A letter to myself: Three key lessons learned – What I wish I had known before embarking on this journey

1. Don’t lose sight of why you started on this journey in the first place

In a recent webinar, our facilitator Annemarie Shrouder spoke about intangible vs. tangible inclusion – the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act (AODA) is a tangible example people could understand and a reference point when having a discussion on inclusion. This reminded me of something I had written in my original application and had forgotten about: Aside from being a Chinese-Canadian woman, I am also the primary caregiver for my father who, as a result of illness, has become wheelchair bound. Shortly after he began using his wheelchair, we went to eat dinner at his favorite restaurant only to be told it was not accessible, but they could try to let us in through shipping and receiving in the back. When I have been doing my research and deciding on topics to cover in my project, I was so focused on gender and cultural representation. But D&I is more than just gender and cultural representation – it is about the range of human differences including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, social class and physical ability.

2. Know your organizational constraints: be optimistic, but realistic in what you can achieve

I realize now, through my learnings that what I aspired to do was optimistic – change cannot happen overnight but rather progressively overtime. Wanting to ‘develop best practices, organizational policies and strategies within my organization that is included in the management plan’ is an ambitious undertaking within a few months. Focus in on one or two key things that helps to start the conversation and be sure to stay committed to see the work through post Fellowship. For example, you might decide to do a D&I survey at your organization and based on your results, the organization is diverse but shows that there is a gap when it comes to leadership. That change can’t happen overnight but the stats help to facilitate a discussion.

3. Diversity, equity and inclusion work is HARD

Being a Canada-wide program, the first and only opportunity the Fellows had to meet each other in person was around Congress. We had a dedicated training day where I, and my fellow Fellows, realized just how difficult and personal the conversation around diversity and inclusion is. We are all passionate about philanthropy and are mission driven individuals but we are also unique individuals with different perspectives. The conversation brought up various opposing and supporting thoughts and emotions amongst the group. It was evident to acknowledge and recognize when having these discussions that everyone’s lived experience is different and we have to be mindful of that and create a space that allows everyone to be comfortable with sharing their opinions.