This blog was written with Briana Parker and Erik Loarca, Co-Chairs of Elevate’s Diversity, Racial Equity, and Inclusion (DREI) Committee. The DREI Committee is a group of 30 staff members that are committed to progressing diversity and inclusion at Elevate.
What inspired you to take a leadership position with the DREI Committee?
(Briana) As a leader in the clean energy industry, I have a commitment to ensuring diversity and equity. For over a decade, I have worked alongside diverse communities to ensure they have access to essential human needs such as energy and water. As Elevate’s Policy Lead in Michigan, I sit on the Board of Directors for Advancing Women in Energy, a Michigan-based organization that recruits, promotes, and develops women in energy, energy-related fields, and those interested in energy through education, networking, and mentoring. And for over a decade, I have been an organizer advocate for Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, a union for public recipients and low-income workers with the goal to fight to eliminate poverty.
(Erik) Joining the DREI Committee as a co-chair was something I wanted to do to help me develop leaderships skills, as well as to provide my perspective on DREI at Elevate. I was prompted to take the role due to my background and diverse experience as a first-generation Latin-American. As a diverse voice at Elevate I felt like it was important to have this committee, and I knew that I could make the biggest impact by being a direct part of the team. The work that Elevate does encouraged me to step up, seeing that the mission of our DREI Committee aligns with the mission at Elevate. I believe perspective is crucial when a collective is working towards a common goal, and that sharing my perspective will help us reach that goal.
What DREI efforts are happening at Elevate?
Back in 2019, Elevate worked with the incredible team at the Morton Group to hold a two-day engaging Diversity, Racial Equity, and Inclusion (DREI) training for all Elevate staff members. This training was important because it set a foundation for our team about the importance of DREI education and awareness at our organization.
After the training, we continued working with the Morton Group to establish a DREI Committee made up of staff members who were committed to continuing DREI efforts at Elevate. Today, the committee is composed of 30 staff members who represent all parts of Elevate. We coordinate the following goals for the organization:
- Integrate and systemize racial equity learning and education opportunities across the organization
- Proactively integrate diversity, racial equity, and inclusion values into Elevate’s policies and procedures
- Deepen and expand Elevate’s programs to improve equity in the communities we serve
The DREI committee has several subcommittees that work at every level of the organization to meet these goals. We measure our progress through regular meetings with our leadership team to assess if we are meeting these goals. In 2021, the DREI Committee led 21 engagement events and activities in 2021, reaching over 150 staff members. The DREI Committee has also established an action plan which will shape Elevate’s policies and procedures now and in the future.
Why is diversity important to Elevate?
Diversity and inclusion are both central to Elevate’s mission. When you look at who has access to clean and affordable heat, power, and water in their homes and communities, it’s evident that white and wealthy communities have the most resources and the most access to these benefits. Elevate wants to bring the benefits and wealth of climate investments to a diverse group of people, including Black, Brown, and low-income communities that are often the last to receive climate investments.
We also want the diversity of the communities we serve to be reflected in our own organization. We strive for this by hiring a diverse staff that is reflective of all backgrounds, beginning with an executive team that is made up of all women and minority leaders. We also intentionally hire diverse contractors, including MWDVBE certified, for construction and other contractor opportunities.
Elevate has seen tremendous growth in the past five years. Our commitment to diversity in our staff and the communities we serve means that people look to us as a trusted partners and experts. In the climate space there has been a rising awareness of the need to address the historic disinvestment in Black, Brown, and low-income communities through climate investments. Elevate is known to be a leader in this area, and many opportunities have arisen for us to work with partners on important challenges.
Why should organizations incorporate DREI efforts into their organization?
Diversity in the workplace helps organizations achieve their goals by attracting top talent and producing diversity of thought. Now more than ever people are recognizing and valuing diversity in the workplace, in no small part in response to the Black Lives Matter movement recently and in years before. As people look for diverse workplaces, organizations that are not diverse will look outdated and out of touch. Additionally, a diverse staff that is educated on diversity, racial equity, and inclusion will be able to enact creative solutions to connect with a diverse range of customers and communities.
Rather than allowing our interactions to become transactional or self-serving, however, we want to emphasize the importance of relationship building that invokes justice and equity. Diversity should be celebrated as a way to create respectful relationships with people of all backgrounds and ensure a sustainable clean energy movement.
Any final thoughts to share?
In the climate space, it is our commitment to bring racial equity to the forefront of the conversation. Climate change and COVID-19 are just two examples of crises that expose again how white supremacy and racist values are deeply embedded in our society. It’s necessary for us to be engaged in the challenging and essential work of unlearning and challenging the, often unconscious, beliefs and actions that perpetuate anti-blackness.
At Elevate, we are working hard to understand how we have perpetuated systems of oppression and adopt the tools necessary to learn and change. We are committed to building a culture of anti-racism and dialogue among colleagues. We will continue to do this work as an organization and as people.