Welcome to Part I of exploring the various committees at Elsmere Education! Today’s feature highlights Elsmere’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee: chair John Macikas and member Lauren Schmidt.
For Elsmere (and many other companies), 2020 was a year of reflection, learning, patience, and growth. As an organization, we added “Inclusion” as one of our core values with the tagline foster equity and belonging so everyone can thrive. John and Lauren’s work regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion touch every part of the Elsmere workplace: from hiring to marketing to communication to customer service.
Read on to hear more about their experiences with the DEI Committee, successful initiatives at Elsmere, their personal ties to the subject, and what to expect moving forward.
Give us a little background on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.
John Macikas (JM): I have been involved with the DEI Committee since it started a few months ago. I have been involved in DEI work in former roles, so it seemed like a great fit. We currently meet once a month. As the committee was establishing itself, I volunteered to be co-chair, then chair, and it’s been a great experience so far.
Lauren Schmidt (LS): The DEI Committee recently launched at Elsmere as a way for Elsmerians to share their voices and promote DEI efforts internally. We meet monthly and have about 13 members. We increase awareness on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through anonymous sharing and feedback data, creating goals, and implementing initiatives.
What are a few examples of the DEI Committee’s successful initiatives?
JM: Lauren was actually the leader for our company pronoun policy, one of our most extensive DEI committee policy initiatives to date. The pronoun policy is an optional practice in which anyone wishing to do so may add pronouns to their various Elsmere communication channels. Since Elsmere embraces and encourages differences and strives to create a positive work environment, we believe the pronoun policy fosters inclusion and helps our employees reach their full potential.
LS: In our last meeting, we discussed our holiday policy and how to be more inclusive of those who may observe diverse holidays and religious holidays. We specifically discussed the need to be explicit and clear so that employees are encouraged to utilize PTO for the holidays important to them. We thus added a tagline in our Handbook to encourage this within our Holiday Section.
On a personal level, what impact does the effort behind the committee have on you?
LS: It’s always been important for me to have a community to “hold the space” for DEI efforts. I vividly remember my 5th grade teacher trying to explain DEI in way that a child could understand. She used the analogy of a garden. When first starting out with your garden, you learn about the needs of the garden plants. You set up the soil, general protections and irrigation systems, which represent inclusion. Then, you select a variety of plants that contribute to the entire garden, which represents diversity. Lastly, you place the plants in appropriate locations (based on the amount of sun they need, etc.) so they can bloom, which represents equity. When you bring all of these together, you create a thriving garden. I strive to find a place that values the described garden.
JM: As a biracial person of color, I have always been drawn to engaging across differences and celebrating the diversity of those around me. As a professional who has supported others of diverse identities, I have seen both the joy of inclusion and the heartbreak of marginalization. I know that meaningful efforts – large or small – make people seen, known, and appreciated which plays a huge part in creating an environment of belonging.
In your opinion, what value does diversity – of all types – bring to Elsmere?
LS: Diversity creates a culture of belonging at Elsmere. The feeling of belonging helps us recognize that we don’t have to try to conform. That our identity is valued by the group and we are part of culture that allows us to fulfill our roles/responsibilities but also contribute to our own self-worth. In that space, we feel valued and can share values within the community to further company well-being as a whole.
JM: I believe that a diversity of background, culture, and identity within Elsmere will create a dynamic culture in which teams come up with great ideas, utilize different strengths, and serve their partners, and serve their partners and students better. Diversity creates an opportunity to listen to and learn from one another and create unique bonds. In short, diversity helps Elsmere to be more successful.
What are some future initiatives we can expect from the DEI Committee?
LS: Continued DEI efforts in our hiring process, internal DEI training, and partnering with the Elsmere Volunteer Committee to support diverse initiatives within the Denver community!
JM: We are moving forward on a few initiatives stemming from our company survey on Inclusion. We will be reviewing our mentorship program and conducting a feedback survey to see how the program can be improved for maximum effectiveness. We are also working on increasing the diversity of our applicant and hiring pool. We are looking into gathering benchmark data and best practices to ensure we reflect the diversity of Denver in our company demographics.
What would you say to an Elsmerian who is interested in joining the committee?
LS: In general, DEI conversations can often scare people away for fear of saying the wrong statement or not knowing specific information about a topic and this can impact people’s desire to get involved. However, our committee is about sharing in community, learning from one another, and creating a safe non-judgmental space. If you are interested or just want to learn more about what we do, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our members or come join our next meeting!
JM: Reach out to chat – we would love to have you! With topics like DEI, people are often afraid of saying the wrong thing or they think they need to have “arrived” to have something to contribute. While these are typical and valid feelings, I can say that none of us on the committee have “arrived,” as we regularly ask questions and talk about what we are still learning. If you are committee to the process and journey of growth that comes with the work, then the DEI committee is the right place for you!
A huge thank you to John and Lauren for their interview in this feature! If you are a prospective (or current!) Elsmerian and want to be involved in Elsmere’s DEI efforts, check out John and Lauren’s bios on our Teams page or explore our Careers page for our open positions – we’re hiring!