I would like to share an important update regarding SEEA’s work on diversity, inclusion, and integration. For the past two years, Pamela Fann, director of SEEA’s membership program, has been developing a plan to implement our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Pam took on this task based on her assessment of SEEA’s needs and her passion for helping people to learn and realize the benefits of a more equitable work culture.
As the national outcry for racial justice continues, SEEA’s focus on diversity, inclusion, and integration is more important than ever. To ensure our momentum with this work continues, I am pleased to share that Pam’s role is formally changing to director of membership and diversity integration. In this role, she will continue to lead SEEA’s membership program and develop and implement initiatives to further behaviors, attitudes, and policies that support diversity, inclusion, and integration within the organization. We believe that creating an organizational culture where all people feel welcomed and valued will better equip us to realize significant, systemic change in the energy industry.
I am pleased to share a personal message from Pam about her journey and the work ahead at SEEA.
Over the past two years, SEEA has been on a path to honor our commitment to incorporating diversity, inclusion, and integration (DII) in our organization and the energy industry overall. During this time, I obtained my certification as a Cultural Diversity Professional and Trainer (CDP, CDT), developed SEEA’s cultural competency framework, helped craft our diversity and inclusion statement and president’s message, and created tools and training to promote dialogue and advance DII among our board, staff, and stakeholders.
As I reflect on the work we have accomplished, as well as our plans for the future, I want to share my personal story and why I am committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in individuals and institutions.
I grew up in the small midwestern town of Owasso, Oklahoma. My family was the first Black family to integrate the small town. As the only Black person in the classroom and social settings for many years, I experienced direct and frequent racism, but I could not have imagined the abhorrent event that happened next. In 1988, I suffered one of the most painful and definable moments of my life. Members of a white supremacist group burned our home and spray painted the words “N***** Get Out” on the rock wall entryway. While I had experienced the cruelty of disparaging words and racial slurs, I had never encountered the visceral hate that took away our family home, memories, and led to many more obstacles for my family to overcome. That profound awakening began a journey of reckoning with a history of racism and hatred that I had not previously understood.
I gained two gifts from that injustice: the fulfillment of volunteer service, due to the generosity from first responders and The American Red Cross, and my passion for understanding and promoting diversity work. The latter came from the compassion, empathy, and support that we received from many white people in our community and the knowledge that the actions of a certain group of people do not represent the entire race.
I use the insight from this experience daily in both my personal life and career to support diversity initiatives and encourage others on their own journey.
Taking the Next Step
SEEA’s regional focus on energy efficiency topics in the Southeast requires an understanding of the underlying issues and policies that have perpetuated inequities in our communities. While our organization has been tackling the matters of diversity, inclusion, and integration for the last couple of years, the recent racial injustices across the U.S. has amplified the need to address these issues within our organizations, our industry, and the communities we serve.
I am pleased to be leading these efforts for SEEA and look forward to ongoing work within the organization and with our partners and stakeholders to create a more compassionate, knowledgeable, and anti-racist community.
Reach out to me if you have questions or want to talk about how to get started in addressing diversity, inclusion, and integration in your organization.
Learn more about SEEA’s journey to advance diversity, inclusion, and integration.
As a white man who considers himself a Black Lives Matter ally, I find myself confronting hard truths this week. Too often my support has looked like, “But what can I do? What is the right action? What will be most helpful?” I used perfection as a defense against actually stepping forward.
I offer a story of my “whiteness” and privilege, what I learned from SEEA staff and board’s commitment to act, and some steps white men like me can take right now to start to fix the problem.
I currently have the honor of serving as chair of the SEEA Board of Directors. SEEA staff have been holding the space for diversity, inclusion, and integration work for more than four years now. Three years ago, following staff’s lead, the SEEA board took a hard look at our lack of diversity. We took stock of diversity metrics looking primarily at race and gender (geography is also a consideration given the mission of our organization).
We then set targets for improvement. We reported against them at every board meeting. We also established a Diversity, Inclusion, and Integration Plan overseen by a subcommittee of the board. In our most recent strategic plan we included a set of value statements that intentionally address diversity and we have a section in our strategic plan that details this area of our work. In short, we committed to becoming a board more representative of the Southeast.
This past year we had six open board seats and focused our search on female candidates and people of color.
Here’s where my personal story kicks in. I applauded the intention and the goal, but inside I told myself a story, “Our industry is predominantly white and male. We’re not going to find enough candidates that fit our standard qualifications for board membership and who are people of color.”
It was an old story, one I had learned and internalized over my life as a white male living in a power structure that provides a tailwind for people like me; a story that I easily adapted and updated to fit my progressive life.
The board made a list of anyone we knew who we thought would be a good addition to our group. We then looked at that list and noted which potential candidates would add to our board diversity by gender and/or race. We contacted every individual on our list in addition to casting a wide call for applications.
At the end of the application period we were left with ten candidates, only one of whom looked like me.
My story was shattered. I had projected my limited and very white network onto an entire industry. I was unaware how thoroughly my limited worldview had become my story of the world writ large. My work with SEEA helped me to actually see my unconscious prejudice for the first time. Here’s what I learned and what other white men like me can do to move past questions and helplessness and use our privilege within the system to make lasting change:
1. Be willing to question your beliefs. Your story is not the story. Let go of it and invite the discomfort of the unknown. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has released a portal to help people explore issues of race, racism, and racial identity.
2. If you have decision making authority in your organization – measure your company’s or your board’s diversity metrics and update your recruiting and hiring policies. White men with decision making authority love to spout, “what gets measured gets managed.” Put that cliché to good use.
3. Recruit outside of your network. If you rely on your existing network you’ll get more of the same. Overqualified and diverse job candidates are everywhere, and they can use our help finding the opportunities that have always just been there for white men like me. One easy step to find great candidates is to recruit at historically black colleges and universities like Spelman College, Morehouse College, Howard University, and Florida A&M University.
Last Tuesday we took another bold step as a board. We decided to refocus the time we had held for another meeting to have a Caring Conversation to reflect upon and discuss the current state of civil unrest and structural racism. We all found it cathartic, trust building, and supportive. We are providing the template for this conversation if you would like to emulate it in your own organization.
I can, and must, do more. We all must. And I am starting today.
To begin, SEEA has compiled a list of resources to aid in the work of addressing racism.
I am proud to be a member of SEEA, and to have the opportunity to learn from staff, my fellow board members, and members across the Southeast like you. If you find yourself lost or questioning in these times as I did, know that SEEA staff is here to support with experience and guidance in how your organization can make a difference.