainers throughout the year in hopes of expanding access and interest in becoming an instructor. We also expanded, and continue to expand, the instructor pool for Foundations to be more inclusive.

  • IOA increased its budget to underwrite the expenses for closed captioning and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to ensure access to all IOA courses, webinars, and volunteer opportunities for members who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

  • In 2020, we launched a pilot ombuds program for IOA, and in 2021, made that a permanent part of the association. In addition to creating a safe space to raise issues about inclusion and belonging or other concerns, the IOA Ombuds is also able to help members walk through issues they are experiencing at their home organizations. The Ombuds has also helped illuminate issues and provide valuable upward feedback to IOA in its annual reports

  • In 2022, we hired a full-time Executive Director, Ellen Miller, who oversaw DEIB initiatives at her last two associations. She brings an institutional commitment to the work, both personally, and at the Board’s request.

  • In 2022, we launched Community Connections to bring together members for informal dialogue, and connection and to informally discuss topics in a safe space. We have included Gender Identity and DEIB in your organization as topics and plan to do more.  

  • In March, we launched IOA Values and Community Norms in advance of the IOA Conference. This was an important step in creating an inclusive environment. For the first time, IOA defined the culture we want to create and nurture, and called on all members and participants to respect and tend to our culture.

  • Earlier this year, we launched a new Online CommUnity to provide members the opportunity to form connections and hold ongoing discussions virtually based on shared interests, location, career stage, and affinity as well as a document library for sharing ombuds resources with one another. And just last month, we launched a new conference app to make connections and follow-up easier for those who attended the IOA Conference. 

  • The JIOA instituted new journal reviewer expectations, asking reviewers to check for bias-free language in the manuscripts they review and to use bias-free language in writing reviews.

We also have a great deal planned for this year: 

  • In June, we will issue a member survey that will also address DEIB issues. This will provide important baseline data on how members feel, and if they have experienced any of these changes or used any of our DEIB interventions so we can see what additional support we need to provide. We will also seek to find out what member training needs are in the DEIB space going forward, to help inform our work.

  • Save the dates! September 20-21, IOA will host a new virtual educational program with a focus on DEIB and trauma. Stay tuned for more announcements about specific dates and registration!

  • Committees will continue to progress on goals identified in their DEIB Framework. 

  • In 2023, a special DEIB-focused edition of JIOA will be published. 

  • Staff is working with the National Deaf Accessibility Center so we can do an accessibility and inclusion assessment of IOA’s website and programming to ensure adequate accessibility.

There is much more to do and we are committed to doing the work. While we have addressed many structural issues, we still need to create both processes and spaces where we can have difficult conversations in a respectful way and have greater empathy for our colleagues. We also need to raise awareness and sensitivity about different experiences and perspectives, especially around microaggressions, and larger racial injustices. Creating an inclusive environment where people feel they belong and feel safe is critical to IOA and to our members, and we will continue to make DEIB work a priority.  

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