Diversity is Humanity

Posted on: Wed, 03/27/2024 - 14:17
By: Dr. June DePonte Sernak , Statewide Diversity Leadership Officer


Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging as a concept has gained significant attention in recent years as we have faced systemic, economic and political turmoil throughout the world.  Awareness months have been included in many environments to ensure that representation and education are available to employees to gain competencies in traditions and beliefs embracing diversity.  Many organizations have seized the opportunity to create a workplace that is not only productive but equitable both culturally and linguistically.  April is Diversity Awareness Month and no organization has created an inclusive environment of belonging more than Center For Family Services.  With a mission of empowering individuals, families and communities to achieve a better life through vision, hope and strength- this only is achieved with each and every employee being accountable for a transformation of mindset to embrace inclusion. 

I have worked in Corporate America, Higher Education and Non-Profit organizations throughout my career and now work with agencies in New Jersey discussing Cultural Competency education.  Many organizations engage volunteers to form committees or Employee/Business Resource Groups to address diversity, equity, inclusive and belonging initiatives as they navigate the complexities of the intersection of all types of diversity.  For over a decade at the Center for Family Services, they have empowered their leadership and staff to participate in the Intercultural Competency Committee (ICC) to gain insight into the diverse populations throughout the state by using CLAS (Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Service) Standards to ensure equity in all aspects of our program offerings.  The CLAS Standards provide a template for success in building a Cultural Competency Plan that will be integrated into every facet of our organization.

The ICC Committee provides our nearly 1700 employees with resources, awareness and activities that unify our community and impact the service levels we provide.  We host monthly meetings, trainings and webinars that continue to address current issues in a safe and respectful learning environment.  The key to our success is our leadership and their commitment to a collective voice that allows every employee to feel seen and heard.  We discuss difficult topics, current events and historic knowledge as well as celebrating significant dates such as the Kellogg Foundation- National Day of Truth and Racial Healing (1/16/24), a community-based process to bring about transformational and sustainable change. Through TRHT, partners address the historic and contemporary effects of racism in their communities and institutions. They work to replace the deeply held belief system that fuels racism with one that sees the inherent value of all people.  This holistic approach addresses mind and heart, the interpersonal and systemic, and places the power of authentic, trust-based solidarity at the center. (https://healourcommunities.org/)  The ICC Committee encourages managers and supervisors to include their initiatives in team meetings and outings creating strong teams and empathetic leaders that provide services in some of the most challenging circumstances. 

The ICC Committee is instrumental in managerial and supervisor processes like onboarding, new hire training and employee advancement by creating an opportunity to empower our staff to respect each other’s cultures.  We are also encouraged to share our stories and for the past several years, I have enjoyed hosting a lunch and learn during Native American History Month sharing my family history and Indigenous journey. 

Diversity is Humanity.  As we learn about each other, we also learn about ourselves and positive ways to heal.  It is an honor to work in an environment that leads by example.  The ICC Committee dedicated to building our strength is reminiscent of a Native American saying, “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not in the branch but in her own wings”.  Always believe in yourself.