April 05, 2022

Dorcas Patterson

by Dorcas Patterson, Director of Human Relations/Operations & Executive Assistant to CEO

I remember the countless times my mother would say to me and my siblings as we ate around the dining room table, “what you practice inside, you will practice outside!” While it may not have been my mother’s original intent — since she was mainly seeking better manners at the dining table — my mother recognized the importance of aligning your practices inside the home with whatever you do outside. By aligning my practices internally and externally, I have learned the value of authenticity.

Authenticity is being who you claim to be regardless of where you are. I also believe authenticity applies to a strong level of synergy between your personal and professional values — with little, if any, dissonance. It means you can be trusted to have consistent values in all situations.

I am fortunate to work for an organization with professional values that align with my own personal values. I am particularly proud of our Foundation’s core value of “Pursuing Equity” within Washtenaw County. With so many complex community interactions and diverse layers of inequity, spanning from gender to income, age to race, housing to health and beyond, as a licensed social worker, I believe in pursuing equity within the community (external). Yet as the Office Operations Manager for the Foundation, I find myself pursuing equity for another community — our staff (internal). On that basis, the Foundation can authentically engage with the pursuit of equity both internally and externally.

Pursuing an equitable work environment means recognizing and accepting the uniqueness of each staff member. It means ensuring that staff have access to the necessary information, benefits, tools, and individualized resources to be successful in their role and reach their potential, both personally and professionally. Through evaluation and development of our human resource and organizational policies, we can move forward with enhanced processes that complement the diversity of our staff.

One recent improvement to our internal equity work has included setting up a standard onboarding process for all new employees, with customization where needed. By doing so, we ensure that the same steps are taken for each new employee, with additional steps to address individual needs. For example, we have checklists to ensure that a new employee receives a welcome package of AAACF swag and a lunchtime meet & greet with staff. They also receive general information about the day-to-day running of the organization together with access to benefits and personal accommodations (which might be different for each person). However, their individual training and orientation is centered on their role, their unique experience, knowledge base, and their personal learning goals. While we are consistently applying the same treatment and access, we are also responding to individuality and diversity.

Yet, despite every best intention, sometimes mistakes are made. As we seek to pursue equity for our staff, we must accept that our organization is not perfect, and inequities can and do exist. If our core value is to pursue equity, then to operate authentically, we must act to align our core values with our practices. Without action, there is dissonance between our internal and external values which breeds inauthenticity.

Since action is needed to pursue equity, here’s a useful A.C.T.I.O.N. acronym to move towards authenticity:

  • A - Accept responsibility recognizing that sometimes organizations get things wrong, but the most important next step is what is done next.
  • C – Commit to being willing to learn. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a lifelong learning process.
  • T – Talk with staff to gather feedback and ideas on what could be improved. Be willing to create an environment where staff can give honest feedback. This means being willing to listen to understand, rather than respond defensively.
  • I – Investigate these ideas/feedback from staff and be willing to do your own research for your own personal and professional growth.
  • O – Operate intentionally. Introduce your new and improved policies by explaining what led you to make these changes — this will be a learning opportunity for others too.
  • N – Note what works and what does not. Seek regular opportunities to review and evaluate with staff.

These A.C.T.I.O.N. steps are a useful tool to help align not only internal and external values on an organizational basis, but also personal and professional values too.

As I am reminded of my mother’s words “what you practice inside, you will practice outside!”, I am comforted by the alignment of the Foundation’s values with my own and my desire to live authentically. Furthermore, I am confident that the Foundation is authentically committed to living out those values to enrich the quality of lives for our community AND our staff.