We all have scars. If we embrace them and choose to learn from them, they will make our lives more interesting, and they will gift us with deeper perception.                                                 Diamante Lavendar

We all carry emotional wounds from past experiences.  We can’t change our past, but we can change our conclusions.  We can ignore and deny our scars, or we can shine a bright light over them to heal and to deepen our understanding, appreciation, empathy, and compassion for ourselves and for others.

During the worst year of my life, I went through a painful divorce and my oldest son was hurt terribly in an accident.  How could I make sense of any of this?  It was a difficult time, and now, over 20 years later, I see that I have used these scars to support others through their difficult times.  I see how my experience provided me with wisdom, born from experience and adversity, that allowed me to support others in their life journey.

The Sonoma County Alliance June 2020 President’s letter illuminated the complex issues and divisions along racial, economic, and political lines within Sonoma County and our nation.  Alliance Leadership responded to this adversity with critical self-awareness examinations and governance changes to support a more inclusive business model for ourselves, our members and for our broader community.  Leadership decided to lean into DEI to deepen our understanding of changing demographics and the social environment.  Our goal was to bring awareness to leadership and business to make a difference and create opportunities for inclusion.

This month’s General Membership Meeting brought together 4 member businesses that are working to shape the future of their organizations.  Presenters were asked 3 sets of questions:  1) When and why did you start your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion journey?  Where are you with it today?  2)  What do you expect to get from your program? What are the benefits (ROI) for your Business? Have you noticed any changes in employee engagement within your organization? 3) What suggestion would you give to business leaders that want to begin their own DEI program?  Panelists shared wisdom, perspectives, experience and their best business practices with honest and open vulnerability.  Here are their key messages:

Lisa Carreno, President & CEO of United Way of the Wine Country, grounded us in facts.  She noted the disparities in critical markers of income, education, health, and homeownership from two neighborhoods in different parts of the City of Santa Rosa.  She said ‘We all need to care about building equity, financial stability, and relationships in our community.  Otherwise, we’ll be deprived of the entrepreneurs, innovators, civic leadership, employees, customers, and homebuyers that will contribute to a healthy economy, environment and community.  There is no exact path forward.  Be compassionate with yourself as you engage with others to explore.  Be curious and courageous.’

Greg Hurd, President/CEO of BKF Engineers, noted that in his 115-year-old company, leadership was committed to promoting diversity and creating a culture of inclusion that valued equity for its 500 employees.  They developed a strategy to achieve workforce diversity at all levels of the firm through creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council consisting of 4 employee resource groups (The Multi-Cultural, LGBTQ, Women of BKF, and Millennials).  These groups are open to all employees.  Leadership now looks to these resource groups for input as they consider programs and policies.  Greg said, “One of the first questions applicants ask is ‘What are you doing about DEI?’  With this program, employee members of the resource groups support one another in planning and coordinating events that support our core business objectives including fostering an Inclusive Workplace Culture, a commitment to Community Engagement, and Business Innovation.  We felt we needed to get onboard with this or be left behind.  Employees want to be engaged and want a place to voice their opinion.  Start and ask difficult questions.”

Kevin Zucco, Executive Principal of ZFA Structural Engineers, said they started a process almost 10 years ago to change company culture, provide work-life balance, and now to focus on diversity.  They use internships, mentoring, support of educational programs for STEM, donations and partnership with a variety of groups to provide opportunities to diversify voices in their company.  Kevin said ‘We are an engineering company and finding the right solution is very relevant to us.  If we can hire people with different backgrounds and different educations, we can get different perspectives about how to solve a given challenge.  An inclusive environment in meetings allows open discussion, and the right solution will boil itself to the top.  Having a culture within your organization that allows everyone to speak in a safe environment is necessary.  Don’t wait for an exact path to move forward.  Do your best and allow yourself to pivot, change, and improve along with the process.’

Brian Ling, Executive Director of Sonoma County Alliance, noted that work in SCA began over a year ago because Leadership was ready to embrace DEI and remain relevant as the leading business organization in Sonoma County.  Brian said ‘Doing nothing is not the answer for business.  Have patience because change takes time, yet be impatient and work on it every day.  Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversation.  If you haven’t had one in the last 48 hours, you are overdue.’

Thank you again to our panelist for their authenticity and for modeling a way for leadership to grow our businesses and make institutional change in our organizations.  This benefits employees, customers and the community.  Please use their advice and wisdom.  Take the first step to start these difficult conversations.

Have a great month as you share your wisdom and gifts with the world.

Whatever happens to you belongs to you.  Make it yours.  Feed it to yourself, even if it feels impossible to swallow.  Let it nurture you, because it will.                                                                       Cheryl Strayed


What are you grateful for today?

Marlene Soiland, 2021 President

Sonoma County Alliance